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A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid-19th century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances.

Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy: with such troubling events as Matty's bankruptcy, the death of Captain Brown, and the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns.

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