Isolation and Fading Happiness in Joyce’s “Eveline” and Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”

            James Joyce’s “Eveline” and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” both share a gloomy tone and address the similar theme of isolation.  Eveline experiences many of the same emotions as rider on the metro would.  While Eveline yearns to “explore another life with Frank” (2223), she is struck by feelings of melancholy for her old family life.  Someone waiting at the metro station is likely traveling somewhere, which is usually an exciting affair, yet he or she cannot seem to find any joy in the activity.  These sensations set the vapid scene of each piece. The “petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound) is representative of this notion of fading happiness as people, like all things in life, are eventually lost.             

            Both characters are disconnected from the world in which they live.  The metro would likely be buzzing with a multitude of people and subways, but it still very easy to feel alone.  The bustling people look more like an “apparition” (Pound).  They are all so isolated from one another that all the metro-goers seem more like ghosts.  Eveline is in a similar state of limbo as she dreams of her future and reminisces about her past.  She remembers happier times when “the children of the avenue used to play together in that field” (2222) and wishes to return to her past.  Joyce is hinting at one of the prevailing themes of modernity: alienation.  Similarly, the advent of advanced technology, such as the subway system, evokes sadness and a longing for a simpler time. 

Similarities between In a Station of the Metro and Eveline

Within Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro and James Joyce’s Eveline, there was one enormous element that stood out to me. Both pieces of writing are from the viewpoint of an individual who from the outside appears to be just observing the world around. Pounds mentions, “the apparition       of these faces,” while Joyce begins his piece with the narrator saying, “ she sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue.” Both quotes portray a person who has taken a step back to observe something. Although both narrators are observing different things, one the people around them and the other their own life, they both leave looming feelings of uncertainty at the close of the text.


Though these two pieces of writing are drastically different in topic and style of writing, their tone is the same. The way the words are written allows a reader to feel a rhythm that essential to communicating the message of the writing. Besides the spaces in In a Station of the Metro designed to create an emotional resonance by prolonging the reader just slightly before the next set of text, the piece is similar to Eveline because it uses colorful language that inserts you into the writing. Both pieces of writing are developed to make you understand precisely what the narrator is going through.

Signs of the times in BLAST magazine

I recently purchased a 1969 copy of Life magazine. It was a double issue and the topic was a general retrospective look at the 60s. It was interesting to see how much everything has changed (I think the most interesting thing was an ad for the “new educational television show” Sesame Street), as well as to see how people in 1969 felt about the things that were going on at that time. It is hard to find unbiased history without going straight to the source.

I think it is perhaps even more interesting to look at a magazine that comes straight from 1914. The BLAST magazine starts out with what is basically a mission statement (which is pretty intense). The line, “We need the unconsciousness  of humanity—their stupidity, animalism and dreams,” is interesting, because it suggests the idea that art is based on human foibles, but also on human hope. Although these would seem to be two very different concepts, I think they could be related, because human hope tends to be based on desiring to overcome human foibles. The opening ends with the statement, “We want those simple and great people found everywhere. Blast presents an art of individuals.” This is interesting, because I would imagine that prior to this time there was very little focus on individualism, and it certainly was not considered a good thing to stand out from the crowd.

The magazine then goes into a manifesto. The way the manifesto is structured, aesthetically, is interesting, because the fonts of different sizes resemble something you might find on Tumblr or Pinterest today. The parts of the manifesto that start with “Blast” seem to maybe require some insider knowledge (I thought they were confusing). However once it has switched to “Bless” it gets a lot clearer. The basic concept of “Bless Englishmen” and “Bless English Humour” makes sense to me (although I’m not sure why you would “Bless France” [can’t decide if it is sarcastic]).

It is interesting that the art in “Blast” is abstract. It seems to be indicative of a time period in which people were just learning how to express individuality. I think this goes hand-in-hand with the way the manifesto is structured (in that the words are different sizes, and sort of weirdly arranged) because, again, this seems to be indicative of an expression of individuality, of going against the norm. Much like looking at a 1969 copy of Life, looking at a 1914 copy of BLAST gives a much greater insight into the culture and thought processes of the time, than does just reading about it.

Araby and In a Station at the Metro

Well, this blog post is the worst because your area of specialty is James Joyce so it’s a little intimidating trying to write anything intelligent or fresh or worthwhile about his writing style having only read two short stories.

But anyway, Ezra’s talking about what I guess is this pretty recent technological innovation—underground electric railways—which I imagine was probably even more shocking a development than the steam engine.  I mean, trains in the open air are one thing, but put ’em underground and they’re doubly scary, right?  Anyway, so he calls what he’s seeing an apparition, which means it’s got this ghost-like quality to it, or maybe it’s literally a ghost.  And yeah, it’s kind of a ghostly, creepy scene.  You’re underground, and it’s really crowded, and everybody’s standing around just waiting, and it’s probably damp and cold, and the lighting’s probably bad, so people’s faces maybe have this pale unearthly glow, and after all they’re working in factories and traveling underground so they probably start to look pale and sickly and overworked and just in bad shape—inhuman.  And everybody’s there together, but there’s no sort of spirit of community or any bonds that are shared, but rather just isolation and alienation.  Anyway, then he compares their faces to petals on a black, wet tree branch.  Which makes sense.  These people are delicate and fragile and precious and have a strange sad beauty (the petals having been separated from the flower—broken, incomplete, but still pretty) and could be blown away at any moment.

