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The Cranford Novellas by Elizabeth Gaskell

The BBC gave the world a gift in 2007 when it adapted three of Elizabeth Gaskell's shorter novels into a miniseries called Cranford. I have loved it since I first saw it, and have long wanted to read the stories as they were originally written. This summer gave me the opportunity, and now I can share my thoughts with you.

"Mr. Harrison's Confessions" is thoroughly delightful and had me laughing out loud often. Mr. Harrison is a young doctor new to the town of Duncombe. As he gets to know the residents he finds himself drawn to sweet-spirited Sophy Hutton, and dedicates himself to establishing his practice so that he may win Sophy's hand. Sometimes through misunderstandings and sometimes through no fault of his own, three other women soon believe that they are engaged to Mr. Harrison. He fears the mix-ups will prevent him from courting the woman he truly loves, and has no idea how to get himself out of these delicate predicaments.

"Cranford" was much harder for me to get into than the first novella. The story was not as engaging, especially because in the first few chapters Gaskell had the bad habit of establishing a character and then immediately killing them off. Because I'm familiar with this story through the miniseries, I continually felt like people were missing - until I recalled that the people I was missing are actually from "Mr. Harrison's Confessions." Therefore the actual society as presented in "Cranford" seemed to center on about four women, none of whom were all that exciting. The plot did seem to pick up in the final few chapters, when the women of Cranford rallied around Miss Matty when she has a sudden change in fortune. Their genuine love even through their amusing traditions and petty squabbles was sweet to see.

"My Lady Ludlow" is a story that I never could get behind. I don't understand the point of it, and the way Elizabeth Gaskell tried to impersonate Victor Hugo by going on a 64-page digression about the French Revolution did not help. Very little of the story I knew from the miniseries was there, and even the characters who had made it to the screen did not always have the same names. The plot involves a poor distant relation of Lady Ludlow looking back on her youth, when she lived with Lady Ludlow for a time. Although you could possibly pull out a theme or two, this mostly seemed like a collection of random, unconnected, and insipid narratives.

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