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.