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Economies of Living in Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford Author(s): James Mulvihill Reviewed work(s): Source: Nineteenth-Centur

Economies of Living in Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford Author(s): James Mulvihill Reviewed work(s):

Source: Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Dec., 1995), pp. 337-356 Published by: University of California Press

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Economies of Living in

Mrs. Gaskell'sCranford



POLITICAL ECONOMY is to the State,what

domesticeconomyis to the family." -James Mill,ElementsofPoliticalEconomy

MES Mill's proposition has been put

manytimes-and refutedperhapsas many times again. When a Scotch economistquotes it in

Thomas Love Peacock'sCrotchetCastle(1831), he is immedi-

atelychallengedbyanothercharacterwhowonderswhatfam- ilywouldtoleratethegrossinequalitiesoftheState,where"it is all hungerat one end, and all surfeitat the other."1The

economistcitesMillonce more,arguingthat"thefamilycon-

sumes, and in order toconsume, itmusthave supply,"towhich his interlocutorsimplyreplies: "Well,sir,Adam and Eve knew

that, when they delved and span" (p.' 173). Like many such

debates in Peacock's novels, this one is inconclusive,but the reference to our firstparents at least succeeds in removing economy from the arid precincts of political economy and returning it to what Wordsworth called "the household of man."2 As Raymond Williams pointsout, " 'economy' was the management of a household and then the management of a

? 1995 byThe Regents of the Universityof California

I Thomas Love Peacock,NightmareAbbey,CrotchetCastle,ed. RaymondWright (Harmondsworth:Penguin, 1969), p. 172.

2 "Preface toLyricalBallads (1850),"

in TheProseWorksofWilliamWordsworth,ed.

W.J.B.Owen and Jane WorthingtonSmyser,3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), I, 141.





communitybeforeit became the descriptionof a perceived systemofproduction,distribution,and exchange."3Thus Wil- liam Cobbett,in the opening pages of his CottageEconomy (1821-22), offersthiscorrectivedefinitionofa termhe claims has been muchabused oflate: "EcoNoMY means management, and nothingmore;and itisgenerallyappliedtotheaffairsofa house and family,whichaffairsare an objectof thegreatest importance,whetheras relatingtoindividualsortoa nation."4 Though hisdefinitionagreeswithMill's,Cobbetttakesmore literallythenotionthateconomystartsathome,insubsequent chaptersdevotinghis attentionwhollyto practicaldetailsof


lationsofwealthand value based on materialscarcity,and he

proceeds fromthe premisethateconomyis consistentwith

"the mostliberal disposition." If he maintainsthattheremust

be "ranksand degrees" in society,he expresslyignoresthe

dismal rationale of Malthusian social statics,holding that "to

livewell,toenjoyall thingsthatmakelifepleasant,istheright ofeverymanwhoconstantlyuseshisstrengthjudiciouslyand lawfully"(p. 2). Butwhatofa communityofsingleladiesoflimitedmeans and strength?Mrs. Gaskell'ssecond novel,Cranford(1853), firstpublishedseriallyinHouseholdWords,portrayssucha com- munityintheruralvillageofCranford,where"alltheholders

of houses, above a certain rent, are women."5 The novel's opening chapter, "Our Society,"observes thiscurious demo- graphic circumstancewithoutaccountingforitbeyond asking "what"-if there were gentlemen at Cranford-"could they do iftheywere there?"(p. i). A listofthingstobe done is given at the outset,none of themapparentlyrequiringa man. They range from the maintenance of gardens to securityagainst intruders, from deciding the issues of the day to staying abreast oflocal news. They also include charitytothepoor and mutual aid among the ladies themselves-for which, it is




MarxismandLiterature(Oxford: Oxford Univ.Press,1977), p. 11.

CottageEconomy(New York:JohnDoyle, 1833), p. 1.

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford,ed. Elizabeth Porges Watson (London: Oxford

Univ.Press, 1972),

citedparentheticallyin the text.

p. 1. All other referencesare taken fromthiseditionand are





stressed, "the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient."Any- thingbeyond thissufficiencyis by definitionsuperfluous. To state,therefore,as one of these ladies does, thata man "issoin the way in the house!" (p. 1) is to make a valid proposition about the economy-that is, the natural management-as it has evolved over time and, by necessity,a proposition about Cranford. While some of these activitiesmayappear minorto an outsider-the narrator'sgentleironydistinguishesher per- spective fromthe natives'even as itenables her to appreciate Cranford societyas no native could-collectively theyconsti- tutethefunctionalentitythatis Cranfordand so in thisrespect are all equally important.The reader of Cranfordis thus not invited finallyto scorn the foiblesof the Cranford ladies but rather challenged to see how their habits reflectthe many economies of livingthatformthe economy of Cranford's life.