So Ezra paints what to me seems to just be a real bleak snapshot picture of life in the modern industrial world.  “Araby” too comments on some aspects of modern life.  Joyce mentions that the field where the kids used to play became the site for some new and improved building project.  Joyce includes a crowded train station in his story.  “Araby” too is pretty bleak.  It depicts this kid’s loss of innocence—how he goes from playing stupid games in the street with his pals to falling in love with his buddy’s sister to realizing by the end kind of how powerless he is.  All he’s been dreaming about for weeks—buying his crush a present from the Bazaar—all his dreams are just kind of dashed against the rocks.  His uncle forgets to come home early, so he’s late to the fair and most of the stalls are shut down, and the shopkeeper at the stall that is open doesn’t take him seriously, and he doesn’t have enough money to buy anything.  He realizes he’s just a kid, and that dreams get shattered, and that he’s alone, and that it’s a tough world, and all that stuff.  “Araby” too uses a lot of poetic language.  There’s some really beautiful lines, and I compiled some that seemed most notable:

“The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns.  The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.”

“But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.”

“The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.”

“I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.”

“Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.”

“The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.”

“I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out.  The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.”

“Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”

Joyce gives a lot of detail to sensory experience.  He says a lot in this story just like, “I heard this” or “I saw this” or “I felt the wind”—just real factual and detailed.  And that seems kind of poetic to me.  Overwhelming the reader’s senses.  Putting them there in the moment.

Humankind and Nature in Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein

Compared to the passage from the Enlightenment writing Robinson Crusoe, the passage from the Romantic work Frankenstein focuses more on humanity’s incomplete and immoral control over nature. Robinson Crusoe is able to control nature, such as when he is able to make the cave he is in more spacious for himself, while also constructing furniture for his leisure. Crusoe remarks that “by making the most rational judgements of things, every man may be, in time, master of every mechanic art,” which demonstrates how the novel focuses more on how humans can control nature than nature’s control over humankind (Defoe). In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein has much of the similar initial view as Crusoe, but polarized to an extreme; he arrogantly states that “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world” (Shelley 692). Though Frankenstein is able to create his creature, seeing the creature disgusts him and shows how the laws of nature cannot be overridden by human desires.

Similar to how both novels focus on humankind’s relationship with nature, Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe also are juxtaposed on the subject of slavery. Crusoe talks about trading for slaves as a commodity to be compared with beads, hatchets, and other material goods without questioning the morality of slavery (Defoe). In Frankenstein’s creature’s journey to understanding how he was created, the creature also views himself as a subject of whomever his creator is, but as the creature finds the doctor’s lab notes on his creation, he realizes that he is viewed as “odious and loathsome” (Shelley 693). While Frankenstein does not directly address slavery, it suggests that the creature is like a slave who is viewed as inhuman to his master, Frankenstein. It is evident that the creature feels like an atrocious creature below Frankenstein when he wants to ask “Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust” to his creator (Shelley 693). The novel contrasts with the novel Robinson Crusoe’s apathy towards slavery’s effects.

Pound and Joyce: It’s the Little Things

While it initially seems odd to compare a short story to a poem composed of a mere fourteen words, Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and James Joyce’s “Eveline” are incredibly similar in the style with which they depict images and environments. Both works employ a listing of short, simple, and disjointed descriptions of the scene in order to provide a surprisingly realistic account of it. For example, Pound’s poem—in its entirety—describes “the apparition of these faces in the crowd; // petals on a wet, black bough.” As abstract as this may appear for literature, it is an incredibly accurate representation of the human sensory experience. The speaker of the poem is observing his or her surroundings and processing them one detail at a time. For most people, this is true. As life rushes by franticly, it is often important to pay careful attention to the fine details of an environment in order to truly understand it.

This is equally true in Joyce’s “Eveline.” For instance, the story opens on Eveline as she experiences her surroundings—her home—for perhaps the very last time. The record of her home, however, is very disjointed and simple. Rather than going into an elaborate description of the house and its contents, she notices “the odour of dusty cretonne.” Jumping from image to image, she hears “the man out of the last house [as he] passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement.” Like Pound’s poem, these details seem very random and even insignificant. However, she is noticing these details knowing that this is her last time to ever notice them. It is even possible that this is the first time she has noticed them; as she has lived her life in the service of her family, trying to maintain the household, it is possible that she never stopped to pay any attention to the subtleties of her home. In this way, it truly is the little things that she will miss because she was so unaware of their presence in her life in the first place.

