Although we have often spoken about the fact that ‘Cranford’ essentially does not have a plot, and this has been a difficulty to reconcile for most critics throughout the past, I could not help but feel sad and strangely nostalgic when the novel ended. Especially with the striking sentence of, ‘We all love Miss Maddie and I somehow think we’re all of us better when she is near us.”
How strange it is that we should grow so fond of and attached to a mere “collection of sketches” (as an article in the ‘Athenaeum’ referred to it in 1853.) When browsing the internet for various thoughts about this, I found a couple of references to Andrew Miller a contemporary scholar of Victorian Literature, who suggests that ‘Cranford’ displays a “conventional teleological structure” that coexists with “a cyclical movement, an alternative narrative form which emerges out of and represents the routines and material culture of everyday life” (93.) After further considering this idea of circularity, cyclicality, or static mode of time, as it constantly appears in ‘Cranford’ in the form of memory, sympathy, nostalgia, narrative repetition, mail communication, I wondered how unified these are across all the characters?
While some of the metaphors, like linearity and cyclicality, might be useful for thinking about the problematic of the relation between plot and time (never forgetting that this novel would have been released in segments), I did not find that they sufficiently addressed the complexity of any individual’s temporal experience in the novel. There is such a mélange of different time frames: far in the past, in the nearer past, in the presence, simultaneous occurrences, recounts of immediately passed events, predictions of future events, timing, tempo, clock, calendar times (37.) I find it hard to believe that this wide array of times and complex temporal frames could be expressed through the dualism of cyclical and linear, as Andrew Miller suggests. He argues that the emphasis on linear time in Western culture, has in fact caused us to lose touch with out own cyclicality, and as a result, we project onto any external object, the “other time.”
The questions I thus pose today are: where do you place ‘Cranford’ on the scale of time, now that we have completed it? It was written almost 200 yeas ago, yet time feels more complex than just ‘in the past’, doesn’t it? What do you make of the last line, especially in light of the first line? (Here it is, in case you don’t remember it:
“In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women.”)
Do some of Andrew Miller’s basic thoughts that I present here appeal to you, and make sense in light of ‘Cranford’? Do you recognize cyclicality? Or is the novel more of a linear progression for you, or static perhaps? What direction is the novel moving in? Let us not forget, this novel was written during and about an era when progression was crucial! When progress, a forward-motion was a sign of civilization.