Not every lover of country life enjoys society, but Elizabeth Gaskell was as much at home in the haunts of men as in a rural landscape, and for a good reason: she loved people, wherever they were. Yet an important reservation must be made: the society she most enjoyed had country roots. She is one of the most faithful painters of the countryside: she is also one of the most admirable painters of the little country town. If, for many, her name still suggests Cranford, it is because Cranford stands for more than masterful spinsters and recipes for washing old lace; it is a part of the history of English provincial life, as vital and enduring as the hawthorn in the hedgerows or the tower of the centuries-old church.
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