I've never said much about Elizabeth Gaskell here, have I? I had just finished reading North and South when I started this blog, and I must have read Cranford after that one, but I seem to have never talked about it. I was inspired to write a post about Mrs. Gaskell, however, when I randomly decided to read dovegreyreader's interview with Adele Geras. I wanted to read the interview because I read Adele Geras's book Troy years and years ago and very much liked it, but that's sort of besides the point (though I should read some of her other books). In the interview, Adele Geras mentions that Virginia Woolf once said of Elizabeth Gaskell that she writes as though she had a cat on her lap.
From Virginia Woolf I'm not sure that's particularly a compliment, but I think it's true, and less cozily sentimental than the image implies. Some of her books are pretty cozy, but certainly not all of them. North and South, though it ends well and is generally regarded as a romance, is not cozy. But all Mrs. Gaskell's books have a unifying quality regardless of subject--they are satisfying, in the same way sitting in a squashy chair with a cup of tea and, yes, a cat, is satisfying. You can be as generally miserable and uncomfortable as you like while sitting in this chair, but it's still satisfying. Elizabeth Gaskell's books are like this.
I've read three: Wives and Daughters, North and South, and Cranford. I said in a comment to someone else's blog a while ago that I think Wives and Daughters is my favourite. I say this rather tentatively, mind you, but in any case it's the book that springs to mind if I have to choose. It's, to my mind, the most satisfying of these three. It was never finished, unfortunately, but that doesn't stop it being satisfying (though it was rather a shock when I first read this and didn't know beforehand that it was unfinished).
All three books have been made into very good miniseries. Of these, Wives and Daughters is definitely my favourite, though I know a lot of people prefer North and South; I find North and South a little too colourless for my tastes, though of course the story's still good. Cranford was also very good, but a little too hodgepodge; the miniseries has plots from a couple of different books.
I'd like to read more of Mrs. Gaskell's writing, particularly her biography of Charlotte Bronte. I'm also sort of feeling a reread of Wives and Daughters coming on. At any rate, she's one of my very favourite authors.