Though generally characterized as a work of gentle humor, Cranford has also been recognized by critics such as Franco Moretti, Hilary Schor, and Anna Koustinoudi as a novel about “panic,” “a place under siege, hardly alive,” one that “literally abounds in scenes/images of castration, mutilation, dismemberment and devouring.” This essay looks to account for this seeming disjunction between the genial tone of the novel and its dark undercurrents. Cranford, it argues, deploys a narrative strategy that I call the “Gothic everyday.” Here, the Gothic mode does not interrupt but rather is integrated into Mary Smith's “proto-ethnographic” narration. The “Gothic everyday,” I suggest, constitutes Gaskell's attempt to represent what she perceived to be a paradoxical state of affairs: although modern life was “haunted,” “unnatural,” oppressive, and morbid, these conditions had also been normalized and were perceived mostly as routine and unexceptional. In other words, she recognized that modernity had not intensified and literalized the kinds of instability traditionally associated with the Gothic so much as it had multiplied and diffused them. Thus, Cranford is an experiment in a sort of stylistic hybridity, representing an experience of everyday life in which Gothic tropes, conventions, and occurrences are less fantastical than simply business-as-usual.

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