Cranford on the small screen

After reading Cranford recently, The Bookworm and I decided to indulge in a DVD binge and we watched the entire BBC Cranford production from 2007 in one day of entranced viewing. Rest assured that we did manage a meal and beverage break in the midst of the nineteenth century. I had already done a little light Googling and so we were aware that the series wasn’t a straightforward adaptation of the novel. Even so, after having read and enjoyed the activities of the Cranford ladies so recently, it was strange to find the Cranford we knew had been turned upon its head. The scriptwriters, for some reason known only to themselves decided to mash Cranford up with a couple of other short novels and a spot of seasoning. I must stress that we did thoroughly enjoy all of the episodes of the drama. However at the same time, it just wasn’t the Cranford life that we’d just been reading about, which was rather vexing.

The television series, for those unfamiliar with its intricacies,  was constructed from plots and characters taken from My Lady Ludlow, Mr Harrison’s Confessions and Cranford. I was intrigued to read (on Wikipedia) that the scriptwriters had also worked themes from a non-fiction work called The Last Generation in England into the drama. Gaskell wrote the latter piece about the town in which she grew up (Knutsford) upon which she later based Cranford. I felt that it therefore made sense for a drama to return to the original source of Gaskell’s inspiration. I wasn’t so convinced by the idea of putting episodes from three entirely unrelated novels into the dramatic blender. If you take a look at the trailer below, you’ll see what I mean about the mixed plot lines and crossed characters.

After having searched around for details of the plots from the other books, I can see where the scriptwriters have fitted them in and where they have shifted the original Cranford plots to accommodate them. It was confusing enough after having read Cranford, but it must have completely baffled anyone doing it the other way around. As far as I can see, the various pieces of fiction are entirely unrelated to one another and I don’t think there’s a character overlap anywhere. The bonus here is that I have now discovered the existence of these novellas so I’m planning to buy them as soon as possible. I was skimming through My Lady Ludlow on the Project Gutenberg but I would rather obtain a printed version, the more to savour Lady Ludlow’s story. However, there is a delicious irony in reading about the traditionally minded lady in such a new-fangled way (and me a common person able to read!)

Part of the way through writing this post, I stopped to watch the DVD’s extra feature on how the series was made. I have to admit that The Bookworm and I are rather fond of the behind the scenes type of extra bits. Call it research, call it plain nosiness, but we like going behind the cameras for a while. The various people involved in the writing and production of the re-imagined Cranford village seemed to be real Elizabeth Gaskell enthusiasts. Given that, I couldn’t see why they would then want to muck about with her text so much. Why was it not possible to adapt a straightforward Cranford? Was it just to go one better than the earlier BBC series? Surely, the other novellas could have been adapted into wonderful television plays. I suspect that it was all about money really, and what would make a better merchandising package, to say nothing about the possibility of the Return to Cranford series.

Since I have now had a bit of a grouse about the re-writing of the novel, it is only fair to remind you that as I said before, we both enjoyed watching the drama. The ensemble cast was a dream and the costumes and settings were marvellous, taking me back to those long-ago Sunday evenings watching the current BBC adaptation. I suppose you just have to separate the programme from its original source material(s).

Don’t be surprised if we succumb to temptation and borrow Return to Cranford from the library!

Credits: YouTube – BBC trailer uploaded by Luthi3n84 on 28 April 2008 – with thanks


Ladies who take tea: Cranford

Over the last wee while, I have been reading Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford aloud to the Bookworm (usually on a Sunday morning for some reason) and we are now roughly half way through. I can’t honestly be sure if I have ever read it before but I do recall watching a BBC series some years ago. After a bit of searching I tracked down the series from 1972 that I remember watching with mum (it was dad’s cue to go and do the washing up, as he wasn’t a fan). When we get through the novel, unless I can dig up a copy of that series from somewhere, we are going to watch a DVD of the newer series from 2007 that I missed first time around, .


Dust jacket long since gone

My edition of Cranford is a modest little Thomas Nelson hardback volume (undated) which is somewhat shabby after previous handling. Judging by the flyleaf I am the fourth owner of the book, but who knows for sure (I haven’t written in it, though I often do put my name in books). Heber Thompson illustrated the book with black and white sketches of various scenes from the story. I have chosen to scan a couple for the blog post that relate to events in the early chapters (see below).  We were particularly fascinated by the manoeuvres of the sedan chair men, not having realised that it was customary for the chairs to be carried into the house. And did you know that it was possible (and perhaps expected) to give up your dimples at a certain age?


Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson (1810-1865) married Rev William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister in 1832. She published most of her work under her married name including a collection of poems (Sketches Among the Poor) co-authored with her husband. The exceptions were early short pieces of fiction that were published under a pseudonym and Mary Barton (1848) her first novel which was initially published anonymously. Mrs Gaskell became very well-known for the first biography of Charlotte Bronte, which she wrote at Patrick Bronte’s request after his daughter’s death. She produced a highly sanitised version of Charlotte Bronte in the biography; I was reading a Guardian article by Tanya Gold who was quite scathing about the book. Not having read it, I can’t really comment though I have heard that criticism levelled at Gaskell before, who apparently began the mythologizing of Bronte’s life and work.

Cranford title page

Miss Matty looking a tad disapproving…

The Gaskell’s social circle included many from dissenting backgrounds and the couple were friends with reformers such as William and Mary Howitt and literary luminaries Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Elizabeth Gaskell’s concern for the welfare of the poor and interest in women’s lives comes over in her work. In Cranford (based on Knutsford in Cheshire where she spent her early years), Gaskell details the lives of the female population of the town.

All of the petty economies made by widows and spinsters in straightened circumstances and the eagerness with which a new diversion to the predictable daily round was received, are minutely and sympathetically explored. The book doesn’t have a plot as such, being a series of episodes in the lives of the genteel ladies of the small town. This provides plenty of opportunity for gentle humour, as social events and minor scandals take place. These are seen through the eyes of a young woman Mary Smith, who  lived in Cranford as a child and now comes to stay for extended visits.

There are several sad episodes and one rather touching one is where an elderly spinster, Miss Matty relents in her prohibition of her maid Martha having ‘followers’. Poor Miss Matty has been recently reminded of how she lost her chance of marriage, and is willing to allow Martha to have a young man provided he passes inspection,

“God forbid!” said she, in a low voice, “that I should grieve any young hearts”.  She spoke as if she were providing for some distant contingency and was rather startled when Martha made her ready eager answer. 

” Please, ma’am, there’s Jem Hearn, and he’s a joiner making three-and -sixpence a day, and six foot one in his stocking-feet, please, ma’am; and if you’ll ask about him to-morrow morning, every one will give him a character for steadiness; and he’ll be glad enough to come to-morrow night, I’ll be bound.”

Though Miss Matty was startled, she submitted to Fate and Love.

Perhaps catching up with Elizabeth Gaskell’s books on both page and screen will become another offshoot of my TBR Pile reading project. I am certain of having read Cousin Phillis (1864), and Wives and Daughters (1865) in the dim and distant past, though they have now mysteriously disappeared from The Landing Book Shelves. There are a couple more novels that I would like to read as well as the Charlotte Bronte biography.

The Sedan Chair

It doesn’t look very safe..

I’m not sure how many more Sundays worth of reading lie ahead of us (distractions are many as I’m sure you’re aware) but I enjoy ‘grown-up’ reading aloud so I’m not in a hurry to finish. It doesn’t seem that long since we were on A very hungry Caterpillar; the years have suddenly flown by!

Do you ever read aloud? And if so, what are your favourites?