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Sunday, May 18

Cranford Episode Three: Mrs. Elton Sez...

Gentle readers … Cranford concludes … And the contest is extended …

Be sure to catch the conclusion of Cranford tonight, May 18th at 9:00 pm on Masterpiece Classic. Episode three has many surprises and twists, and I will not reveal any spoilers, but … suffice it to say … Mrs. Gaskell really is a fine storyteller, the actors are superb and the bonnets are atrocious. La! You can read episode three synopsis here.

We have been privileged these past three Sundays, by special commentary by the one and only Mrs. Augusta Elton; - that officious and opinionated lady of Highbury, whose views we have come to find enlightening, amusing and ocassionally a bit twisted. We are very grateful to author Diana Birchall for channeling Mrs. Elton for our enjoyment. You can read Mrs. Elton's previous comments on episode one and episode two to catch up.
And now, Mrs. Elton’s closing remarks …

I always said such doings would never prosper, and now you see the truth of it. Mrs. Gaskell is no great writer, to be sure, compared to our dear Miss Jane Austen, but even she does not deserve such treatment. To take three stories, and mix them up all together, in just anyhow fashion - those are strange doings indeed. Ranks and spheres should never be confounded; and the consequence, as I of course had foreseen, is that there are more romances, and more deaths, and more endings, happy and sad, than can be endured; it is quite enough to give one the head-ache.

It is true that in Highbury, there were three marriages at once, when sweet Jane Fairfax married Frank Churchill, and Miss Woodhouse married Knightley, and - well, they are hardly to be named in the same set, but Mr. Robert Martin did marry little Miss Smith at about the same time as the others. And I had only arrived in Highbury, a bride, very few months previously. It is a marrying place, Highbury, very much a marrying place, and poor Mr. E was kept very busy joining hands for some time. None of the other brides, of course, came near having a gown or set-out like mine; indeed Miss Austen finished off her book by quoting me very properly about the sad want of white satin and lace veils. To be sure, Jane Fairfax was nicely attired, Mr. Churchill saw to that, and set some of the late Mrs. Churchill's jewels in an ornament for her hair; but Jane always was elegant. Miss Woodhouse was dressed with such plainness that I am sure I should have been ashamed, though in general I am all for simplicity; and there is no use speaking of Miss Smith, for she was all covered with flowers, which hardly suits such a short woman as that, and a farmer's wife too.
Weddings in Cranford however - I could not keep track of them all. There was Dr. Harrison and Sophy, who hadn't ought to have been in the story in the first place; and Miss Jessie and Captain Gordon, and even Miss Caroline Tomkinson was engaged to her butcher (so shocking!), and Mrs. Rose too, and Mrs. Forrester, and we are allowed to see Peter and Miss Pole looking at each other in such a way - well! It was very disgraceful, I protest, and not at all what was called for. To her credit, Miss Jane Austen never had more than three couples marry, and Mrs. Gaskell must surely have at least six. It really is not at all the thing. I suppose it was their idea of a joke, to turn Cranford from a town of spinsters to a town of weddings; but I cannot approve. I like a joke as well as the next person, I am considered quite amusing and lively in my way; but there can be no question but that it has all Gone Too Far.

On the whole I think I object to the deaths more than the weddings; one does, you know. And this is proof positive, if any more was needed, that Highbury is a healthier place than Cranford; for Miss Deborah, and Mr. Holbrook, and poor Mr. Carter, and little Walter - why, they all die, do they not? Very sad it is too, and a little weeping is all very well, when a death is in prospect, but it is very out of place, I think, when watching a stereopticon display. I was sitting with three other people when this last portion was shown (Mr. E and I were at the Westons, watching on their skreen - much too large a one for their little house), and I can assure you there was not a dry eye except mine. Such displays of sensibility are most improper, and I am very sure Miss Jane Austen would think so, if she were not dead herself.

Well! I made a list of all the things I disliked, and it was very long; and a list of the things I liked, and it was very short. I will start with the good things, because I must dispel the idea that I am a critic; do not run away with that idea, it is not at all becoming to be critical, and is the very last thing that I would do. I am much more an appreciator, I flatter myself, when there is any thing at all to appreciate. And I did think it quite admirable when Miss Matty said that her sister Deborah always wished to write sermons. I think she should have written some, upon my word I do. I have no doubt that, with her judgement and decision, she would have written very good ones.
I am all for women, and will not allow it to be said that they cannot do any thing as well as a man; and indeed a woman certainly can write sermons, because I have very often written Mr. E's - but mum! How nearly I have let out secrets, and I always promised my caro sposo so faithfully that I would never breathe a word. But he does not take to writing very well, somehow; even in the days of courtship, when he would quote poetry, and all that, his sweet lines were really written by other people, and after all a wife's duty is to be a help her husband. Any one who has seen as much of the world as I have, is aware of that. So I know poor Miss Deborah could have done as much as me, with her great mind, and her fondness for Dr. Johnson.