In a Station of the Metro : On a Dock in Dublin

The resemblance between Ezra Pound’s shockingly short “In a Station of the Metro” and ‘Eveline’ an excerpt from James Joyce’s Dubliners, comes from its vividly sombre imagery and solemn tone. Even though Pound’s poem is only fourteen words in entirety compared to the substantial section of Joyce’s ‘Eveline’, both tell equally of emotional numbness, imposed by one’s self and one’s surroundings.

For instance, as Eveline prepares to embark on her new life with Frank, the scene of the crowd at the dock reminds her of her life at home and awakens a fear of the unknown that lies ahead of her. She is suddenly rendered motionless, and worse, emotionless. Because of her inability to discern her emotions, she is now doomed to live an unfulfilling life, just like her mother. A similar lack of emotional stimulus is evoked in the “apparition” of faces in Pound’s poem. Indifference in the crowd prevents individuals from protruding and quashes their appearance, and by extension, their existence.

Poetic Language in “Eveline” and “In a Station of the Metro”

Although there is a significant difference in length and format, Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and James Joyce’s “Eveline” share similar themes and language. While “Eveline” has a narrative structure, and tells a relatively long, involved story, “In a Station of the Metro” is two lines long (plus a title), but also manages to tell a story. Both works use poetic language in order to emphasize feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The entirety of “In a Station of the Metro” could be quoted to support the argument that Pound creates an atmosphere that is very stark, and isolated. The word “apparition” indicates a sort of ghostly environment, and the “crowd” suggests isolation. “Petals on a wet, black bough” suggests that the people are indistinguishable or lacking identity. It also suggests that they are fleeting, as the petals would move, the “wet” would dry, and the “black” would fade. These themes are echoed in “Eveline” as the passage starts with phrases like, “She was tired” and “Few people passed.” Much like “In a Station of the Metro” the environment is clearly pretty isolated. There is also an echoed theme of travel, as Eveline, “had consented to go away, to leave her home.” At the end of “Eveline” the feelings of loneliness and isolation that are apparent in “In a Station of the Metro” become very clear, as “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.” Like the faces in “In a Station of the Metro” Eveline’s face becomes indiscriminant and ghostly. Although the two works have dramatically different structure, their similar use of language creates two very similar atmospheres of apprehension and isolation.

Darwinism within the society known as ‘Cranford.’

Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford” and Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species by the Means of Natural Selection” paint eerily similar pictures of the same subject. How does a society become the way it is over time and how are these traits reinforced? Gaskell describes Cranford as a decidedly ‘amazonian’ society, and that should a “a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble… In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford.” Enter: Captain Brown: an unknown factor to the ladies at Cranford, a man.

Now here is where the Natural Selection stuff comes in, clearly men being phased out of the society is one aspect of Natural Selection, but the introduction of Captain Brown brings a much more interesting aspect to the situation. Captain Brown unwittingly causes a sort of unstoppable force meets an unmovable object situation. Over time, the women grew accustomed to his residency, and they began to adapt to him. However, just as soon as the women grow to like and accept him to a certain extent, he dies and most of the women grieve his passing. Interestingly, more cynical readers might view his death at the end of the selection to be a form of black comedy where the village wins out in the end.

Modernity in “Culture and Anarchy” and “Dover Beach”

When I first started reading each of the readings Culture and Anarchy and “Dover Beach” I  noticed very modern ways of thought; it almost seemed as if . In Culture and Anarchy, Matthew Arnold’s ideas and thoughts about culture talk about it is as-if it is an ever-changing, physical thing. He says that “Culture looks beyond machinery, culture hates hatred; culture has one real passion, the passion for sweetness and light”(1596). Culture itself is not satisfied until all of its subjects fit perfectly into its own definition. This is such a modern view of culture acting as a machine trying to put its people into its conveyer belt to conform them. Although, Arnold does not seem to think that there is any problem with conformity, he sees societal conformity, or a “perfect man” as a good thing. I think the fact that thinks society has a definition of a “perfect man” is a bit too 1960s,  but that idea is still forward thinking. In Arnold’s “Dover Beach”, I might be reading into this too much, but I think that when he says “And we are here as on a darkling plain/swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/where ignorant armies clash by night” (1562), it means that society as a whole is somewhat unaware of what goes on around them. I completely agree with Arnold’s stand point and I think that it is a very important realization that as an average person, or even a member of the military, you, are in reality ignorant of what really goes on. For example, Snowden’s somewhat recent public statement about the NSA. As members of society, we had no clue that a lot of our personal communication was being monitored.

The Role of the Poet in “Aurora Leigh”

“Aurora Leigh” is a narrative poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in which the life of a female poet, the titular Aurora Leigh, is discussed. The life of Aurora Leigh certainly seems to mirror that of Browning in many ways, several of them factual, some of them in ways that are more abstract. Certainly both Leigh and Browning lose their mothers at a relatively young age and are raised by their fathers, and both move to London, which they see as being very dreary and unpleasant. The main similarity between the two, of course, is that they are both poets. Through Aurora Leigh, Browning is able to tell the reader what it means to her to be a poet and what she feels the role of the poet is.

