Darwin and Gaskell

The concept of social darwinism was prevalent in Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford”. I was actually a bit surprised at how straight-foward her ideas were expressed and followed Darwin’s idea of social order as the product of natural selection of those persons best suited.

Darwin explained “the advancement of the welfare of mankind is a most intricate problem” and that “there should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring.” Although Darwin was specifically speaking about marriage and children with the most able, his concept is very clearly seen in Captain Brown’s statements. Darwin proposed that nothing should limit the most able man for the betterment of society, and Captain Brown puts that into perspective. After Miss Betsy Barker falls into the lime pit, he says, “Get her a flannel waistcoat and flannel drawers, ma’am, if you wish to keep her alive. But my advice is, kill the poor creature at once.” His disregard for damaged human life because of the work and burden that it would put on another perfectly able person is a spitting image of social darwinism. 

That idea was prevalent throughout the entire short story. And I felt as though Gaskell satirizes the industrial world through the town of Cranford extremely well by utilizing Darwin’s ideas. 

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2 thoughts on “Darwin and Gaskell

  1. I agree. I also saw many elements of social Darwinism throughout the story. I agree with the examples you gave, and I also thought that the death of Captain Brown and Miss Brown were also ways to show that the “weak” in the society won’t survive, as Darwin stated.

  2. I was also very shocked at how straight forward Gaskell was. She seemed to have no moral problem with eliminating the weak.

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