Miss Matty always was fond of little children, and that is just the kind of sentimental old maid I would have taken her for. My friends wept copiously when she said that, and then when Martha - but it will not do to speak of such coarse events, whatever is said in Cranford, vulgar place that it is. You do not hear of people talking right in the public street about such things in elegant society; it was never heard of when I was at Bristol, or in Bath. But in Cranford, there is almost as much talk of the maid Martha's expectations, as there was in Highbury about Mrs. Weston's, and I really think all that kind of thing is unnecessary, particularly when a servant is in the case. And then, Miss Matty, a vicar's daughter and a gentlewoman, whatever else you might say about her, that she should stoop to becoming a tradeswoman, and selling tea in her grubby front room - well! I hardly knew where to look. As for the scene where all her friends took up a sort of charity collection for her, I never saw any thing more disgusting. Oh! yes, Cranford is a common, vulgar sort of place, and you can weep all you like, it cannot change the fact.

There were so many moments when I could hardly bear to look at the skreen at all. The indelicacy of Dr. Harrison doctoring young Miss Sophy - actually putting his head upon her bosom! Such things were never heard of in Highbury, where there never has been a single case of typhoid. Miss Jane Austen would not allow such a thing to happen to a heroine, though Miss Marianne Dashwood did have the disease; however, that was not in Highbury, which is an exceptionally healthy place, and the young lady did deserve a hard lesson for her foolish behavior, behaving as she did with Mr. Willoughby. The spectacle of all the ladies running after Dr. Harrison does have its precedents in Miss Jane Austen's works, where I cannot help but admit that ladies often do try to lure gentlemen into matrimony.

Thank God! I was never guilty of such a thing myself, but then my caro sposo was all ardour and urgency to press forward our nuptials. Still, there are many other examples - you only have to look at the behavior of that Harriet Smith, in love with three men in one year, and one of them my very own lord and master. Dr. Harrison could not help himself, and I do not blame him. The arts the ladies employed in Cranford were despicable indeed. Mrs. Rose actually dyeing her hair, like a low woman, is simply too much to be borne. Well, I wash my hands of the whole business. I would not live in Cranford for a thousand pounds. Even a woman of my resources would find it intolerable. Visiting such second-rate people for ever! The only lady of any quality was Lady Ludlow and she belonged in Cranford no more than Lady Catherine de Bourgh belongs in Jane Eyre. It was very ridiculous.
I thought I would try to forget about Lady Ludlow, and Dr. Harrison, and read Mrs. Gaskell's story again, so as to try to remember it as it was before it was spoilt; but I opened it up and what should I see but Miss Matty crying the dry tears of old age. And her only fifty-eight years old! That is not so old as for the ducts of ones eyes to wither; though perhaps it happened because she had cried so much all through the book. Then her brother Peter brings her back from India a muslin gown, and a pearl necklace, and she cannot wear them because they are incongruous with age! That proves what I have always said, that Miss Matty had no taste, and no gratitude either. I have no patience with her. Miss Mary Smith says that every body is better for being near Miss Matty; but I cannot agree, any more than it is improving to be near Mr. Woodhouse or Miss Bates.
I have no sympathy for Miss Matty. I think she should have managed her situation better. Simpering over babies, and pretending not to notice that all her friends - many of them not rich either - were putting out money for her. In my opinion, the suggestion that she teach was a good one; even if she didn't know any thing, and had no education herself, she might have had a dame-school, or been a nursery governess. It is true that she was timid, and that is to her credit; but even so I cannot see why every one loves her, and cries over her, when she was really quite an inferior person. I am quite out of patience with such doings and such people; they are all exceedingly tiresome. Really I do think Cranford is the most troublesome parish that ever was.

Very Sincerely Yours,

Augusta Elton

DISCLAIMER: ...the blogmistresses would like to remind our gentle readers that "the opinions of Mrs. Elton are not necessarily those of Diana Birchall", who is but conduit of Mrs. Elton’s thoughts and can not always make them stop!
Well, now that Cranford has concluded, we are most obliged to Mrs. Elton for visiting with us and sharing her candid, - ahem - thoughts on the three episodes. We certainly are in no doubt of her opinions on the matters in Cranford, or about it’s author Mrs. Gaskell, and wish her a swift journey as she sallies back to Highbury to pontificate on the short comings of the fine citizens in that community.

CONTEST: We are happy to announce that we have extended the deadline of the contest for a free copy of Diana Birchall’s book, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma until Wednesday, May 21st. All authors of comments made between May 4th and May 21st on each of the three Mrs. Elton Sez posts will be eligible for the drawing which will be announced on Thursday May 22nd. Good luck to all.

Posted by Laurel Ann, Austenprose & Ms. Place, Jane Austen's World


Karen in Maryland said...

Always a joy and a pleasure to read the highly amusing comments of Mrs. Elton.

Vic said...

Oh, Mrs. Elton, I must agree with Karen in Maryland, and say thank you for your witty insights.

Vic, Ms.Place

Anonymous said...

I agree with karen and vic and would like to thank Mrs. Elton for writing such vicious and interesting comments. Hope to hear more from you in the future.

laura said...

Oh, I love Cranford so much! I was sooo excited to watch the last episode =)
Mrs Elton, you are so witty!
I have read so many great reviews of Mrs Darcy's Dilemma... :)