Darwinian Theory At Work in Cranford

The similarities I found between Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Our Society at Cranford, were surprising and at the same time bemusing. However, if I had not been looking for a likeness between the these literary works I doubt I would have ever remotely connected them. The first – and most obvious connection deals with Darwin’s thoughts on the survival of the fittest. The entire concept of the weak dying out and the strong subsisting is very present in Our Society at Cranford. The only member of the Brown family who survived the tale was Miss Jenkyns, who, when described appeared to be the most “desirable.” The narrator states, “I do not know whether she was pretty or not; but I liked her face, and so did everybody else.” Miss Jenkyns fate is contrasted with that of Miss Brown, who did not have a lengthy life because she was “defective.”

Next, Darwin’s thoughts on social echelons seemed to become the crux behind the entire Cranford tale. One of the main issues that the Brown family faces is the question of where they fit in the social hierarchy of Cranford. This problem becomes the focus of the tale which implodes when two of the family members die. Then, Miss Jenkyns sets their social standing to rights by having the youngest Brown daughter marry someone who in her equal in society which compliments Darwin’s ideas about marriage. Gaskell appears to have no qualms with punishing her characters for stepping outside of Darwinian theory (even if she wasn’t aware of that she was doing it when writing this story) and seems to restrict her characters to actions that are in line with what Darwin advocates. The characters who survive and succeed in this story are the ones who are described to be Darwinian theory personified.

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