Jane Austen Inspired, Masterpiece Classic

Some Say that Gaskell is Austen embellished with Dickens…

Image of Cranford on Masterpiece Classic (2007)

A comparison (of Elizabeth Gaskell) to Jane Austen for its combination of humor and moral judgment in the observation of character and conduct is often made, not unjustly, though Mrs. Gaskell’s canvas is larger than Austen’s bit of ivory.Edgar Wright 

Image of portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell, (1832)Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) has been said to have a “wit to challenge Jane Austen’s, a conscience of social struggle unrivalled by Dickens, and charm and values to enrapture George Eliot’s fans”. This is high praise indeed to be mentioned with such exalted literary company, and we are fortunate that several of her novels have been recently adapted into movies by the BBC; Wives and Daughter (1999), North and South (2004) and now Cranford, which will be presented on the next three Sundays (May 4th, 11th and 18th) on PBS. 

Image of the book cover of Cranford (2007)Cranford is a combination of four of Elizabeth Gaskells’ stories; Cranford, Dr. Harrison’s Confessions, My Lady Ludlow aka Round the Sofa, and The Last Generation in England;  that were written as short stories for her employer Charles Dickens’ magazine Household Words between 1851- 1853. It offers us a glimpse of Victorian life in a rural English village circa 1842, introducing us to many memorable characters that revolve around the lives of Misses Deborah (Eileen Atkins) and Matty (Judi Dench) Jenkyns; – two spinsters who live a seemingly quiet life full of “busy nothings” with their mostly female community of Cranford as they face adversity and change. 

Image of Cranford ladies, Miss Deborah (Eileen Atkins), Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), and Miss Matty (Judi Dench)

The characters are so engaging and finely drawn that comparisons to Miss Austen are inevitable, and we see a bit of Miss Bates (Emma), Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and Lady Bertram (Mansfield Park) in Mrs. Gaskells’s characterizations. Life in the village of Cranford has it’s similarities to Meryton (Pride and Prejudice) or Highbury (Emma), but Gaskell’s narrative is more expansive than Austen, introducing a wider social and economic sphere into her characters lives, and we feel the influence of her contemporaries such as author Charles Dickens’ deeper social commentary and moral sensibility throughout the story. 

Image of Mrs. Forrester (Julia McKenzie) and Miss Pole (Imelda Staunton), Cranford (2007)

The new adaptation of Cranford aired in the UK last fall to rave reviews, so this series is highly anticipated by many Masterpiece fans, and a fit finale to the Classic portion of the re-modeled Masterpiece Theatre which began last January with The Complete Jane Austen series. You can prime yourself for the premiere at these fine sites… 

*Image of the miniature portrait of Elizabeth Gaskell, circa 1832 by William John Thomson (Scottish, born circa 1771-1845)

5 thoughts on “Some Say that Gaskell is Austen embellished with Dickens…”

  1. I have seen the Cranford miniseries and it is the real deal! Much, much more enjoyable than most of the new Jane Austen series. Like I have said elsewhere – I would have preferred an Elizabeth Gaskell season more that such a lackluster Jane Austen season on Masterpiece.

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  2. I quite agree with Teresa—this miniseries is far better than any of the new JA adaptations that aired this spring. I started reading Cranford last night and found myself laughing aloud several times, especially since I could see the scenes as they were depicted in the film.

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  3. Hello Teresa, I agree, Cranford is special, and will be the highlight of the Masterpiece Classic series this year. Since it’s producers Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin created a masterpiece with Pride and Prejudice (1995), you can see that this very talented team worked their magic again. Everything about is so superior to any of the Jane Austen productions of he season. It is quite amazing, and a delight to be sure.

    Kaye, I must read the book also. Thanks for the tips, for I dearly love a laugh!

    Cheers ladies, Laurel Ann

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  4. Elizabeth Gaskell is my favorite writer. I think her characters are perfect. They are complicated, passionate and every time I think I have them figured out they surprise me. I wish she had written 20 novels, so I could eat them all up.

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