Only the Cranfordians Survive in Cranford

Charles Darwin’s primary idea that powers his theory of evolution is the term “survival of the fittest.” In Elizabeth Gaskell’s Our Society at Cranford, the women living there lead uneventful and straightforward lives, “The Cranford ladies have only an occasional little quarrel, spirited out in a few peppery words and angry jerks of the head; just enough to prevent the even tenor of their lives from becoming too flat. Their dress is very independent of fashion” (1433). A strong theme with the town of Cranford is their ability to maintain, or “survive,” with this way of life for so long. The “weakness” of poverty, so that they might retain their sense of aristocracy, is an important way of life for Cranford’s inhabitants, “The Cranfordians had that kindly espirit de corps which made them overlook all deficiencies in success when some among them tried to conceal their poverty” (1434). However, Captain Brown introduces a new dynamic to the town.

The narrator writes of Captain Brown, “I never shall forget the dismay felt when a certain Captain Brown came to live at Cranford, and openly spoke about his being poor-not in a whisper to an intimate friend, the doors and windows being previously closed, but in the public street! in a military voice!” (1434). Captain Brown has rejected the norm of concealing poverty and trying to be of noble stature, let alone being a man. Miss Jenkyns however, one of the most respected members of Cranford. She has servants working for her, delicate china and polished silver, and an extensive library. Miss Jenkyns may be physically frail, but she is perfectly fit to survive in the society that Cranford has created. She and Captain Brown even have a large argument over Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson’s literary works. In the end, Captain Brown is no more after “reading some new book” (1443), while Miss Jenkyns remains. She even marries Miss Jessie Brown, his daughter, to assimilate her and her child Flora into Cranfordian society, “Did you ever read the Rambler? It’s a wonderful book-wonderful! and the most improving reading for Flora” (which I dare say it would have been, if she could have read half the words without spelling, and could have understood the meaning of a third), “better than that stranger old book, with the queer name, poor Captain Brown was killed for reading-that book by Mr Boz” (1447).

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