Saturday, March 01, 2008

Random Acts of Faith and Kindness

I spent several hours re-reading Cranford this afternoon. What occurred to me (as I read the early chapters) is that Cranford is really about the small domestic kindnesses that the inhabitants extend one to the other within the community. It's about having faith in the goodness of our neighbors, connecting with those neighbors as a form of defense against change introduced by those who are outside the community. We tend to understand the small economies practiced by our friends and pardon them on some level as lovable eccentricities , even if we might criticize or grumble over similar behavior in a stranger. We might even resent anyone having the temerity to point out the eccentricities of our friends.

I think Gaskell's point is that we should support such implicit networks of caring with tactfulness when we see small signs of the difficulties that our neighbor might be having and make whatever small shifts may be possible in our behavior to accommodate another's dignity. I don't mean to make it sound insipid or cliched, but Cranford advocates a certain gentleness in our dealings with others.

There's no doubt that I would have had issues with the sanitary conditions of the 19th century, but I really think I would have liked the people.