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A vivid and affectionate portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid-19th century, Cranford describes a community dominated by its independent and refined women, relating the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances.
Through a series of satirical vignettes, Gaskell sympathetically portrays changing small town customs and values in mid-Victorian England, in a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy: with such troubling events as Matty's bankruptcy, the death of Captain Brown and the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns.
Gaskell was an accomplished writer who had many of her stories published in Charles Dickens' magazine Household Words. She was also friends with Charlotte Brontë and after her death, her father, Patrick Brontë, chose Gaskell to write The Life of Charlotte Brontë.
Prunella Scales is a classically trained stage actress but is best known for her role as Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) and for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in A Question of Attribution (1991), for which she was nominated for a BAFTA.
Her film appearances have included Stiff Upper Lips (1997), Howards End (1992) and Wolf (1994). She was awarded the CBE for her services to drama in 1992 and the Patricia Rothermere Award for her contributions to British Theatre in 2001. More recent appearances have included the mini-series The Shell Seekers (2006), a production of Carrie's War at the Apollo Theatre (2009) and Horrid Henry: The Movie (2013).
Julian Barnes’ The Lemon Table and Anne Fine’s Charm School are among the many audiobooks Prunella Scales has narrated.