Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell: A Naxos Audiobooks Review & Giveaway

To prime myself for Return to Cranford, the new Masterpiece Classic sequel to last year’s award-winning mini-series Cranford on PBS, I wanted to read Mrs. Gaskell’s original novel that it was adapted from. Since I am always short of reading time, I chose instead to listen to an audio recording, my favorite pastime during my commute to work. After a bit of research on Cranford audio book recordings, I settled on the Naxos edition. From my experience with their recording of Jane Austen’s novels I knew the quality would be superior. I was not disappointed.

A witty and poignant portrait of small town life in an early Victorian-era English village, Cranford was first published in 1851 as a serial in the magazine Household Words edited by Charles Dickens. Inspired by author Elizabeth Gaskell’s (1810-1865) early life in Knutsford in Cheshire where she was raised by an aunt after her mother’s death and father’s subsequent re-marriage, the novel revolves around the narrator Miss Mary Smith and the Amazons of the community: the authoritative Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her kindhearted but timid younger sister Matty, the always well informed Miss Miss Pole and the self-important aristocratic Mrs. Jamieson. This gentle satire of village life does not supply much of a plot – but amazingly it does not matter. Gaskell has the incredible talent of making everyday occurrences and life events totally engrossing. Miss Matty’s conservative friends, the middle-aged spinsters and widows of Cranford, do not want their quaint life and traditions altered one bit. They like Cranford just as it has always been, therefore when the industrial revolution that swept through England in the 1840’s encroaches upon their Shangri-La, they lament and bustle about attempting to do everything in there power to stop the evil railroad’s arrival. Gaskell is a deft tactician at dry humor, not unlike her predecessor Jane Austen, and the comedy in Cranford balanced with a bit of tragedy is its most endearing quality.

This unabridged audio book recording is aptly read by Claire Willie whose sensitive and lyrical interpretation of Gaskell’s narrative enhanced my enjoyment of the story by two fold. Her rendering of the different characters with change of timbre and intonation was charmingly effective. My favorite character was of course the kindhearted Miss Matty. Even though she is of a certain age she has a child-like naïveté refreshingly seeing her friends and her world in simple terms. In opposition to our present day lives of cell-phones, blackberries and information overload, a trip to Cranford was a welcome respite. I recommend it highly.

2010 marks the 200th anniversary of author Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell nee Stevenson’s birth on 29 September 1810 in Chelsea, which was then on the outskirts of London. In celebration of her bi-centenary, Naxos Audiobooks will be releasing three additional recordings of her novels: North and South in February again read by Claire Willis, Wives and Daughters in March read by Patience Tomlinson and Cousin Phillis in May read by Joe Marsh. Happily, I will be enjoying many hours of great Gaskell listening this year.

5 out of 5 Stars

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
Read by Claire Willie
Naxos Audiobooks, USA
Unabridged, 6 CDs, running time: 7h 02m
ISBN: 978–9626348505


Enter a chance to win a copy of the Naxos Audiobooks recording of Cranford by leaving a comment by 11:59 pm PT on Sunday, January 24th, 2010 stating which character in Return to Cranford on Masterpiece Classic was your favorite, or which other Victorian era author you have read and would like to see an audio book recording made of. Winner will be announced on Monday January 25th, 2010. Shipping to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

UPDATE 01/25/10: The contest has concluded. The winner was announced. Follow this link to discover id it was YOU!


40 thoughts on “Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell: A Naxos Audiobooks Review & Giveaway

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  1. My favourite character from “Return to Cranford” is Miss Galindo. She’s a loyal, steadfast friend to young Harry as well as to Lady Ludlow and Mr. Carter (especially after their deaths), and a very strong woman — I have nothing but admiration for her.


  2. Miss Galindo. She’s very bright and comfortable with herself and strives to do what is best. She is a strong, very believable character.


  3. I have to say, Miss Matty takes the cake again! Loved her in the first and she’s still the steadfast, sweet character she was in the second. I so enjoyed seeing her dream of having a baby come true, even for a short time.


  4. I’ve loved seeing Harry becoming a young man. His was such a compelling story in the first series and the young actor manages to portray so much sincerity in his character.


  5. Yea, a giveaway and of my FAVORITE kind – AUDIO CDs!!! You are the best – thank you!

    My favorite is/are 2 new characters… William and Peggy! I lurve the return of watching their courtship develop and how Miss Matty is helping them in their romance!


  6. I have listened to the audio book version of Cranford narrated by Nadia May, one of my favorite readers. I too listen to audio books when communiting, and I remember laughing and laughing at the scene where the cow is clothed in flannel. What a charming series!


  7. I loved Cranford and Return to Cranford, which I finished watching tonight. All the characters are wonderful, but I have to say that Miss Matty is my most favorite. She is so kind and generous, but tragic in her own way. I love the way she always tries to keep the community together.

    Thanks for the giveaway!


  8. I’m in the middle of reading Cranford. I confess Miss Matty is my favorite (I wilted when she was reunited with Tilly last night) but I am quite fond of Mary Smith–Mary seems a though she could have been in one of Miss Austen’s novels…a heroine along the line of Anne Elliot perhaps? But I’m also very fond of Miss Tomkinson: she too has a kind heart and a generosity of spirit.


