Charles Darwin and Elizabeth Gaskell

Having read Charles Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle” and knowing about his attitudes and believes about human nature, evolution, and natural selection and then reading Elizabeth’s Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford” one can see some of the similar prevailing attitudes of the times.  It is interesting to note how from before Darwin’s time even until now we judge a group of people by the way they dress compared to us to deduce whether this group of people have assimilated to the current civilized culture or not.  We can also guess that Charles Darwin would certainly apply his theory of evolution on the people of Cranford it he was reading Elizabeth’s Gaskell’s story.

Charles Darwin speaks of having met the Fuegians and almost right away compares the way they dress to the way he dresses and since its so different from him they must then be savages and animals.  He says “I could not have believed the difference between savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is greater power of improvement…Their only garment consists of a mantle of guanaco skin, with the wool outside; this they wear just thrown over their shoulders, leaving their persons as often exposed as covered.”  Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford” does the same when saying “Their dress is very independent of fashion…The materials of their clothes are, in general, good and plain, and most of them are nearly as scrupulous as Miss Tyler, or cleanly memory, but I will answer for it, the last gigot, the last tight and scanty petticoat in wear in England, was seen in Cranford – and seen without a smile.”  It’s interesting to note that we still have this practice of judging others according to what they wear.  If someone doesn’t have the latest fashions they must be poor, do not care of how the look, perhaps they come from a “third world” country.  Or what of Western woman seeing Middle Eastern women and they way they dress as being oppressed by the opposite sex and their government?

If Charles Darwin was reading “Our Society at Cranford” he would more than likely apply his theories on evolution.  Since most people are not wealthy in Cranford as Elizabeth Gaskell explains in her story “We none of us spoke of money, because that subject savoured of commerce and trade, and though some might be poor, we were all aristocratic,” and the fact that there were no men as the story says “…Cranford is in possession of the Amazons…whatevers does become of the gentleman, they are not at Cranford,” in Darwin’s eyes they are not reproducing and will surely die off as they are not fit to continue.


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