Kurt Heinzelman cept of economy

In The Economics of theImagination (1980)

describes a semanticstraiteningof the con- in the nineteenth century.He writes that

whereas economy had been an aspect of moral philosophy concerning weal or well-being("natural economy"), it is now a social science measuring commercial behavior. Formerly prescribing"moral disposition,"it now describes "functional operation," though itsolder sense stillsurvivesin nineteenth- centurycritiques of modernization by writerslikeJohn Rus- kin, who argues that,as a science, economics merelyignores the unquantifiable aspects of economy,for"the regulation of the purse is,in itsessence, regulationsof the imaginationand the heart."6Thus Heinzelman reads Thoreau's Walden,with itsforegrounded demonstrationof the materialand spiritual economies regulating an examined life, as an attempt "to illuminate all the modalities of 'economy' so as to (re)inte- grate,not divide, them"(p. 25). Such an economy,thesuccess- ful management of one's household and one's moral being alike, "necessitatesa business talentno less vigilantthanJohn

6 Kurt Heinzelman, The Economicsof theImagination (Amherst: Univ. of Massa- chusetts Press, 1980), pp. 71, 50.




Jacob Astor's or Adam Smith's" (p. 23). Emerging from

Heinzelman's argument is the recognitionthat"economy,"as

distinctfromits technicalformulationas "economics,"de- notesnota specializedinstrumentalitybutan integratedtotal- ity,encompassingthe regulation,ratherthan the mutually exclusivedemarcation,of materialand morallife. EconomyfiguresinitsmanyaspectsthroughoutGaskell's fiction,bothwithinand beyondthelimitsofwhatone of her

characterscalls "the mere 'cash nexus.' "7 It maybe as major as

thenationaleconomiceventsthatsweepfactoryownersand handsalikein theirwakeor as minoras thenumberless"little backgroundeconomies"practicedinprivatelife.8In Northand South(1854-55) Mr. Hale is struckby how prevailingeco- nomic circumstances'shape countryand cityliving,respec- tively.Due totheshockofhisfamily'ssuddendisplacement- whenhe leaves theclergytheyare expelled fromHelstone's rural paradise to the infernalregionsof Milton-he is con- fronteddirectlywiththematerialcircumstancesoutofwhich thedifferentmoresofruraland urbancultureare formed:"I hardlyknowas yethowto compareone ofthesehouseswith our Helstone cottages.I see furniturehere whichour la- bourerswould neverhave thoughtofbuying,and foodcom- monlyused whichtheywouldconsiderluxuries;yetforthese veryfamiliesthereseems no otherresource,now thattheir

weeklywagesare stopped,butthepawn-shop.One had need tolearna differentlanguage,and measurebya differentstan- dard,up hereinMilton"(p. 1i59). Despitehiserstwhilefaithin


derstandhowculturaldifference,thedistinguishingformsof materiallife("a differentlanguage,""a differentstandard"),

maybe as fundamentaltolivingas a putativespiritualessence reconcilingthesediverseappearancesintoone unity(an arti- cle of faithhe had come to doubt even among Helstone's laboringpoor). MargaretHale's observationthat"each mode oflifeproducesitsowntrialsand itsowntemptations"(p. 301)

7 ElizabethGaskell,Northand South,ed. Angus Easson (New York:OxfordUniv. Press, 1982), p. 431.







thuslocatesthecauseofparticularmoraleffectsina particular "mode of life."This is the sense employedbyGaskellin her Life ofCharlotteBronte(1857), where,like Cobbettin Rural Rides,she describes"thecontrastsof modes of living,and of timesand seasons,broughtbeforethetravelleron thegreat roads thattraversetheWestRiding."9 Economy affectsthe greatestand the littlestaffairsin Gaskell'sfiction,even to the extentof revisinga priorias- sumptionsabout whatis greatand whatis little.As she re- flectsin her final(and unfinished)novel,WivesandDaughters (i866), "fateis a cunninghussy,and buildsup her plans as imperceptiblyas a bird builds her nest; and withmuch the same kindof unconsideredtrifles"(p. 75). This figure,with itsconcomitantsuggestionsof naturaldeterminismand do- mestichabit,expressesGaskell'ssenseoftheimperceptibleif finallymomentousincrementalityoflivedlife.The personifi- cationof fateas "a cunninghussy"carriesnegativemodern associations of "crafty,artful,guileful,sly" and "an ill-

behaved,pert,or mischievousgirl;ajade, minx,"respectively,

but in itsolder sense-and

Gaskell'sfictionis shotthrough

withhomelyarchaisms-"cunning"means"possessingpracti- cal knowledgeor skill,"while "hussy"may merelydenote "mistressof a household" or "a thriftywoman" (see OED, "cunning"and "hussy").The various"unconsideredtrifles" out of which lives,like households,are constructeddirect thoseliveseven as theyare directedbythem,themanypetty dispensationsregulatingthe"backgroundeconomies"ofour livesincrementallyformingthedispositionsthatcharacterize and determinethoselives.The passage in whichthisphrase occurs in Wivesand Daughtersdescribesthe reactionof the selfishand flawedMrs.Kirkpatrickto theprospectofhaving herfuturestepdaughtercometolivewithher:"IfMollycame to be an inmateof her house, farewellto manylittleback- groundeconomies,and a stillmoreseriousfarewellto many littleindulgences"(p. 134). The much-regretted"littleindul-

gences"are behindthe "manylittlebackgroundeconomies" to whichthe venal Mrs. Kirkpatrickhas habituatedherself

9 Elizabeth Gaskell,TheLifeofCharlotteBronte,ed. Alan Shelston(Harmonds-

worth: Penguin, 1975), p. 126.




