Mr Harrison’s Confessions is a novella often described as a prequel to Gaskell’s longer novel, Cranford. Published in 1851, it’s the story of a young doctor and his adventures in the provincial town of Duncombe – and at just over 100 pages it can easily be read in an afternoon.
In the first chapter, Mr Harrison agrees to entertain his friend, Charles, with the story of how he and his wife met. While his wife goes upstairs to put the baby to bed, Mr Harrison begins his tale, starting with his arrival in Duncombe as a newly qualified surgeon. After becoming a partner in Mr Morgan’s medical practice, Mr Harrison gets to know his patients, many of whom are unmarried women. Needless to say, the appearance of a handsome young man in a small, rural community causes a lot of excitement and it’s not long before Mr Harrison has attracted the attentions of several of Duncombe’s female residents. Unfortunately, though, none of them is Sophy, the vicar’s pretty daughter and the only girl Mr Harrison himself is interested in…
Mr Harrison’s Confessions is a lovely, witty story and although it is not actually set in Cranford, but in a similar small town, it has all the humour and charm I remember enjoying when I read Cranford. There’s not a lot of plot, but what you’ll find instead is a mixture of domestic scenes, funny anecdotes and moments of poignancy and sadness: the same combination that makes Cranford such a success.
For such a short book, Gaskell also manages to incorporate a good variety of interesting characters into the story, from Mr Morgan, the traditional country doctor with a suspicion of modern medicine, to Mr Harrison’s friend, Jack, who is fond of practical jokes, and the widowed housekeeper, Mrs Rose, obsessed by the memory of her late husband. The only disappointment is that Sophy, the woman Mr Harrison loves, is kept in the shadows and we don’t have an opportunity to really see romance blossoming between them.
While this is the same type of book as Cranford, the characters are different and it’s certainly not necessary to read one before the other. For those readers who enjoyed Cranford and want to return to that world, Mr Harrison’s Confessions should satisfy your craving, but I also think it might be a good introduction to Gaskell’s work for newcomers who don’t want to commit to a longer novel.
Thanks to Hesperus Press for my copy of Mr Harrison’s Confessions.