Browning seems to use Aurora Leigh’s aunt in order to parallel and contrast with the life Leigh desires for herself.  Her aunt lives what Leigh describes as, “A harmless life, she called a virtuous life, / A quiet life, which was not life at all (book 1, lines 288-290)”. It is very clear that Leigh does not desire this for herself, as she could have had it with Romney, but she chooses poetry instead, as she “…would rather take [her] part / With God’s Dead, who afford to walk in white / Yet spread His glory, than keep quiet here… (book 2, lines 101-103).” She refuses “A quiet life” opting instead “to walk at all risks (book 2, line 106).” It seems that being a poet, to her, means having an interesting life. Not necessarily a happy one, but an interesting one.

She indicates that the role of the poet is to create a reflection of his or her world. She says they ought to have, “a double vision…/to see near things as comprehensively/As if afar…/And distant things as intimately deep/As if they touched them (book 5, lines 185-188).” This indicative of poets needing to see abstract things, that maybe other people cannot, in order to make them clear to those who are unaware of them.  She specifically says “if there’s room for poets in this world…/Their sole work is to represent the age/Their age, not Charlemagne’s—this live, throbbing age…(book 5, lines 200, 202-203)”. This makes very clear that she feels that the role of the poet is to reflect on his or her surroundings. This would seem to be indicative of both Leigh and Browning, as Browning wrote concerning her environment, her feelings, or the civilization she was a part of, in order to convey certain very intense emotions. Browning suggests that the life of the poet ought to be interesting, and that the role of the poet is to provoke thought in his or her time by seeing things that other people have not seen, and making them clear.

Sweetness and Light in “Dover Beach”

In “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold describes a scene on the English Channel that illustrates his fears of anarchy found in Culture and Anarchy. The narrator begins by describing the French coast on the opposite side of the Channel, where a “light gleams and is gone” (1562). The light on the coast suggests that France was originally an embodiment of sweetness and light, the characteristics of Hellenism (1601). Despite France’s prestigious freedom of the mind, the French Revolution several decades before demonstrated how the inconsideration of the First Estate and the Second Estate for the population in general led to anarchy for liberty. Similar to France, England’s government needed to better work for the needs of the population overall instead of focusing on what individual politicians wanted to benefit their economic classes (1599). If England continued to ignore overall societal needs rather than individual wants, then it could be in a similar state of anarchy. Arnold also suggests in Culture and Anarchy that the government needs to prevent liberty from leading to anarchy by considering “the ends for which freedom is to be desired” (1597). On the beach rocks are pulled in and flung out by the current acting in a mechanical framework just as how Arnold described freedom as functioning in a valued way without any purpose (1562, 1597).


By incorporating Hebraism with Hellenism to direct actions to be moral and meaningful with passion behind them, England, Arnold argues, could avoid anarchy and achieve eventual happiness for most people. Arnold uses Hebraism, the primary focus of the time, with the notion of Hellenism in society to help solve social problems (1601-1602).  If those in power were to do this they could reach their best selves where they “are united, impersonal, [and] at harmony” with society (1600).  The narrator in “Dover Beach” also finds this sense of a beginning to solving social ills by describing his love as being true in a world without “joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (1562). By breaking down the barriers between the self and others through curiosity (Hellenism) and  values (Hebraism), Arnold shows how the overwhelming social issues of the time could be overcome.

Evolution of the Society at Cranford

Charles Darwin and Elizabeth Gaskell have coinciding ideas of how evolution occurs and how the small, triggering phenomena affect it. Darwin’s theory was that everything evolves until it is perfectly suited to its environment and an absence of threat. This is because the evolution of an organism is based upon selection of the best traits of the population. In the Society at Cranford, Gaskell says how the women are in charge so that the men feel as if they are out of place, “all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears”(1432), in the society. Gaskell also hints at another possibility in the following lines”he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties”(1433). Gaskell is sort of saying that the men were not only leaving because of their outlying position in the community, but also because they had a legitimate feeling of danger. Also, as the society grows older, they develop certain rules for the society pertaining to fashion, social gestures, and even visiting hours. The Society is progressing in such a way that it is evolving to better suite its members. Personally, I think that this correlation is a slight extrapolation because standard evolution is not really applied to current day humans. This is because modern humans tend to change their world around them to be better suited rather than slowly evolving over thousands of years.

Evolution at Cranford

As a general rule most anything that accurately discusses the way human beings interact socially will have something in common with Darwin’s theories. Certainly people, and groups of people, evolve and adapt in order to best survive in their environment. The interesting thing in “Our Society at Cranford” is the way in which Cranford changes, very, very gradually, and how slowly behaviors and things that start out either acceptable or unacceptable, become the opposite.