and of whichher vanitymakes her ashamed. Their larger influence,in the formof the moraleconomiestheynecessi- tate,seriouslyaffectsthe managementof the Gibsonhouse- hold when she marriesMolly'sfather.Henceforththeecon- omy of Molly's life, moral and material,changes for the worse. Even more adverse are the changes overtaking Hamley Hall, where Molly providescompanionshipto the ailing Mrs. Hamley.As Squire Hamley exclaimsduringhis wife'sillness:"Molly,we are all wrongat home!" (p. 192), a circumstance,or rathera setofcircumstances,thatcomestoa head afterMrs. Hamley'sdeath:

Affairsweregoingon worseat theHall thanRogerhad likedto tell.Moreover,verymuchof the discomforttherearose from "meremanner,"as peopleexpressit,whichisalwaysindescribable and indefinable.Quiet and passiveas Mrs Hamleyhad always beeninappearance,shewastherulingspiritofthehouseas long as she lived.The directionsto the servants,downto the most minuteparticulars,camefromhersitting-room,or fromthesofa onwhichshelay.Herchildrenalwaysknewwheretofindher;and tofindher,wastofindloveandsympathy.Herhusband,whowas oftenrestlessand angryfromone causeor another,alwayscame

tohertobe smootheddownand putright.

(p. 257)

In orderto getat thecauses of"discomfort"at HamfordHall itis necessarytorevisehonorificnotionsaboutwhatisimpor- tant in life. Perhaps "mere manner" is easilydismissedas

"mere" because itseems so "indescribableand indefinable"in

itsessence.But itseffectsare tangibleenough.The "loveand

sympathy"that formerlyput things rightat Hamford Hall

wereeffectedbyitslatemistress'smanagementofthehouse- hold "down to the most minuteparticulars"-an influence interdependentlymoraland material.

Like Cobbettand Ruskin,then,Gaskellappliesthestan-


out herfictiontherightnessor thewrongnessofa household is usually reflectedin the manifestmanagementof that


ton, for example, which is nevertheless "the perfection of cleanliness," or the Leigh home in "Lizzy Leigh," "exquisitely

clean and neat,even in outsideappearance; threshold,win-

Wilson's poor cellar dwellingin MaryBar-







dow, and window-sill,were outwardsignsof some spiritof puritywithin."'' The houses in the villageof Keighley,de-


and "reveala rough abundance of the means of living,and diligentand activehabitsin the women"(p. 54),just as the Brontiehome "tellsof themostdaintyorder,themostexqui- sitecleanliness":"Inside and outsideofthathousecleanliness goes up intoitsessence,purity"(p. 56). That noteverything maybe thusput rightis discoveredbya youngmaidservant in "The Old Nurse'sStory,"who,doingbusyworkone winter eveningforherelderlyemployer("MissFurnivallwantedme to undo some workshe had done wrong"),"witnessesa dis- turbingencounterbetweenMissFurnivalland a ghostlyappa- rition from her unexorcised past. But the haunted old woman'slast words ("Alas! alas! whatis done in youthcan neverbe undone in age!" [p. 56]) sorrowfullyacknowledge unfinishedmoral businessin the homelytermsof needle- workneeding to be takenapart,"undone,"beforeitcan be put rightagain. To repeatCobbett'stersedefinition,"ECON-

OMY means management,and everything.

nothingmore"-but thisis

In Cranford, Gaskell's narrator Mary

Smith observes, "economy was always 'elegant' " (p. 3). "Ele-

ganteconomy,"a phrase Gaskellquotes fromherselfin her

letters,12describeseverythingfrommanaginghouseholdex- pendituresto regulatingone's life.If Cranford'sgentlefolk have"somedifficultyinmakingbothendsmeet,"theybravely

striveto conceal their"unacknowledgedpoverty"behind a "verymuchacknowledgedgentility"(p. 3),thoughtheyassidu-

10 Elizabeth Gaskell,MaryBarton,ed. Edgar Wright(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), p. 15; and ElizabethGaskell,"Lizzie Leigh,"in CousinPhillisand Other Tales,ed. Angus Easson (New York:OxfordUniv.Press,1981), p. 9.


ElizabethGaskell,"The Old Nurse'sStory,"in CousinPhillisand OtherTales,p.

53. 12 See the December 1851 letterto Eliza Fox (" 'Elegant economy'as wesay in Cranford"),in The LettersofMrs. Gaskell,ed. J.A.V.Chapple and ArthurPollard (Manchester:ManchesterUniv.Press,1966), p. 174.




