The scene is a small drowsy country town: Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears. The delicious pictures of country-town life grouped together under the name of Cranford were originally published in 1853. Elizabeth Gaskell has written many things of greater power and more vivid interest than these stories, but nothing that will better bear to be read over and over again.
Elizabeth Gaskell was born in the year 1811; and was brought up by her aunts residing at Knutsford, Cheshire. In 1832 she married William Gaskell, minister of the Unitarian Chapel, Cross Street, Manchester. Her first novel was Mary Barton, a picture of Manchester life among the working classes, which appeared anonymously in 1848. The Moorland Cottage, a simple little Christmas book, followed in 1850. Two years later appeared the novel Ruth. Mrs. Gaskell published some sketches of life in a small country town, which were contributed to Household Words under the title of Cranford. In 1855, the novel North and South appeared, in which she returns to the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire. In 1857 she published a life of Charlotte Brontë. Mrs. Gaskell's death in 1865 was most sudden. She expired instantaneously, while conversing with her daughters, on her return from church. The novel Wives and Daughters was left incomplete by her sudden decease.
The Examiner, 1853 — This is not a book to be described or criticised other than by a couple of words of advice —Read it. If we told you it contained a story, that would be hardly true — yet read only a dozen pages, and you are among real people, getting interested about them, affected by what affects them, and as curious to know what will come of it all as if it were an affair of your own. Cranford is the most perfect little book of its kind that has been published for many a day.
The Athenaeum, June 1853 — This collection of sketches-making up a little book which should prove a permanent addition to English fiction. But the beauty of the book lies in this,—that our author has vindicated the "soul of goodness" living and breathing and working in an orbit so limited and among beings so inane and so frivolous as those whom she has displayed. Touches of love and kindness, of simple self-sacrifice and of true womanly tenderness, are scattered throughout the record; and with no appeal, and for no applause, but naturally and truthfully just as they are found in the current of real life.