That copy of Cranford stared at me from the shelves for a very long time. I resolved to finally read it in the new year, and I have. "Cranford is in possession of all the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women." The bonds of friendship prevail in this small place, and the women come together to face down all manner of hardships and heartbreaks. It would have been sweet but sappy if Gaskell did not have such a wicked sense of humor, and did not utilize a narrator that lived outside Cranford but visited often to provide a satiric contrast between this insulated community and the world beyond it. A pleasant and amusing read, bittersweet in parts where we see the old women clinging to an outdated notion of aristocracy and their own gentility.
Reading Cranford did nothing to prepare me for reading The Poor Clare, a novella from Gaskell often included in collections of her gothic tales. This was a classic, over-dramatized wonder of gothic storytelling whose evil doppelganger theme sent a creepy dream my way last night, and sent me searching for the rest of Gaskell's gothic short fiction this morning. Tremendous fun but then I am a sucker for Ann Radcliffe novels and Frankenstein and The Monk and Austen's satiric take of the gothic in Northanger Abbey and.... The list goes on. The Poor Clare centers around a curse that travels through a family and forcibly highlights class divisions, gender inequalities and the conflicts netween Catholicism and Protestantism in Gaskell's time. Smart and pitch perfect and only 90 pages. A really satisfying snow day read. And an interesting look into the range and depth of Gaskell's work.