ouslyavoid ostentation.Their "eleganteconomy"involvesa carefulregulationofmeansand ends,whichincludesturning

a blindeye to thearrangementsnecessaryto maintainsocial amenities.As an example,MarySmithpointsout that"itwas considered'vulgar'(a tremendouswordin Cranford)to give anythingexpensive,in thewayofeatableor drinkable,at the eveningentertainments.Waferbread-and-butterand sponge- biscuitswereall thattheHonourableMrs.Jamiesongave;and shewassister-in-lawtothelateEarlofGlenmire,althoughshe did practisesuch 'eleganteconomy'" (p. 3). A sparelyfur- nished card partyhostedby theJenkynses("the china was

delicateegg-shell;theold-fashionedsilverglitteredwithpol- ishing;but the eatableswereof theslightestdescription"[p. 7]) is a fictionalreworkingof the social round in Gaskell's nativeKnutsford,describedin her essay"The Last Genera- tionin England,"whereseveno'clockteas,arranged"on the most elegant and economical principles"-old plate and scantyportions-are followedby "a supperlessturn-outat nine."13One mightobject thatsuch arrangementsindicate

misguided priorities during theirvisitto Mr. Holbrook's farm,ratherthanresortingto thecrude expedientof eating witha knife,Mattyand MissPolereconcilethemselvestoforgo- ing"thedelicateyoungpeas" servedthemforsupper(p. 33)- butwhenthoughtfullyappliedtheyreflectan economicalsim- plicitythatservesas a correctivetoopulentexcess.To modify Mandeville'sfamousdictum:privateeconomies,publictastes. In Northand South,her past life divided betweena simple countryparsonageand a severelyelegantLondon townhouse, MargaretHale is repulsedbythevulgarostentationofa Mil- ton factoryowner'shospitality,for"one halfof thequantity would have been enough, and the effectlighterand more elegant"(p. i6o); whilein WivesandDaughters,livingwithher

"primitivehome-keeping notions" (p. 652) amid theimposing

luxuryofa countrymanor,Mollylongsforthesimplelifeled byhervillagefriendstheMissBrownings("ifshe could only have gone there,and livedwiththemin theirquaint,quiet, primitiveway" [p. 644]). At theirbest Cranford'selegant





economiesare aimed at conductinglife"withquietnessand

simplicity"(p. 27). As

Miss Mattysays,"we have always lived

genteelly,evenifcircumstanceshavecompelledus tosimplic- ity"(p. 59), but thealmostdisingenuous"evenif" has effec- tivelymodulatedto "because"throughhabitand usage. Gaskell'sinterestin the necessarilyfrugalwaysof her Cranfordiansis poignantand droll by turns.There is the straitenedCaptain Brown and his two daughters,one of thema dyinginvalidforwhosecomfortbothfatherand sister make cheerfulsacrifices.Then thereis the spectacleof the MissJenkynsesconstantlyshiftingnewspaperson theirnew carpet to protectit fromthe sun's movingrays,and even stitchingtogetherpaper pathsforguests.More unobtrusive economies include conservingcandles, buyingshares in a single subscriptionto the St.JamesChronicle(old issues of whichpresumablyend up on theJenkyns'carpet),and con- suming the previous day's leftoverpudding "sliced and fried"(p. 141). But thiscarefuldetailingof Cranford'sways is morethana didacticrehearsalof householdeconomiesin ruralvillagelife.Howevermateriallynecessarytheymaybe, such economiesreflectless tangiblenecessitiesdirectingand shaping the lifeof Cranford."I have oftennoticed,"Mary Smithobservesin chapter 5 ("Old Letters"),"thatalmostev- eryone has hisownindividualsmalleconomies-carefulhab- its of saving fractionsof pennies in some one peculiar direction-any disturbanceof whichanrnoyshimmorethan spendingshillingsor pounds on somereal extravagance"(p. 40). Thus an old gentlemanwho has stoicallyaccepted the lossofhissavingsin a failedbankirritablygrudgesthewaste of paper in his obsoletebank-book,whilethe narratorcon- fessesthather foibleis string:


sation,becauseof theannoyanceoccasionedbythehabitwhich somepeoplehaveofinvariablytakingmorebutterthantheywant. Have younotseentheanxiouslook(almostmesmeric)whichsuch personsfixon thearticle?Theywouldfeelita reliefiftheymight

buryitoutoftheirsight,bypoppingitintotheirownmouths,and swallowingitdown;and theyarereallymadehappyiftheperson on whoseplateitliesunused,suddenlybreaksoffa pieceoftoast




(whichhe doesnotwantatall)and eatsup hisbutter.Theythink

thatthisis notwaste.

(p. 41)

At issue here is not whetherthese economies have a genuine purpose; strictlyspeaking, theyare real economies devised to prevent real waste. But that means have superseded ends is implied in the quietlyironicobservation,"theythinkthatthis

is not waste," for is the butter not stillwasted if it is eaten withoutrelish?What maypass as a rationaleconomyis actually

a personal compulsion, "almostmesmeric,"whose bottom-line

satisfactionis "relief" ratherthan savings.This is not to deny thatthese economies do in factsave paper or stringor butter,

butonlyto acknowledge thatwhatisimportantin all ofthemis the idea of economy and the psychicsatisfactiontheybringto

those who diligently,not to say obsessively,practice them. In North and South the wealthy Mr. Thornton indulges his mother's habitual frugalityin the midstof opulence, for "he


lations that Mrs. Thornton observed, in habitual remem-

brance of her old economies" (p. 142). Real or nominalin their utility,such economies serve certainemotional needs beyond any concrete necessitiestheymightoriginallyhave been con- ceived to meet. Some economies practiced by the charactersin Cranford are necessary by any standard-the sacrificesmade for the ailing Miss Brown and the steps taken by Miss Mattyafter losing her savings,forexample-but necessaryor not theyall issue fromcommon imperatives.Miss Matty,eventuallyover- taken by the direst of financial calamities, is an exemplary case. Even before the loss of her small competence she is preoccupied with saving candles. During dark winterafter- noons she knits by the light of her fire and urges her houseguest, Mary Smith, "to 'keep blind-man's holiday'" when the latterrequests some lightforher own work (p. 41).

