At the height of the age of decorum and manners, this little comedic novel pokes fun at precisely these treasured trimmings of Victorian society. Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell’s second novel, chronicles several episodes from the lives of a group of spinsterly ladies living in a quaint village that moves somewhat behind the times. The rigid customs and habits of the barely middle-class ladies of Cranford the narrator humourously exposes as eccentric, but endearingly so, showing how affected formalities and practices can actually build authentic community. For Gaskell, communal values supersede class values; the customs of class do not define people to their core.
While typical Victorian novels uphold romantic, marital love as the penultimate relationship, Cranford appreciates sisterly and neighbourly love. Christians, too, often idolize the love between husband and wife as the sublime picture of Christ and his bride (the church), forgetting the other picture of humble submission and kindness – love between brothers and sisters within the body of Christ. Cranford reminds us that there is a place in the body of Christ for all people, married or celibate, fertile or barren.
While Gaskell does not choose to include any direct Biblical expositions in this novel, as she does in others, Cranford still illustrates Christian values of compassion, honesty and forgiveness, probably best summed up in Jesus’ words (quoting from the Old Testament Law) “Love your neighbour,” the second highest commandment after loving God. For Gaskell, in this novel as in others, we are not meant to live alone but were destined for community, and the fullest life is partaking in a community operating under Christian values, in whatever curious fashion they may express themselves.