As I watched Cranford I kept thinking that’s not in the book, but that is in the book. The dramatisation is not pure, unadulterated Cranford – it’s an amalgamation of three books – Cranford, Mr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow. I haven’t read either of the other two books, but from a quick look on Amazon I see that Mr Harrison’s Confessions, is indeed about a young doctor who is invited by his father’s cousin to join his country practice but it is in Duncombe, not Cranford. My Lady Ludlow appears not to be connected to Cranford either. So my picky mind says this is not Cranford, but I can see that to enjoy the dramatisation on its own merits I need to stop myself from thinking, ‘yes that’s in the book’ or ‘no I don’t know that, it must be in one of the other books’.
Cranford (the book) is a beautifully written and amusing story, centred on the lives of Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her sister Matilda, known affectionately to everyone except her sister, as Miss Matty. I was interested to read in the introduction to my copy that:
‘Most of Cranford is founded on fact – the hairless cow that went to pasture in a grey flannel jacket, the fashion displays in the little draper’s shop – all the rules of etiquette of the Cranford ladies were part of her [Elizabeth Gaskell’s] early life, and the skill and delicacy with which she draws upon her memories to build up her story proves how deeply rooted was her love for the old town and for its inhabitants who believed in the old order of things and hated change.’
Elizabeth Gaskell portrays life in Cranford and its inhabitants sympathetically and whimsically, without making fun of the characters. It made me chuckle as I read it and this came over in the TV drama – D said to me he hadn’t realised it was a meant to be a comedy. The sight of the ladies trotting along side the sedan chair was very funny.
Cranford is a quiet tale of everyday events. Some of the characters have to overcome disappointments – bankruptcy looms and matrimonial hopes fail to materialise for some, but overall it’s a story of friendship, peace and kindliness. The last sentence in the book sums it up for me: ‘We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.’ Dame Judi Dench is an absolute joy as Miss Matty.