This is no simple economy, for the desire

complicated by equally pressing social pressures:

to save candles is


time.As welivedinconstantpreparationfora friendwhomight






trivanceto keepourtwocandlesofthesamelength,readytobe lighted,and tolookas ifweburnttwoalways.The candlestookit inturns;and,wheneverwemightbe talkingaboutordoing,Miss Matty'seyeswerehabituallyfixeduponthecandle,readytojump up and extinguishit,and to lighttheotherbeforetheyhad be- cometoouneveninlengthtobe restoredtoequalityinthecourse

of theevening.

(pp. 41-42)

The economic virtuesof thriftand balance are operative here-and practicedwithsomeingenuity-butin theservice of habitratherthannecessity.Whiletheyshouldsimplypro- videlight,MissMatty'scandlesin factdistractherfromwork and conversationalike as means become ends, so thatthe ancillaryimperativeof keepingup appearancesis finallyno more nominalin itspracticalbenefitsthanthecandle econ- omy.Both considerations-the social and the economic- are complexly,even inextricably,connectedbycircumstance and satisfyneeds other than those of strictutility.Their conventionalinterdependenceis seen in otherconnections as well-waiting forpartyguestsat theJenkynshousehold poised withcandle-lighters"readyto dart at the candles as soon as the firstknock came" (p. 7), and the compound reliefof savinga candle whiledisburdeningoneselfof the painfulstorybehind a brother'sabsence ("We'llput out the

candle, mydear. We can talkjust as well by fire-light,you

know"[p. 51]).

These "smalleconomies"are among innumerablesuch arrangementsformingthelargereconomyofCranford.The needs theyserve may be real or nominal,but as arrange- mentstheyare formallyequivalentand stemfromfundamen- tal human economic behaviorsreachingfar beyond Cran- ford'stinysphere."Nothingisso delightfulas tositdownina countryvillagein one of MissAusten'sdeliciousnovels,"says Mary Russell Mitfordin the opening pages of Our Village (1 824-32), a worksimilarin manywaysto Cranford,forsuch secluded localitiesseem to offera haven fromadversity-"a littleworldof our own,close-packedand insulatedlikeants inan ant-hill,or bees ina hive,or sheepina fold,or nunsina convent,or sailorsin a ship; wherewe knoweveryone, are

known to every one, interestedin everyone, and authorized



to hope that every one feels an interest in us."'14 But the


authorityon whichsuch hopes rest,as well as the circum- stances necessitatingthem,originateelsewhereand every- where.They are thearrangementsdevisedto cope withad- versitiesthatconstitutethe rationaleof economy,and they affecteverything.They mightaffectan individuallike Mit- ford'sSally Mearing,who "had the misfortuneto findrent risingand pricessinkingbothat thesame moment-a terri- ble solecismin politicaleconomy"just when she was most straitened(p. 130); or an entireclass-small farmers,for instance,who comprise"an orderof cultivatorsnow passing rapidlyaway,but in whichmuchof thebestpartof the En- glishcharacter,itsindustry,itsfrugality,itssound sense,and its kindness mightbe found" (p. 164)-but their conse- quences alwaysinvolvea local costand affecteconomiesless easilyquantifiedthan thosetreatingwagesand rent.Of the agriculturaldistressesaffectingthe nation,Mitfordsays,"I am sorryforit.Independentlyof all questionsof policy,as a merematteroftasteand ofold association,itwasa finething to witnessthe heartyhospitalityand to thinkof the social

happiness of a great farm-house" (p. 25), but even "a mere

matterof tasteand of old association"is notindependentof

"questions of policy"-if, indeed, thereis to be any meaning-

ful relationbetweenmeans and ends in economicmanage- ment,domesticor national.Economiesand the wastesthey preventtouch manyspheres,materialand moralalike,and interactwitheach otherin waysnotreducibletonarrowcon- siderationsofutilityexceptat theriskofincurringothercosts notso easilymeasured. Like all economies,Cranford'seconomyof livingbal- ances differentiationand commonalty.The opening sketch of the Cranfordladies, the "Amazons"who set Cranford's tone,stressesdifferencein ordertoreinforcethenovel'scon- cernwith"management"and "arrangement":

Althoughtheladiesof Cranfordknowall each other'sproceed- ings,theyare exceedinglyindifferentto each other'sopinions. Indeed,as eachhas herownindividuality,nottosayeccentricity,

14 MaryRussell Mitford,Our Village(London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1951), p. 3.







prettystronglydeveloped,nothingisso easyas verbalretaliation; butsomehowgood-willreignsamongthemtoa considerablede-


(p. 1)

