08 April 2011


Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell was a strange book for me. Getting started reading was a really rough road. I didn't understand who was what and how they tied together. And that along with a mighty crappy book borrowed from the library. Well, it was a tough go.

After I discovered the book on Project Gutenberg, my outlook changed considerably. Sudden deaths, a few field trips, and I was wondering what's next for the characters of Cranford. Cranford is a true character study.

Right before I finished reading it, I was told about a classic psychology book called Games People Play by Eric Berne. The premise is that one's interactions with other people can be described in terms of "as a child, a parent, or an adult." The ideal interaction for most people is that of an adult to an adult. And I am speaking here of people who are not parents and children but of adults who may or may know each other.

For example, in my line of work I am often seen as an authority figure because that is how the public is taught as children. So when some members of the public return to child-like behavior when they are in my sphere, I am not surprised. They can act like a good child or a naughty child but a child nonetheless and then assume that I am to take the parent role.

When I mentioned this to a friend, he told about Berne's book, and I pretty much read what I wanted and was going to return it when I found a chapter called Party Games. Wow! I could not believe how well it tied into Cranford.

Remember the scary stories each Cranford woman told to their group. Each lady outdoing the other with her tale of misfortune and horror. Well, that is a type of game called "Broken Skin."

Berne writes:
"Broken Skin" deals primarily with the flow of blood; it is essentially an informal clinical colloquium. Anyone is eligible to present a case, the more horrifying the better, and details are eagerly considered. Blows to the face, abdominal operations and difficult childbirths are accepted topics. Here the differentiation from idle gossip lies in the rivalry and surgical sophistication. 
Indeed, the reason why Cranford doesn't read like just a bunch of old ladies gossiping at tea time is that there is a constant flux of dysfunctional game playing. Such as the reading then burning of old letters and all that business of saving candles and keeping them of equal heights. Well true everyone is bent in some way and how kind for the author not to excused anyone including the reader.

Also so curious that Mrs. Jamieson, bored and sleepy, high queen of the coven, should make such a fuss that the Lady Glenmire should marry Dr. Piggins, I mean Hoggins, and take his name. And be happy. I suppose that was her role - to be snooty - to approve or disapprove as she sees fit. There is always one in the gang that serves as the judge.

Here comes Mr. Peter to save the day (as all the men did in this novel except Mrs. Jamieson's servant) and that made me a little sad, but I understand that from the historical point of view, this book talked about the independence of women of itself and of men in particular in an uncommon modern way.

Overall, this was a fine read. A little disjointed at times with a surprise laugh every now and then. What was that about the Queen's legs?

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Thanks for sharing!