Jenny Uglow on Gaskell’s Cranford, now being dramatized by the BBC:
This is not entirely escapist territory, despite its air of nostalgia. The Amazons of Cranford, like the ladies of Mr Harrison’s Duncombe and Lady Ludlow’s Hanbury, are not sheltered beings.
They have been through much a youthful love affair stifled, a life threatened by bankruptcy, an estate lost through gambling. And while they squabble over the sedan chair and settle down to cards, they also hear in the distance the rumble of the new, speedy world with its railways and new-fangled medical treatments, its factories and mines. The stories are wonderfully funny, but the ridiculous is bathed in a poignant, dreamlike mood found nowhere else in fiction, and profound ideas and strong values sleep beneath everyday details of bonnets and cakes. (read the rest here)
And a new ‘neo-Victorian’ novel, The Journal of Dora Damage, by Belinda Starling (a good Dickensian name):
Starling skilfully conjures up a dank, deviant London, although at times the plot seems as bewildering and overcrowded as the city itself – opium dens, blackmail, the American Civil War, the slave trade. Yet the novel’s twin themes of subjugation and emancipation are interesting and well balanced; the idea of intense satisfaction gained through sexual pleasure and meaningful work is gratifying, as are the memorable characterisation and plush imagery. (read the Guardian review here; see also the LA Times review here)