Indeed, the invisiblehand thatguides theirrelationssees to

it that when angry words are exchanged there are


enough" to keep life interesting(p. 2). The ladies' happy

indifferenceto each other'sopinionsreflectsa complicated systemof ritualsand social mores,what in Gaskell'svery similarevocation of village life in Wivesand Daughtersis termed"therulesof domesticmorality"(p. 638). Opinion is clearlysubordinateto functionin a societywherethereare "rules and regulations"governingvisits,and where such "calls" are strictlyregulated so as to get the most out of Cranford'srare and highlyvalued visitors.Visitstakeplace only withinprescribedhours, each visitlimitedto fifteen minutes;visitsare "received"and "returned,"also withina prescribedtime;theconductof thesevisitsis similarlyman- aged so as to limitconversationto smalltalk:"We keptour- selvesto shortsentencesof smalltalk,and were punctualto our time" (p. 3). The ban on "absorbing"subjectsreflects not merelyformaldecorumbut,as soon becomesevidentin the novel, a genuine wish to keep coveteditemsof gossip foroccasionswhentheycan be morefullyappreciated. People and news thus carrya high value in Cranford. Even somethingas innocuous as a game of Preferencecan pose problemsof a trickyeconomicalsort-for example,the dilemmaof whatto do withsix persons,fiveofwhom(Mary

Smith gladly excepts herself) want to be of the "pool" (the phlegmatic Mrs.Jamieson findsthe solution by defaultwhen she nods off to sleep [p. 66]). Earlier in the novel, at the Jenkyns'scard party,the firstthree guests to arrive sitdown to play Preference, thistime withMary Smith as the fourth; accordingly,"the next four comers were put down immedi- ately to another table," while the carefullyapportioned re- freshments,"the tea-trays,which I had seen set out in the store-roomas I passed in the morning,were placed each on the middle of a card-table" (p. 7). Captain Brown, mean- while, a scarce yet potentially superfluous quantity in this




feminine society,"immediatelyand quietly assumed the man'splace in theroom; attendedto everyone's wants,less- ened the prettymaid-servant'slabour by waitingon empty cups, and bread-and-butterlessladies" (p. 7). If gentlemen are scarce in Cranford,however,younghandsome men of the lowerclasses-butchers,joiners,or gardeners-abound and threatento draw off the Cranfordladies' supply of young maidservants,such as Miss Matty'syoung servant Fanny,who proteststo her anxiousmistress,"Please,ma'am,

I never had more than one at a time"(p. 25). Even Mrs. Jamiesonmustcome to termswithproblemsof supplyand demand when Lady GlenmirevisitsfromScotland: having cut her village friends,she discoversthereare simplynot enough countyfamiliesavailableto entertainheraristocratic relative,and she is forced"to alterher determinationof ex- cludingthe Cranfordladies,and send notesof invitationall

round for a small party"(p. 72).

Minorthoughtheymightseem,thesundrysmallevents ofvillagelifeare theprincipalon whichCranforddrawsfor


ingCaptainBrownand histwodaughters'residencein Cran-


it is a smallstoreneeding to be carefullymanaged ifitis to


Therewasnothingnewtobe discoveredrespectingtheirpoverty;

fortheyhad spokensimplyand openlyaboutthatfromthevery first.Theymadeno mysteryofthenecessityfortheirbeingeco- nomical.All thatremainedto be discoveredwas theCaptain's


sciouslyto himself,he manifestedit.Somelittleanecdoteswere


(p. Io)

Thus the mostminorof eventscarriesa premiumin Cran- ford.In theabsenceof sensationalor prurientdiscoveriesto be made about the Browns,the Cranfordladies are com-

pelled to retail "little anecdotes," such as one concerning the

Captain'saidinga poor womanbycarryingherdinnerhome on a slipperySunday,an actionthoughtveryeccentricbythe ladies buthardlya matterof anygreatmoment-nor would







it be thoughtso in London or even Drumble.But fromthe perspectiveofeconomy(politicalorcottage),valueisrelative, proceedingfromthe scarcityor abundance of the articlein question.Notsurprisingly,a visitfroman armymajorand his wife,recentlyfromIndia, alongwiththeirexoticEast Indian servants,"is a subjectof conversationeven now withMiss Matilda" (p. 28). In chapter 12 Mrs. Forresterarrivesat Matty'swithnews of Lady Glenmire'sscandalous(relatively speaking,ofcourse)alliancewiththevulgarMr.Hogginsand suffersa fitofcoughingbeforeshecan disclosehernews;her distress,as Mary Smithobserves,arisesless fromthe news itselfthan fromher fear of losing the benefitof using it, clearlyan unconscionablewaste: "I shall never forgetthe imploringexpressionofhereyes,as shelookedat us overher pocket-handkerchief.They said, as plain as words could speak,'Don't let Naturedepriveme of thetreasurewhichis mine,althoughfora timeI can make no use of it.'And we did not" (p. i i6). The lettersthatMary Smithreceivesin DrumblefromMissPole and Mattyreflectsimilareconomies, as Miss Pole's letterscarefullyrationtheirdisclosuresin re- turn for other articles-"at the end of everysentenceof news,came a freshdirectionas to some crochetcommission whichI was to execute forher" (p. I 2)-while Matty'sare moregenerous(or profligate,dependingon one's view)with theirnews. Even the pranksplayed by Peter,Matty'slong- absentbrother,had theirpartin thiseconomy,thoughMatty herselfdisputesthis:"He used to say,the old ladies in the townwantedsomethingto talkabout; but I don'tthinkthey did. They had the St.James'sChroniclethreetimesa-week, just as we have now,and we have plentyto say"(p. 5n). But then,as she demonstrateslaterin the novel,Mattycan do withverylittleifshe must.