There are several instances throughout “Our Society at Cranford” that do correspond with Darwinian theory. Because the women are so overpowering at Cranford, the men tend to disappear, whether, “he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week…” the men are not around, because “What could they do if they were there?” The women are so dominating that the men do not have a place, so they have adapted, and chosen to leave the town. They have also adapted in that because none of the residents are rich they have made the unofficial decision to keep the poverty “unacknowledged…it was considered ‘vulgar’ to give anything expensive…at the evening entertainments.” In choosing to overlook the poverty that is a part of their environment, they sort of overcome it. The Darwinian theory becomes most interesting when the Captain arrives, as he is seemingly quite widely disliked by the ‘society’ women, but this in no way changes his behavior: he continues to do the things that are right regardless of how this affects his reputation. Because he refuses to change, the women of Cranford slowly begin to accept him, and upon his death they are distraught, and take care of his daughters. Also, in the final paragraph there is an example of a sort of ‘evolution’ of the town, as Miss Jenkyns is dying, and lamenting the existence of Charles Dickens, all the while Flora is reading “A Christmas Carol” which Miss Jenkyns would have fought against vehemently if she were aware of it.

Cranford as a Representation of the Galapagos Islands

Charles Darwin’s theories regarding evolution and natural selection permeate through Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford” and take the shape of unique social mores in the town.  One such instance of this is the fact that “all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women” (1432).  The women appear to exist at the very top of the food chain in the rural town of Cranford; they are also the fittest individuals as the female population outnumbers the males by a significant amount.  Female dominance stunts the ability of the male population to ‘reproduce’ and grow in size.  While Darwin’s natural selection “depends on the success of both sexes,” (1280) we can still for comparison’s sake label each sex as its own species in Cranford.  Additionally, every organism must fulfill a specific niche and in their environment and “the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient” (1432-1433) to cater to the tasks of gardening, gossip, and keeping their help in order.  Feminine characteristics are more suited to these duties, therefore females are naturally selected for and the male population is depleted because the aforementioned niche is best suited for habitat of Cranford.  Upon thinking about Cranford from Darwin’s perspective, I realized how large a role social Darwinism plays in this society.  Just as science is highly structured, so are the women of Cranford.

Also, similar to Darwin’s theory of evolution is Cranford’s isolation from the outside world, much like the Galapagos Islands.  Many of Cranford’s inhabitants are aged and so many specified “rules and regulations” (1433) have accrued within the town, which would not be found outside.  Even “their dress is very independent of fashion” (1433) and it is unlikely that a similar form of dress would be found elsewhere, unless another town exhibited the same form of isolation as Cranford.  Cranford’s resident are very traditional and do not wish to accept any form of change, although the Industrial Revolution is occurring during their time.  Instead of adapting to the new environment of the new world order, their niche is becoming more and more specialized, much like an endangered species in the Amazon rainforest.

Dawin’s Theory within “Our Society at Cranford”

It’s a challenge to try to find multiple examples of Darwin’s theory shown through Elizabeth Gaskell’s, “Our Society at Cranford” but I could maybe speak for a few instances. Darwin’s most prominent theories begin with the belief in Evolution and Sexual Selection, but the early writings of Charles Dawin read more like a diary, similar to the structure of “Our Society at Cranford.”

The theory most easily related to “Our Society at Cranford” would have to deal with Sexual Selection and the set up of the village, Cranford. While it is supposedly in the hands of man to choose his appropriate partner, according to Darwin, Gaskell twists this idea and puts the choice into the hands of the woman. Not only any woman, an Amazon, as Gaskell describes, for these women are not the dainty women Darwin knows and loves, but rather strong, confident, independent, warrior-like, self-sufficient, Amazonian women. While the roles may be turned, the ideals are quite similar. Darwin believes man should be scrupulous and critical when choosing a mate, so far to say that “both sexes out to refrain from marriage if in any marked degree inferior in body or mind; but such hopes are Utopian…” (1282). This idea of a Utopia is reflected in “Our Society at Cranford” through the women who make up the village. The women of Cranford agree, that unless a man is useful that there is no need for him. So far to say that only the surgeon is the only man (besides Captain Brown) that lives in Cranford. One Cranford woman claims a man ” ‘is so in the way in the house!’ “

While relating Darwin’s theorys to “Our Society at Cranford” is a stretch, the two writings have a few things in common. Darwin’s earlier writings read like a diary, all written from his, the author’s, point of view. “Our Society at Cranford” has the same structure. Darwin writes of a slave bought buy his ship Captain, “Jemmy Button” and the women of “Our Society at Cranford” have house servants, not neccessarily slaves, but women of poorer standings, who help take care of the cleaning and cooking. One more commonality among the readings have to do with the spreading of one’s own culture. In the beginning of “Our Society at Cranford” a point is made about those who move into their village; “if a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears… In short, whatever becomes of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford” (1432).  To continue their way of life, the women of Cranford keep the village to as few men as possible. Within the Darwin writings, he speaks of his captain’s “experiement” with Jemmy Button hoping to further his culture/language/way of living by placing Jemmy back into the place where he bought him. 

