The stories we read · The stories we share

Cranford, Clash of Classes

I recently re-watched Cranford, the mini series based on Elizabeth Gaskill’s novels of similar names. Each time I watch it I enjoy it more. If you are a fan of 1840’s British dramas, or period dramas in general, you’ll enjoy this one. Now I haven’t read the book, so my remarks here are based solely on the series.

Cranford is a small English village, pastoral and happily isolated from the rumblings of change. Viewers follow the goings on in a year, most closely watching Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two spinster sisters who take in a young woman named Mary Smith who is anxious to escape the wiles of her step mother, intent on marrying her off.

As always, look for the social lines and customs so clearly demarcated in British dramas. The lower classes are invisible or scorned. The upper classes are primarily isolated and out of touch. The middle classes have just enough material goods to keep them comfortable and lull their imaginations into puerile conditions, easily bursting out of control, with laughable and sometimes horrible results. When small calamities befall their community, however, they demonstrate their ability to step outside their daily lives. They are galvanized into action, if not for others outside their class, at least for those who live on their own streets.

Miss Deborah is one example of this clash of propriety and the exclusiveness of class and helping one’s fellow human being. She is principled and upright, a pillar of influence and morality in Cranford, a Type 1. Several times she is faced with the dilemma of choosing to help her fellow man (or woman) in an unusual way and retaining the propriety upon which she is steadfast. It really is hard for modern Americans to fully appreciate her difficulty without some understanding of British class rules. Miss Deborah is at times marked by inflexibility and dogmatism, to the detriment of those who could benefit from her good will and influence (yep, it’s the lower classes I’m talking about here, and there’s one scene that should be infuriating to anyone.). It is also her clear thinking and rational behavior that quells the rampaging imaginations of her neighbors, putting a stop to further harm.

There is a remarkable story line in which the upper and lower classes do mix closely. It is probably my favorite storyline in the whole series. I don’t want to give it away, but it is a story of mentorship and education, not love.

If you watch Cranford looking for something pastoral, like I did, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll also find a poignant story of the intertwining of the human race, and the impact our behavior has on those within our community, even on those we don’t often see are there.

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