Narrative,too, is a matterof economy. Accordingto Heinzelman,"in its largestsense, [economy] assertsour capacityfor creatingintellectualstructuresand

for imaginativelyregulating them" (p. ix). In the quiet back-




waterof Cranfordan "absorbingsubject"is a valuablecom- moditythat,liketheorangestheJenkynssistersretiretotheir separate rooms to eat, are made the mostof. MarySmith, Gaskell'snarrator,is such a commodityherself,so thatdur- ing her visits from neighboringDrumble she is shared amongtheCranfordladies: afterherannual visitto theMiss Jenkynses,she is alwaysMiss Pole's guest"fora supplemen- taryweek" (p. 23). In returnthe ladies of Cranfordsupply the small storeof incidentand anecdote so carefullyman- aged in her narrative.The basisof thisnarrativeis memory, collectiveand individual,conservingexperienceso thatthe mostcan be made of the past. Afterthe sudden death of a motherinMaryBarton,theattendingdoctorconsolesa family too stunnedbytheirloss to understandanythinghe has said butwho "yetretainedhiswordsto ponderon; wordsnotput to immediateuse in conveyingsense,buttobe laid by,in the

store-house of memory,for a more convenient season" (p.

20). In Cranfordnarrativeprovidesa meansofmanagingthis store,as in the double-entrydiarieskeptby Mattyand her sisterDeborah: "'My fatheronce made us,' she began,'keep

a diaryin twocolumns;on one side we wereto put downin the morningwhat we thoughtwould be the course and eventsof thecomingday,and at nightwe wereto put down on the otherside whatreallyhad happened. It would be to some people rathera sad wayoftellingtheirlives'" (p. 107). The point,though,is thatthisis a "way,"sad or not,ofregu- latingexperience,of balancingexpectationsagainstrealiza- tionsand reckoninggainor loss.Cranfordmightbe described as a kind of hybridmoral/cottageeconomydispensingits advice by means of narrativesthatconstitutethe economy thatis Cranfordand Cranfordalike. They maycombinead- vice on washingold lace in milkwithan anecdote about a greedycat or involvea major eventin the lifeof Cranford likethefailureof theTownand CountryBank-the circum- stancesprecipitatingit,thecontingenciesarisingfromit,and thearrangementsdevised to cope withit.Or theymaycon- cernsome old familylettersthroughwhichMattyand Mary Smithsift,savingsome, destroyingothers-letterscontain-

ing everythingfrompracticalhousehold hintsto expressions







of deep love,fromtheelder MissJenkyns'sJohnsonianepis- tles("Her hand was admirablycalculated,togetherwithher use ofmany-syllabledwords,to fillup a sheet,and thencame the pride and delightof crossing"[p. 47]) to the Reverend Jenkyns'slettersto his wifewiththeir"shorthomelysen- tences,rightfreshfromthe heart" (p. 43). In turn,these elementsare themselvesmanaged by a narrativeeconomy thatmakesthemostofa slenderstoreofincident,recounting even as itdemonstrates"theuse thatwas made of fragments and smallopportunitiesin Cranford"(p. 15). Two such narratives-Matty'svisitto an old beau and the savingsbank failure-show how loss and gain are ratio- nalized into economies of livingin Cranford.Mary Smith broachesthestoryofMatty'sengagementtoMr.Holbrookin

a manner thatleaves no doubt thatshe has been carefully

savingit forjust such an occasion- "And nowI come to the

love affair" (p. 28). Matty has not seen her old beau since

youth,and her visitto Mr.Holbrook'sfarmin chapter4 sets thewasteof manyyearsagainstthehard-wonand treasured windfallofa singledaythatprovidessomesmallreturnfora lifetimeof regret.Both Mattyand Mr. Holbrookhave vari- ouslymade do withtheportionsdispensedthembylife:what little romanticlove she has experienced Mattyhas kept


observesof Mr. Holbrook,who has led an isolated,solitary

life,that"I nevermetwitha man,beforeor since,who had spentso longa lifein a secludedand notimpressivecountry, withever-increasingdelightin thedailyand yearlychangeof season and beauty"(p. 32). Followingthisvisit,whichthe

narrativehas allowedthe space of "a

both make the most of theirremainingtime in different

ways-Mr. Holbrook visitsParis ("I mayneverbe in such a likelyplace again, and it'slike wastingan opportunity"[p.

