29 February 2012

Life in a Lancashire Matrons' Town

Hardcover, 258 pages
Published 1901 (originally 1880)
Acquired January 2012

Read February 2012
A Fair Barbarian
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

If you've never read Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, you should. It's about an English town "in possession of the Amazons"-- everyone1 in the town is a woman. The women in the town are forced to confront the impending modern world in the form of railroads, a bank scare, men, and even foreigners. It's charming, gentle satire. Gaskell's at her best (except for all of her other novels). If you don't have time to read it (it's not even long, though), then go watch the BBC miniseries, which isn't very like it in terms of plot, but seems to get the characters right. (I haven't finished it yet.)

If you have read Cranford, then A Fair Barbarian is essentially the unauthorized sequel, where an American comes to Cranford. "Slowbridge" is a town of ladies who are socially complacent and find their world turned upside down when an American girl (the daughter of a diamond miner) comes to town and starts dressing attractively and speaking her mind, which of course shocks everyone. Several characters are clearly standins for Gaskell's. I haven't liked Burnett's other adult novels, but I was pleasantly entertained by this, which manages to be funny and never outstays its welcome. It's not as deeply characterized or emotionally powerful as Cranford is at its best moments, but if you like Cranford, this slip of a sequel should provide an hour's diversion at least.

1. This being a Victorian novel, "everyone" is more like "everyone who's anyone"; it indicates people of a certain social class, of course.

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