ELIZABETH GASKELL QUESTIONS FOR E335 VICTORIAN LITERATURE
Assigned: Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford (Oxford UP edition).
1. In Chapter 1, how does the narrator (Mary Smith) initially characterize Cranford's society, which consists mostly of unmarried older women and widows? What is this place like, and what do we learn about the attitudes, interests, and habits of these women? What makes them a community rather than a group of isolated individuals? (If you are presenting, feel free to refer also to the second chapter in responding.)
2. In Chapter 1, what effect does Captain Brown have on this female society? What kind of figure does he cut amongst the women? What friction arises because of his presence, and what good does he do Cranford in this first chapter?
3. In Chapter 2, what more do we learn about Captain Brown's family life and situation? In what manner does he die, and why do you suppose Gaskell chooses to eliminate him in this way and at this time?
4. In Chapter 3, what reflection does the narrator offer on her relation to Cranford now that she has lived in Drumble for some time?
5. In Chapters 3-4, what story is recounted about Matty's brush with a suitor (Thomas Holbrook) long ago? What happens when they meet by accident now, many years later -- what sort of man is he, and what effect does meeting him again have on her sensibilities? What does the narrator add beyond the story with regard to Matty's understanding of men generally?
6. In Chapter 4, how is Gaskell's narrative style characteristic of her approach in the novel as a whole? How does the story move forward in this chapter? What sort of information do we get besides the main recounting about the goings-on between Matty and Mr. Holbrook? How is that additional information related to the chapter's main event (i.e. the Matty/Holbrook story)?
7. In Chapter 5, the narrator begins by reflecting upon people's foolish little obsessions, and then recounts how Matty decided to look over the old family letters one last time. What prompts Matty to do this, and why does she burn them after reading them over? What might we infer from this episode about the status of memory and continuity in this novel that is so often concerned with memories and bonds of affection among people?
8. In Chapter 6, what story is recounted about "Poor Peter," brother of Matty and Deborah Jenkyns? Why did he run away to the wars, and what effect did his untimely departure have on the family -- on the parents and also on Deborah and Matty?
9. In Chapter 7, Miss Betty Barker invites Cranford's key women to her home. Who gets invited, and who doesn't? Why the "disinvite"? What becomes apparent about the town's concern for manners, gentility, and rank? How does it inflect the perceptions and behavior of those who attend Miss Barker's dinner?
10. In Chapter 8, the Cranford ladies get to know Lady Glenmire. How does her meeting with the women go, and how does this chapter continue the previous one's concern for manners, gentility and rank?
11. In Chapters 9-10, Signor Brunoni the conjuror comes to town and gives a performance. How is his arrival related to the "panic" of Chapter 9? What sorts of stories do the frightened women tell, and more importantly, what do these two chapters suggest about the relation or balance in Cranford between actual events and imagination, between stories and "real life"?
12. In Chapter 11, what real-life story comes to light about "Signor Brunoni"? Who is this man, and what happened to him and his wife in India? How is this chapter, with its intrusion of a genuine "slice of life" from beyond Cranford, relevant to the town itself -- in what sense might we take it as partly a reflection on the value of marriage and having children?
13. In Chapter 12, we learn that Lady Glenmire is going to marry Mr. Hoggins. What new round of concerns about social protocol and rank does this news spark in Cranford?
14. In Chapter 13, it turns out that the Town and Country Bank (a joint stock operation) that has long held Matty's assets is about to fail. What does she do in the face of this disaster? What qualities does she reveal that hitherto may not have been apparent to anyone?
15. In Chapter 14, how does the small society of Cranford come together to help Matty deal with the disastrous downturn in her finances? Who does what, and what qualities show in the several helpers? And how is Jem Hearn the joiner dealing with his impending marriage with Matty's servant Martha?
16. In Chapter 15, Matty's long-lost brother Peter returns to Cranford. What kind of life has he led, and how does he help to resolve Matty's difficulties? There have been a number of men to regard in Cranford since the beginning of this novel. How might Peter's return be said to cap off the book's gender relations in a satisfying way? (If you are presenting on this question, you might want to consider Peter's role in Chapter 16 as well.)
17. In Chapter 16, the last loose end is tied up when Peter deftly re-establishes good relations between Mrs. Jamieson and Lady Glenmire (Mrs. Hoggins, that is). What final reflections does the narrator offer about Cranford and in particular about Miss Matty Jenkyns? What attitude towards Cranford and its prospects for the future might we adopt as a result of this final chapter?
Edition. Gaskell, Elizabeth. Cranford. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. ISBN-13: 978-0192832092.