37]), while Mattyliftsa ban on beaux

up close in her heart" (p. 36), and Mary Smith

longJuneday" (p. 30),

forher maidservant

Martha ("as if she were providing for some distant contin-

gency"[p. 40])-but thesearrangementsmade forthepres- entclearlycompensateforlossesincurredin thepast. If she has recoupedsomesmallportionofpastloss,how- ever,poor Mattymust soon face losses in the presentthat




threaten futuresecurity.The retrenchmentshe immediately setsabout followingthefailureoftheTown and CountryBank is not onlymateriallynecessarybut something"she knewtobe rightunder her altered circumstances"(p. 128). Matty'splans include selling her furniture,lodging withher maidservant, and settingup as an agent for the East India Tea Company, though the success of even these material economies owes much to other moral economies at work at the local level. Matty'sworriesabout takingbusiness away froma local shop- keeper, for example-scruples Mary Smith's hard-nosed fa- ther dismisses as nonsense-prove prudent after all: "And, perhaps, itwould not have done in Drumble, but in Cranford itanswered verywell; fornot onlydid Mr.Johnsonkindlyput at restall Miss Matty'sscruples, and fear of injuringhis busi- ness, but I have reason to know,he repeatedlysentcustomers to her,sayingthattheteas he keptwere ofa common kind,but thatMiss Jenkynshad all the choice sorts"(p. 144). Thus the material economy of Cranford, based on the same business principles thatapply in Drumble and elsewhere,depends on more intangiblebut equally necessaryeconomies. (And no less does Drumble, for Mary Smithwrylyobserves of her father's wary business dealings that "in spite of all his many precau- tions,he lost upwards of a thousand pounds byrogueryonly

last year" [p. 145].) Chief among them is the "elegant econ-


ford ladies. When these old friends gather to pledge their superfluity"to Matty'ssupport ("it is not only a duty but a


true pleasure, Mary!" [p. 137]), their spokes-

woman Miss Pole acknowledges the careful habits that have made thissupport possible: "I imagine we are none of us what may be called rich, though we all possess a genteel compe- tency,sufficientfor tastes that are elegant and refined,and would not, if they could, be vulgarlyostentatious" (p. 136). Despite their sundry minor pettinesses and eccentricities, then, these ladies have fostered an economy of living that sustainstheirneeds while ensuringa "superfluity"against un- foreseen contingencies. Surely Cobbett could not have imag- ined a bettermanagement of scarce resources. So Mattyhas her securityand the author has her resolu-






tion.The titleofthepenultimatechapter,"A Happy Return," servesto focus the various aspectsof economyworkingin Cranford.Literally,it refersto Peter'slong-duehomecoming (thankstoMarySmith),butthiseventisonlyone aspectofthe happyreturnsMissMattyis realizingforthelifeshe has led. The novel'sfortuitousendingis a finalcastingup ofaccounts forMattyand herfriends,issuingfromthesamecarefulman- agementofitsfictionalstorethathas characterizedthenarra- tiveeconomythroughout.IfMatty'slittletea-shophasfounda modest marketfor more exotic teas, the "choice sorts"to whichprosperoustradespeopleand farmer'swivestreatthem- selves,so Gaskell allows herselfa luxuryin her denouement normallyforbiddenin thesimple,plainfareofCranford.The storyofhow Matty'sPeterwenttosea, relatedto MarySmith in chapter6, is a chronicleof mismanagement.If Peterwent too farwithhispranks,theReverendJenkynswas profligate withhis punishment("Petersaid, 'Have you done enough, Sir?'" [p. 53]). A lettersenttoPeterbyhismotherenumerates theseimbalancesand attemptstoredressthem("You are too



much"[p. 56]), butitneverreacheshim,and his motherat- temptsto see him offat Liverpoolonlyto arrivethere"too late"(p. 57). Though sheneverrecoupsherloss,dyinga year

later,her daughterMattylivesto see thissad wastepartially

ingthenovel'sconclusiona noteofexoticismthatmightseem extravagantwere it not forthe prudentnarrativehandling thathas madeitpossible(and plausible).DuringMatty'sfinan- cial crisis,Mary Smithsecretlysends a letterto Peter and brieflyfallsintoa romanticreverieafterpostingit: "It would

get tossedabout on the sea, and stainedwithsea-wavesper- haps; and be carriedamong palm-trees,and scentedwithall tropicalfragrance;-the littlepieceofpaper,butan hourago so familiarand commonplace,had setout on itsrace to the strangewildcountriesbeyondtheGanges!"(p. 128).Butmore pressingcircumstancesbringherbacktoherself,for"I could notaffordtolose muchtimeon thisspeculation,"and sheand Gaskelladdress themselvesto the businessat hand. Having

he has been too severe

I have not been kind

Come back,and makeus happy,wholoveyouso




carefullyattendedthisbusiness,however,Cranfordand Cran- fordalikecan affordthetreatofPeter'sreturnand hisvaluable storeofexotictales. Peter'sprovidentialreturnto thesimplelifeofCranford constitutesa narrativeluxuryof "choicesorts."Its inclusion finallyservesto point up the connectionbetweenthe local economyofCranford/Cranfordand thelargerfictionalecono- mies directingGaskell'snarrative.This narrativeeconomy, like the materialand moral economiesit describes,mainly compriseswhatin an 1838 letterGaskellterms"thecommon thingsand dailyeventsof life"(Letters,p. 33), whileallowing fora measure of superfluity,an occasionalluxuryamid the plain fareof rurallife.Cranfordmaynotconstitutethe"his- toryof Englishdomesticlife"thatGaskellcalls forin "The Last Generationin England" (p. i6i), but,as a characterin her shortstory"Cousin Phillis"saysof stillusefulpractical hintscontainedin Virgil'sGeorgics,"it is all livingtruthin thesedays"(p. 334).