  9. My favorite characters in the (original) miniseries are Miss Gallindo, Mr. Carter, & Harry Gregson. Unrequited love, communicated with just a few looks and a touch of the hand… (happy sigh)

    My favorite from the book – Miss Matty, of course. :)


  10. I first fell in love with Mrs. Gaskell’s writing while reading North and South. I then followed up reading several more of her novels and short stories. Mrs. Gaskell was way before her time. She certainly does not get the recognition that she deserves.

    My favorite character in Cranford has to be Miss Mattie. Although there are so many wonderful characters, its hard to choose. One can’t help but care for the town and its inhabitants.


  11. Laurel Ann,

    I too read Cranford as a line-up for the sequel and truly enjoyed the book it made me smile on several occasions.
    My family enjoys reading with audiobooks.

    My favorite characters (I couldn’t choose one) were Miss Galindo and William Buxton.

    I like Miss Galindo’s character because she’s so independent and is also very sweet and motherly to Harry.

    William Buxton’s unwavering love for Peggy makes him a true hero and he has a kind, approachable character with no conceit despite his higher standing. In some respects he makes me think of Mr. Bingley only Mr. Buxton’s character has the advantage because he has more firmness of purpose and resolve.


  12. Miss Pole constantly has me laughing, but Peggy became a new favorite in the last episode. :)

    Regarding an audiobook I would love to hear done, definitely Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. I just recently read it and wrote a paper on it. I find it fascinating!


  13. Miss Matty is my favorite.
    I love audio books. I work at a library and have such a hard time keeping up with all the books I need to read and all those I’d like to. My husband has little time to read. We both listen in our cars, oddly enough never in the house. It has given us a chance to do the same books and discuss them. I’ve listened to the audio versions of books I’ve already read, and if they are well done, they are actually more enjoyable. They help the books come alive. I’ve been checking audio books out for my daughter who is dyslexic. It has been wonderful for her. She loves to read, but it is such a chore for her. Her son has reading problems too and I’ve found we are all sharing books. It is rather nice.


  14. Miss Matty is my favorite. She reminds me of myself.
    When Cranford ended on Sunday, I was so sad. It’s
    like a place I like to stay for a while and rest from the world.


  15. Miss Pole always endears herself to me. Despite her hunger for the town’s “news” (which is picked up with the antenna, I mean, feather in her bonnet), she has a big heart.

    I’m pleased to be reminded that I share a birthday with Mrs. Gaskell. I’ll have to have an extra slice of cake in her honor!


  16. My favorite character is Miss Pole. She’s such a busy body but not in an annoying way. She’s funny and charming at the same time.

    I’m happy to hear about Mrs. Gaskell getting more recognition!


  17. Mrs Foster is my favorite. Well, actually it might be Bessie, but I’m not sure I’m really ready to admit that publicly.


  18. I actually just finished listening to Cranford (Clare Willie, Naxos Audiobooks), North and South (Juliet Stevenson, BBC WW), and Wives and Daughters (Prunella Scales, BBC WW) on audiobook. I get my audiobooks from audible, which allows me to have them on my iPod and to choose from a number of different readers. Some audiobooks are read by people with intolerable voices, so having a good selection is nice… plus, it’s much less expensive than buying them on CD. :)

    I thought it was particularly interesting to note how much the BBC strayed from the original plot in the book and how many characters were reinvented. I understand they used a couple of Mrs. Gaskell’s works to arrive at their version of the story. I have not yet seen more than about a half hour of Return to Cranford, but the original Cranford was enjoyable. :)


  19. “much less expensive than buying them on CD.”

    and like Kindle books you can’t trade or sell them if you decide you’re done


  20. Well, it depends on if you like to keep your books. I like to keep mine. It would therefore be prohibitively expensive to have them on CDs. :P

    Example: Cranford by Naxos is $35 list… $25 on Amazon

    However, on audible, I probably paid about $15. Now, add this up every time I get an extra book…


  21. I understand the economics of it. I just prefer to have something in my hand if I’m going to pay $10-15 for a book or music album.


  22. I haven’t watched the second part (that’s tonight’s treat!) yet, but just adore Dame Judi Dench’s portrayal of Miss Matty. Sweet, trying to make everyone else’s life happier, and despite her own disappointments, still has a positive attitude. I just love her.


  23. I was kind of meh about him in the first episode, but in the end I really admired the young Mr Buxton for not taking the easy road, working hard and proving that he was serious about his dreams. It was very romantic.


  24. I love Miss Matty. She’s loyal, steadfast, and loves her town and friends as if they were her own family…and they are. She’s like a warm glass of cocoa to the soul. :)


  25. My favorite character in Cranford is Miss Pole. From the first appearance of her feather posting across the bottom of the screen to her fascination with the “magic” show, she was completely diverting. Her disgust of “effluvia”, fear of spiders, her bird cage, her “You will rend every garment you possess when you hear my intelligence!”— in short, everything about her is delightful.

    Of the new characters, I think my favorite was Lady Glenmire. It was very gratifying seeing her “walking” Mrs. Jamieson’s poor little dog! Another of my favorites was little Tilly, who was adorable! I also liked William Buxton and Erminia Whyte. I admired William’s determination to work hard for what he wanted, and Erminia’s “I was orphaned young and went to school in Brussels. I think that I have been unfortunate enough!” was marvelous.


  26. Oh so many to choose from…but if I must pick one, I believe it would be Miss Galindo. I love how she moved from a tradeswoman in the first series to clerk to Lady Ludlow’s companion, bringing her comfort and stability in the years after Mr. Carter’s death. And her interaction with Septimus upon hearing about the “gentleman’s agreement”…FABULOUS!


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