Changes: Cranford and North and South

  • Jane Spencer
Part of the Women Writers book series (WW)


Cranford (1851–3) and North and South (1854–5) in many ways represent opposite poles of Gaskell’s achievement. Cranford is a humorous rendering of old-fashioned life in a small rural town: mainly set (there are a few minor inconsistencies in dating) in the 1830s, and glancing back over its characters’ histories as far as the 1780s, it re-creates a quiet and quaint way of genteel life that at first sight may appear static. The action of North and South is undated but evidently meant to be contemporary: it deals with the new industrial town Milton, with the new class groupings of industrial working class and capitalist manufacturer, with the topical issue of strikes. Milton is young, harsh and rapidly changing, its newness emphasised by being experienced through the consciousness of Margaret Hale, an unwilling emigrant from an older way of life. Yet for all the difference in pace, both works are concerned with social change. Life in Cranford is in fact subject to change: personal losses are often the focus of individual episodes, but the picture emerging from the narrative as a whole is of beneficial changes to the community. They differ from the changes in North and South mainly by coming about more gently and gradually.


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  1. 1.
    Patsy Stoneman, Elizabeth Gaskell (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) p. 93.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Nina Auerbach, Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Marlin Dodsworth, ‘Women Without Men at Cranford’, Essays in Criticism, vol. 13 (1963) pp. 132–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a discussion of North and South as a novel challenging the paternalism initially embodied by the Hale family, see Rosemarie Bodenheimer, The Politics of Story in Victorian Fiction (Ithaca Cornell University Press, 1988) pp. 53–67.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This is argued in Deidre David, Fictions of Resolution in Three Victorian Novels (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) pp. 43–4.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    R N. Furbank, ‘Mendacity in Mrs Gaskell’, Encounter, vol. 40 (1973) p. 51.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) pp. 42–8.Google Scholar

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© Jane Spencer 1993

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  • Jane Spencer

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