- Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford: A Publishing History
Scholarship in Victorian afterlives or Neo-Victorian studies has expanded quickly in the last ten years. Many of these studies focus on contemporary neo-Victorian novels, the steampunk genre, or on film adaptations of Victorian novels. Thomas Recchio's Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford: A Publishing History (2009) offers a different kind of Victorian afterlife study, one that considers how a mid-nineteenth-century serial text moves from magazine to volume editions, dramatic adaptations, pedagogical editions, and into digital forms. Recchio poses two questions in his thorough study of the publication history of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford : "(1) Why was Cranford published in a particular format at a particular time? And (2) to what cultural uses were those versions of Cranford put?" (3). In so doing, Recchio adapts Gerard Genette's theories on the paratext by separating the paratextual from authorial intent and focusing on what Genette omits: serial publication and illustrations. Recchio traces how Cranford almost immediately became distanced from Gaskell's original intentions through its publication as a serial in Household Words. Dickens, as editor of Household Words, retained more control over the context of Cranford's publication, and Recchio's fine analysis of two installments of Cranford highlights how serial fiction can both anchor an issue of a magazine while also serving the ends of the editor. In the case of Cranford, installments of the serial work to develop a discourse on India within the pages of Household Words, interacting with essays like "Pearl from India" (3 Jan. 1852).
In exploring the afterlife of Cranford, Recchio also suggests that the common reading of Cranford , which focuses on "Miss Matty's integrity and positive moral influence" (18), derives from the cultural uses of Cranford as it is replicated, adapted, and fragmented into school editions, amateur dramas, and television serials. For Recchio, these afterlives of Cranford promote a cultural narrative of quintessential English identity, and he attends closely to the cultural work each of these different versions of Cranford performs. [End Page 101]
A great strength of Recchio's work is his comprehensive research and close analysis of the various publication incarnations of Gaskell's Cranford. He begins with Cranford's initial publication in Household Words. Chapter 2 juxtaposes George Du Maurier's illustrated edition, commissioned and published by Smith, Elder in 1864 and Hugh Thompson's 1891 illustrated edition. Recchio argues compellingly that Du Maurier's narrative illustrations help shape Cranford from a serial into a novel, while also showing how Thomson's illustrations provide "a literary visual definition of what it is to be English" (76). Chapter 3 explores editions of Cranford produced in the United States and England for the educational market, while chapter 4 focuses on amateur, charity, and non-commercial theater adaptations and productions of Cranford in the United States and Britain. In the epilogue, Recchio examines the 2008 BBC One serial production of Cranford, arguing that Cranford still performs some of the same cultural functions in the twenty-first century.
While each chapter details a different version of Cranford and it cultural uses, Recchio's analysis is particularly astute in his treatment of the early twentieth-century school editions of Cranford and the amateur community theater adaptations of Gaskell's text. In chapter 4, Recchio argues that the nine school editions of Cranford produced by various publishers from 1905 to 1914 were part of "the development of an English literary canon for American public education" (150) that worked to reinforce an Anglo-Saxon American identity in order to assuage racial anxieties about increased immigration from Eastern Europe. He moves from the cultural work of these school editions, which emphasize Cranford's moral and healthy depiction of English village life to early twentieth-century dramatic adaptations, which instead focus on the community of Cranford. Many of these one-act, three-act, or five-act plays based on Cranford were written by women. His work here is especially detailed and well written, as he both analyzes the adaptations and recovers the ephemeral advertisements and reviews of the...