“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
Victorian-era 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 fortune that several of her novels have been recently adapted into movies by the BBC/WGBH: Wives and Daughter (1999), North and South (2004) Cranford (2007) and now Return to Cranford (2009), which will be presented on Masterpiece Classic on the next two Sundays (January 10th & 17th) on PBS. You can read a preview of the series here.
Like Jane Austen, Mrs. Gaskell wrote six major novels, her last novel Wives and Daughters was published posthumously in 1865. Her characters are so engaging and finely drawn that comparisons to Miss Austen are inevitable. We see a bit of the garrulous Miss Bates (Emma), the melodramatic Mrs. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and indolent Lady Bertram (Mansfield Park) in Mrs. Gaskell’s characterizations. Life in the village of Cranford has it’s similarities to Meryton (Pride and Prejudice) and Highbury (Emma) with its small close community, shops and market. However, Gaskell’s narrative is much more expansive than Austen’s, introducing a wider social and economic sphere into her characters lives. We also feel the influence of her contemporaries such as author Charles Dickens’ deeper social commentary and moral sensibility throughout her stories.
Return to Cranford aired in the UK in December, 2009 and was warmly received. This new series has been highly anticipated by many Masterpiece fans, and a fitting opener to the Masterpiece Classic season which also includes a four part adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma premiering on January 24th, 2010 staring Romola Garai as the clever, handsome but clueless Miss Woodhouse and Jonny Lee Miller as her disapproving neighbor Mr. Knightley. You can prime yourself for the premiere at these fine sites.