by Elizabeth Gaskell
DOVER THRIFT EDITION
You know a book is a tough sell when the jacket copy says, "the novel remains a favorite with students and aficionados of nineteenth-century literature. Both students AND aficionados of nineteenth-century literature, you don't say!!!
Another sign that this is a lesser classic is it's appearance in a Dover Thrift Edition. Here is an idea for Dover Press: Rename the line Dover Classics, Dover Thrift makes it sound like a book you buy at a Goodwill for a quarter- have some class, some pride- after all you are publishing classics.
Gaskell was a well known literary figure in her day- she wrote non-fiction as well as fiction, including a biography of her homie Charlotte Bronte. Even though this is a book putatively about small town genteel widows and matrons, the timely references to characters being enthralled by Dickens Pickwick Papers (one of the few men in the novel is hit by a train because he is standing on the platform, so enthralled by the latest installment of Pickwick that he is slow too alert a child stuck on the tracks.)
Elizabeth Gaskell in fact chose to be known as "Mrs. Gaskell" to the point that contemporary editions of Cranford read "by Mrs. Gaskell." Although Cranford is not exactly what you call "action intense," it is well observed, and at 130 pages you can read through it in a couple hours. Gaskell's country matrons don't sparkle with the life of those of Stendahl's the Red and the Black, but she does an equal job of portraying a specific time and place (the 1830s) from a vantage point twenty years in the the future (published 1852.)
In the end Gaskell's genteel spinsters come together to save the day in the manner of a book like "the Little Women," it's a bit TOO pat of an ending but hey it's just a minor classic, nowhatimean?