Gaskell’s Cultural Selection

I found it rather difficult to draw a parallel between Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford” and Darwin’s scientific theories. At first, it seems that the depictions of Cranford are quite shallow just because the women seem so simple and so opposed to change. This can be seen in the residents’ routines and habits that do not vary and, as it seems, have not varied for some time. The narrator even states that “it was impossible to live a month at Cranford and not know the daily habits of each resident.” In this way, it seems that Cranford has tried to construct an environment of perfect consistency so that there will be no “struggle for existence” within the community. Based on Darwin’s theories, if there is no “struggle for existence,” then there is no need for Natural Selection, meaning that there is no need for change. I suppose that, by creating this alternate theory of natural harmony, the text does seem to acknowledge the processes of natural selection and a “survival of the fittest” mentality.

This perhaps explains why the introduction of Captain Brown causes such a commotion. His presence, simply by being different than that of the other residents, creates an environment of competition. He represents the cultural change in the environment that will force the ladies of Cranford to adapt, or evolve, to a new way of life. Now, the ladies are perhaps no longer equal because some may be able to adapt better than others. I’m not entirely sure as to whether or not this is a sound argument for this text simply because I had a very difficult time drawing any comparisons. However, I think that Gaskell perhaps creates a cultural representation of what Darwin describes as the Selection process.

Gaskell and Darwin

At first, I found it difficult to find similarities between the various Darwin excerpts and that from Our Society at Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Upon beginning the reading, I was immediately struck by the image of Cranford as a feminine utopia– in one of my other classes this semester, we read a novel about a perfect nation inhabited only by women (Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman) and I started to view Cranford through this lens. It is helpful to see the town of Cranford as an independent nation with views and ideals that vary greatly from the rest of English society (specifically that of the larger cities like London) because it creates a link to Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. In both texts, the author/narrator is an outsider who intrudes upon an isolated group of people and reports his/her findings; the difference is that, in the Gaskell reading, the narrator comes from Cranford while Darwin is a foreigner visiting Tierra del Fuego. Both texts can be read as a travel narrative in which the narrator is describing the tendencies of a certain group of people in contrast to a different society (Darwin’s England/Europe and Gaskell’s Manchester). Both texts greatly generalize the practices and behaviors of the inhabitants they describe– while Darwin presents the Fuegians as animalistic and wild, Gaskell presents the ladies of Cranford as anachronisms who hate “vulgarity” and praise “elegant economy” (1434) instead of embracing the societal changes precipitated by the Industrial Revolution.

Furthermore, both texts incorporate a conflict between the inhabitants of their respective places using a man whose beliefs conflict with that of the society. Darwin and his fellow Europeans present this conflict in his text and the two different peoples attempt (and fail) to reconcile their beliefs and practices with those of the other. Darwin consistently comments upon these differences, stating: “I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement” (1263). Gaskell’s text exhibits this same dichotomy, although her’s is  between the sensational character of Captain Brown, who defies all of the expectations and unspoken rules of Cranford society. According to Gaskell, “we did not know what to make of a man who could speak of poverty as if it was not a disgrace” (1435). Both texts subtly criticize the “foreigners” within them for their lack of understanding of the functioning of polite, civilized society, although these rules are unspoken and never made clear to these individuals. Additionally, both texts assert the dominance and supremacy of polite English society, failing to take into consideration other cultures or ways of acting.

Themes of Darwinism in Our Society at Cranford

At first glance, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Our Society at Cranford and Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, On the Species by Means of Natural Selection, and The Descent of Man have very little in common. However, when delving deeper into the readings, you can see how the theme of social Darwinism surfaces quite frequently. The very notion that, “somehow the gentleman disappears,” shows how men do not last long in Cranford. Whether they die off, move away or are summoned somewhere else, men are not fit to dwell at Cranford. The tone in Our Society at Cranford makes for a great argument in favor of Darwinism. In The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin says “I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal.” He is inferring that his race is superior to that of the savage man. The same parallel is drawn to Gaskell’s piece how men are “so in the way in the house.”

Gaskell and Darwin: A Non Sequitur?

I will be honest and say it was a bit of a stretch for me to find much that was similar in these two works other than the obvious topic of gender roles. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, the fact that women, or “Amazons” if you like, dominate the populace show much of what Charles Darwin proposed about sexual selection. Because their husbands are away most of the time or are they are simply single, women do everything in Cranford, and are apparently damn good at it. Cranford lives in harmony for the most part until a man, Captain Brown, arrives and throws a wrench in the works and muddles up what Darwin would call the harmony of natural selection within the town, albeit making it better once the women learn to evolve their perceptions.

Both Gaskell and Darwin appreciate tradition and a sense of community within their respective spheres (Cranford and evolutionary mammals). Whilst Drumble is becoming more materialistic and hectic, and religion still holds the most sway in popular opinion on scientific discoveries, these two writers lobby for a mutual understanding between all parties and diplomatic respect for the inevitable changes that come with being a part of this world.

