"Household Forms and Ceremonies": Narrating Routines in Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford

By Meir, Natalie Kapetanios | Studies in the Novel, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

"Household Forms and Ceremonies": Narrating Routines in Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford


Meir, Natalie Kapetanios, Studies in the Novel


Critics discussing Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford (1851-53) frequently situate it in relation to other genres of writing. In fact, owing in part to Cranford's original composition, a series of sketches published in rather irregular increments in Household Words, and in part to its unique emphasis on daily life, critics often question whether Cranford is even a novel. (1) While some have argued that Cranford is lacking formal unity, Tim Dolin argues that the novel does have a particular structure, though it is "organized like a collection of anecdotes, printed on cards and bundled together" (193). In this essay, I also pay special attention to the generic exigencies of Cranford by considering it with respect to another genre, the social instruction handbook. Yet in doing so, I argue that, paradoxically, a set of concerns usually associated with the handbook lends Cranford a novelistic structure; Cranford can thus be seen as a novel by virtue of its functional and methodological overlap with works on dining manners. For I suggest that the sketches that make up Cranford are organized by means of the ongoing theme of eating rituals, and its plot is focused primarily on characters struggling with social conventions. (2)

Noticing the predominance of the rituals of gentility as one of the novel's main themes, a number of critics have regarded the novel as defiant of conventions and handbooks alike. Hilary Schor, for instance, suggests that Cranford ridicules the rigid "codification of experience" (296) associated with handbooks. Elsewhere, Margaret Tarratt argues that Gaskell examines the implications of social codes on women's lives; the novel's basic message, according to Tarratt, is that the individual has an "occasional need to question authority and in certain cases to defy convention" (163). Cranford does certainly lend itself to the types of arguments that both Schor and Tarratt make. For Gaskell satirizes the extent to which the most minute behaviors of her fictional town are regulated by established codes, and she consistently unmasks the comical contradictions involved in maintaining the fiction of gentility. (3)

For the most part, however, when critics suggest that the novel questions conventions they refer to thematic representations of characters struggling with shared models for social behavior. While Eileen Gillooly examines the subtleties of how the narrator's use of humor challenges the authority of Cranford's "strict code of gentility" and Schor offers a complex reading of Gaskell's experimentation with different narrative styles as she provides a "guide-book" to Cranford life (303), critics have not often made explicit connections between issues of etiquette and issues of narrative. Nancy Armstrong's Desire and Domestic Fiction, an analysis of the ways in which novels and conduct books perform the regulatory function of conveying domestic ideology, is one work whose generic scope is similar to my own. Yet, whereas Armstrong discusses how literary and non-literary texts share a sociopolitical function, I am particularly interested in linking the two genres through a set of specific narrative operations that codify social behavior. (4) I want to suggest that considering the ways in which Gaskell narrates conventions can lead to a unique perspective on the novel's relationship to questions of manners. Rather than focus on Gaskell's thematic critiques of conventions, then, I consider how her ideas are intertwined with her narrative methods. My use of the word "conventions" (rather than the term "manners") captures my dual interest in narrative and social practices, as well as my consideration of the concept of the convention as a novelistic device. I argue that while Gaskell is clearly trying to develop a humorous critique of the moral and social value of etiquette, the narrative techniques that she employs complicate, and indeed undermine, this satiric commentary.

By engaging with concepts from narratology, I situate Gaskell's narrative techniques with respect to those that tend to recur in social instruction handbooks of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Household Forms and Ceremonies": Narrating Routines in Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.