Surprise!

Hold the phone, guys, I found a Victorian novel that I actually liked.

Cranford was a very pleasant surprise. The reviews I read were right – it was really funny. Even when I find books hilarious, I usually don’t laugh out loud when I’m reading. This time, however, I did.

All the wry comments about the ladies of Cranford trying to be “genteel” even though they know, and their neighbors know, and they know that their neighbors know, that they do not have the money or means to actually be genteel are hysterical. Their funny logic – why wear fine clothes when we go out here, in Cranford, where everybody knows us? or the equally logical, why wear fine clothes when we go out elsewhere, where nobody knows us? – had me chuckling in amusement.

All of these women – who are spinsters that fear marriage and hope to remain single forever – are clinging to better times and their idea of gentility and society. They have, in fact, created a strange new society for themselves. Cranford has no men, only unmarried women. These women have their own social order and ideas about the “proper” way of doing things, as per Victorian-era standards.

However, despite it’s hilarity, there is something profoundly sad about Cranford. As they age, the ladies try desperately to maintain their dignity and “genteel” lifestyle, even as their means diminish. At different times, the ladies of Cranford acknowledge, without acknowledging, that they cannot live the way they want to. They also mourn for the past and for the futures they never had. At one point, one of the ladies reveals that her father used to make her and her sister write two-columned journals. In the left column, they were to write what they thought would happen during their day. In the other, they would write what actually happened. This seems a setup for disappointments, as well as surprises, to be tracked. For some reason that struck me as very sad.

Despite all this, as ridiculous and unwittingly funny as the Cranford ladies are, they truly care for one another. The society they have created, while far from perfect, is interesting. They play cards, become fascinated by magicians, gossip, find ways to be interested in the latest fashions while pretending that they can afford them, and find ways to create “excitement” in the town. It’s pretty much a town of batty spinsters. I kind of want to be friends with them. To be honest, even though I hate most things about the Victorian era, I wouldn’t mind making a visit to Cranford.

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Fox

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