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
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!