An Analysis of Modernity in Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” and Culture and Anarchy

In Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach and Culture and Anarchy, he brings to light central themes of modernity in the Victorian era, including industrialization, strict class divisions, and ardent capitalism, while arguing for ways to counteract them in order to lead more virtuous lives.  The post-Enlightenment period of the second half of the nineteenth was wrought with this idea of being self-aware of the current, progressive time, while also feeling somewhat detached.  Dover Beach epitomizes modernity in that it uses the ocean to symbolize the pre-modern world with “its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (1562) and contrasts it with the uncertain, modern world.  This new world is “swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight” as the people of the time do not understand, nor can they keep up with it.  With the advent of science, there is less sacredness present in life and in culture.  However, exciting the new world may seem with all its technological advances and urbanization of the cities, it “[lies] before us like a land of dreams” (1562) because it is only a dream.  Righteousness and the common good have been lost.

The Industrial Revolution was highly responsible for the Victorian era’s “bondage to machinery…[and] proneness to value machinery as an end to itself” (1597).  Arnold holds this obsession with machines responsible for a loss of morals and the ever present alienation found during his time.  He finds himself at odds with his current predicament and finds himself yearning for the enchanting, old days, where there a desire to “leave the world better and happier than we found it” (1596).  Along with industrialization yields capitalism; this has the effect of causing class warfare among the aristocracy, middle, and working classes.  Technology is not inherently evil, but it can make people evil.  When there is so much materialism and superficiality in society, it is easy to forget that society is strong only when everyone is accounted for.  Arnold claims that the current state of things is detrimental to society, as people are not concerned with the welfare of the masses.

Dover Beach, and Culture & Anarchy, and Honeymoons, and the Sadness of Life, and Whatever This “Faith” Thing Is

Arnold’s primary focus in “Dover Beach” is the ebbing and flowing of tides, the sound of which he identifies as some sort of musical expression of the universal sadness of the human condition.  Or whatever you want to call it—”the 1000 natural shocks that flesh is heir to” or “life is nasty, brutish, and short” or “shit happens”—that kind of thing.  Arnold makes sure to emphasize this sadness; he writes about the “eternal note of sadness” brought in by the cadence of the tides, the “ebb and flow of human misery,” and the “melancholy” roar of the retreating water.  Arnold presumably wrote this about or during his honeymoon, right?  His wife was probably trying to be romantic and everything, like “Oh, just look at the beautiful Strait of Dover, darling!  What does it make you feel?”  “Sadness!  Misery!  Melancholy!”  He was probably a fun guy to hang with.

Anyway, so the first two stanzas kind of set the scene and establish the metaphor, and the last two seem to be the most important, to have the compelling stuff, the heart of his message.  In the 3rd stanza, he focuses his attention on one specific tide—not that of the Strait of Dover or of the Aegean, but rather the tide of the “Sea of Faith.”  And Arnold claims that the water of this sea is currently in retreat, ebbing, exposing the dreary vast edges and  “naked shingles of the world.”  And this is a bad thing.  Arnold speaks with grandeur of the time when the Sea of Faith was “at the full” and lay “like the folds of a bright girdle furled.”  So he’s lamenting the current state of society and longing for the past.  But what is the Sea of Faith?  Surely not just religious belief, right?  Because a spirit of Puritanism obviously prevails throughout the Victorian period, as Arnold talks about in Culture and Anarchy.  And while he acknowledges the importance of the “fire and strength” that religion gives, but criticizes fanaticism and insists that fire and strength must be reconciled with sweetness and light.  So I don’t think it’s a lack of fanaticism that he’s lamenting.  But also, “Dover Beach” and Culture and Anarachy were written 18 years apart, so Arnold’s beliefs probably changed and developed.  Anyway, I’m a little unsure what Arnold is referring to with the “Sea of Faith.”  I would tend to assume that by “faith” he means something like the “sweetness and light” that he talks about in Culture and Anarchy—the idea of pursuit of perfection as culture.  But if I were just reading “Dover Beach” without having read Culture and Anarchy, I probably wouldn’t make that connection, so maybe he means something else by “faith.”

Anyway, I feel like the 4th and final stanza is pretty straightforward.  In this perpetually sad, miserable world that we find ourselves—here on this “darkling plain/ Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/ Where ignorant armies clash by night”—it is important that we be true to one another.  We gotta stick together.  His reference in those closing lines to struggle and ignorant armies reminded me of the class struggle that he talks about in Culture and Anarchy.  He says that the whole reason that the English exalt the principle of “doing whatever I want” is because they’re afraid of oppressive tyranny.  But in that fear, he thinks, they’ve swung too far to the opposite end of the spectrum and now face the confusion and chaos of impending anarchy.  But there’s a middle ground between anarchy and tyranny!  And it is the stability of the State.  Which sounds scary, because “we only conceive of the State as something equivalent to the class in occupation of the executive government, and are afraid of that class abusing power to its own purposes.”  But nope, it’s actually a good thing, because “Culture […] seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere” etc.  In this ideal State-ruled society there would be no classes—just lots of sweetness and light.  So stop fighting each other, like the “ignorant armies” on that darkling plain.

