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The third chapter, “Life After the Marriage Plot,” examines how the women of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford preserve a temporal zone from the dual threat of patriarchy and modernization. The late-life romance between Miss Matty and Mr. Holbrook—a marriage plot without the possibility of marriage—generates narrative interest because it follows a set of temporal rules that originate from within Cranford rather than conforming to conventions about age and romantic love from outside the community. The superannuation of persons relates to a similar crisis in the marriage plot, which no longer reflects the experience of the older characters it purports to organize. Thus, I read Cranford’s representation of other forms of media—such as storytelling, the newspaper, and the letter—as a reflection on the formal obsolescence that takes place within the larger narrative economy of the novel. What emerges is a reconceptualization of the utility of what is “old,” insofar as the women of Cranford reterritorialize the obsolete as a particularly feminine challenge to the temporality of modernity.
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