Matthew Arnold and Modernity

In the beginning of the introduction to the Victorian Age, the anthology states that “For the first time a nation had become self-consciously modern: people were sure only of their differences from previous generations, certain only that traditional ways of life were fast being transformed into something perilously unstable and astonishingly new” (1049). I think that this preoccupation is definitely visible in Culture and Anarchy. On one hand, Arnold is reacting to this self-consciousness by commenting upon rioting in England and warning that it is a slippery slope: “And one finds… that the outbreaks of rowdyism tend to become less and less of trifles, to become more frequent rather than less frequent” (1598). Arnold’s argument seems to be that this type of behavior leads to anarchy, which will impede the eventual perfection of society. The instability of the Modern state is reflected in these worries. On the other hand, Arnold’s argument supports the quotation about modernity through its questioning of the status quo. He argues that the typical British “freedom of worship” (1598) needs to be modified lest it lead to anarchy, which is clearly where Arnold sees his country heading. This mixture of reflection upon the traditional characteristics of society combined with inquietude about the future seems to link the text to the modernity that characterized this period.

Furthermore, “Dover Beach” seems to embody some of these same ideas. The speaker focuses on antiquity, trying to negotiate modernity with traditional sensibilities: “Sophocles long ago/ Heard it [the eternal note of sadness] on the Aegean, and it brought/ Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow/ Of human misery” (15-18). It seems that reflecting upon the past helps serve as a reminder to the speaker that ancient people dealt with the same emotions and ordeals that with which we currently struggle. The speaker compares his/her current society to the society of the past and seems concerned about the future in face of these changes; he/she feels that the “Sea of Faith”  (21) has dried up, which reflects the modern concern about the loss of spirituality and faith in the face of rapid societal changes and industrialization.

Culture and Anarchy & Dover Beach

Within the introduction, I tried to grasp the concepts behind Modernity, and what I could really get ahold of involved the sense of separation. Those authors writing within the age of Modernity, or the Victorian age, were deemed hopeless in the eyes of Arnold, because in these times it was an age of selfishness. Arnold refers to it as “an age wanting in moral grandeur… an age of spiritual discomfort” (1559). In other words, this age is lacking in beauty and intellect which Arnold refers to as “sweetness and light” (1559) and without these factors, you can’t write poetry that can move and grow the reader. If your poetry can not “animate and ennoble” (1557) your audience, you have not done your duty as an author. With these ideas in mind, I read Culture and Anarchy and “Dover Beach.”

While reading “Dover Beach”, I came across the same ideas of selfishness and hopelessness of this modern world Arnold seems to feel stuck in. For example, the poem opens by setting up a scene of the author looking out across the sea and recalling that those in the past would have done the same, but he looks to the world he has to go back into, and is disappointed.  Although this world “seems to lie before us like a land of dreams” it in fact has “neither joy, nor love, no light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (1562). This quote goes along with the idea that there is no “sweetness or light”, which is essentially beauty and intellect. 

Within Culture and Anarchy, the part that struck me the most that pertained to the ideas of Modernity had to do with the idea of selfishness and separation. Arnold uses the term “culture” in an unusual way for me. He uses it as almost a movement, saying things like “Culture is then…a study of perfection” and goes further on this path saying “the pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light… it [culture] is not satisfied till we all come to a perfect man” (1596). So not only does culture have a weight to it, it has emotions and aspirations, but within this age, man does not fulfill these things. Man has become selfish and instead of “the noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it” (1596) man has “the assertion of personal liberty” (1597). This is a block for all writers, according to Arnold, that prevents the process of good writing. 

Culture, Anarchy, and Light on the Coast of France

                In “Dover Beach,” Arnold seems very focused on illuminating the overwhelming sense of despair pervading his society at the time. This is somewhat understandable. Based on other readings about the early Victorian Period and the immense amounts of cultural changes occurring during this time, it is easy to see how individuals felt like their entire world—everything they had known and been familiar with—was being taken away from them. This realization is brought to light in the poem when Arnold discusses how this world, “so various, so beautiful, so new, // Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, // Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain.” Certitude may be the most important characteristic that this new world is lacking, as it shows that there is no sense of security in such great change.

                In my opinion, one of the most interesting lines in the poem occurs when Arnold describes that “on the French coast the light // Gleams and is gone.” The inclusion of light in this moment draws a parallel to Culture and Anarchy in which Arnold explains that “he who works for…light, works to make reason and the will of God prevail.” If that same idea is applied to the light discussed in “Dover Beach,” then this could very well be a commentary on the early efforts of the French Revolution in which the society (if not only temporarily) seemed poise to reach one of those “happy moments of humanity…when there is a national glow of life and thought, when the whole of society is in the fullest permeated by thought, sensible to beauty, intelligent and alive.” Perhaps Arnold relates the glimpse of this light on the French coast as a time when the “sweetness and light” of culture almost occurred so near to England, but so devastatingly fell apart. This failure of the attempt to pursue perfection as a society could very well be a reason that Arnold illuminates “human misery.” In other words, the ideal society had already been attempted, and yet proved to be impossible and unattainable.