A War Film

The poem “A War film” by Teresa Hooley represents many of the ideals of modernism. War films, a recent invention at the time of World War I, usually functioned as propaganda. They exhibited glorious battles where the enemy of the country that produced the film suffers a humiliating loss or an unfair victory. In a bitter sadness, common to modernism, the poem displays elements of imagism also typical of the movement. The poem opens with saying “I saw” and listing a series of images such as “The Mon Retreat” and “The ‘Old Contemptibles’ who fought, and died,” (1,5-6). The entire poem focuses on clear imagism as showcased by those lines, continuing onto the next stanza which speaks of “hearing machine-guns rattle and shells scream” (9). The imagery in the poem, sharp and broken off randomly from one another, exemplifies the use of imagism associated with modernism.

In addition to imagism, “A War Film” experiments with a new form. The poem’s structure closely represents a war film. The short introductory stanza and the quick stanza following represent the basic introductory elements in most film: the characters, setting, and situation are introduced, followed by a quick turn of events which sets the plot into motion. The next stanza is over twice the length of any of the others, representing the plot, or in this case, battle. The last stanza, medium length, occurs after the plot or battle similarly to the conclusion of a film or aftermath of a battle. The poem’s most intense words occur at the end of the long stanza, around the climax speaking of going “To War. Tortured,/Torn. /Slain./Rotting in No Man’s Land, out in the rain” (22-24). The poem itself mirrors its subject while using sharp and clear images, featuring the typical elements of modernism.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”and Decadence

The Decadence period was characterized by a decline in morality and increase in refined taste, luxury, and pleasure. “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock” begins by setting the scene in a bustling city during the evening. The persona observes various elements of the scene such as the “one-night cheap hotels” and the “restaurants with oyster shells”, and his inclusion of these particular places hints at decadence. He specifically mentions places of self indulgence (food from the restaurant) and pleasure (one night stands at the hotels), and these ideas illustrate a transition from morality to luxury and self-centered concern. The idea of Decadence continues when the persona begins to talk about going to a party. The phrase “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” shows that parties centered around discussion of classical art and relates to the refined tastes of decadence. However, here the poem begins to diverge from decadent ideals. The previously mentioned phrase is repeated in the poem, implying a sense of redundant monotony. Prufrock is also extremely reluctant to enter the party, showing his aversion to that setting and his insecurity. Prufrock seems to disapprove of decadence, and his disapproval only strengthens throughout the poem. He keeps listing trivial, surface details of his life (“After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets”) to illustrate how dull and meaningless decadent life is. The persona has a deep love for someone that goes beyond the petty indulgences and beliefs of Decadence and, as he chooses not to act on his feelings, this voluntary abstinence from sex and happiness conflicts greatly with the beliefs of Decadent writers.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Although decadence is prevalent throughout the poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot, but it also diverges from it. Decadence means the tawdry subject matter, having low morals, and being only interested in pleasure.

This poem has many portions of which Eliot uses decadence to conceptualize his story, but majorly Eliot uses Prufrock interest in pleasure. Prufrock describes his experience of what can be preceded as a one night stand, “Let us go then, you and I/ Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, /The muttering retreats/ Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels/…Streets that follow like a tedious argument/ Of insidious intent” (1,9). It seems as though Prufrock is with someone and is interested in having pleasure with them. Also, the lines “like a patient etherized upon a table” can mean explicitly mean that they are having sex (2). The word etherize means to make numb, while in this excerpt it can directly mean about their “restless night.” While Eliot uses decadence throughout his story, he also strays from it.

Eliot diverges from decadence by Prufrock becoming interested in his future. Prufrock says, “I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;/ I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid” (83,86). This shows that Prufrock begins to think about how his future will ultimately materialize. He already precedes that his future is not going to be glorious, and frightful.













Decadence and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a poem that exemplifies the values of Victorian age Decadence. Decadence was essentially the uprooting of those Victorian values with an amoral attitude that focused on more of the sexual things that were not talked about at the time. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” embodies this because of the multitude of different sexual references and Elliot alluding to sex in many different ways. For example, Eliot writes, ” And when I am formulates, sprawling on a pin,when I am pinned and wriggling on the wall/ then how should I begin to spit out all of the butt-ends of my days and ways?” (ll. 58-59).This line to me, puts emphasis on sexual dominance of the main character over all of his lovers. This quote also indicates that the main character’s partner emphasizes the sexual act rather than the emotional relationship. This attitude is most certainly decadent because of the amoral attitude and inability to emotionally connect with one’s partner. However, what contrasts Decadence is that same idea: sexual acts were still somewhat reserved for marriage. So, Eliot is avidly describing affairs as well as sexual acts that were outside of marriage, which was still against the Decadent times. For example, Eliot writes, “In the room the women come and go” (13) and “Is it perfume from a dress that makes me so digress?” (65-66). This implies that the main character of this poem is sleeping around with many different women and is being called out by the narrator. In conclusion, Decadence is evident in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” because of the way Eliot talks so freely about sex, but contrast with Decadence because of the main character’s ability to sleep with a multitude of women.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”, contains elements that coincide with Decadence and that diverge from it. One commonality between the two can be found in Eliot’s attention to surface details. He writes, “Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;” so as to say that something as trivial as a coffee spoon is how he is counts his entire life. He says too, “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” This brings importance to things that are purely surface details. We  also see sophistication of taste when Eliot writes, “Talking of Michelangelo”, “the taking of toast and tea”, “the cups, the marmalade, the tea, among the porcelain”, and “my morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, my necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin.” These kind of sophisticated appearances of taste is common in Decadent writing, but I believe Eliot is using them in a much different way than, say, Wilde would. Wilde would perhaps say that taste and pleasure are more important than morality, but Eliot is using these examples of taste as a way to say that not even taste matters. We can find this when he writes, “I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter.”

Contrasting with Decadence and the sophistication of taste, however, we see Eliot write of things considered ordinary or even low-class. He writes of “sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells” and “the pools that stand in drains”. He also mocks those who speak with sophistication when he writes, “Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-” and this is purposely meant to contrast with the examples of high taste mentioned above. He, like the modern age itself, is bringing “common” life into the “sophisticated” life. This is seen heavily through the food he mentions, alluding to the modern availability of varying kinds of food to the lower classes in cheaper ways.

J. Alfred. Prufrock

T. S. Eliot includes many elements of decadence in his poem “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Decadence, a weakening of morals often as a result of indulgent activity, fills the poem through descriptions of Prufrock’s lifestyle.  Aside from the content, the poem itself represents a break from past establishments.  Eliot writes the poem in an unconventional verse and rhyme scheme.  It presents a more free style than the previous more structured forms of poetry, similar to how decadence represents a free living lifestyle compared to previous practices, especially in the Victorian age.

Moving to the content itself, decadence is evident in Prufrock’s  practices and Eliot’s word choices to describe them.  Eliot writes about “restless nights in one-night cheap hotel,” suggesting a sexual affair with either a prostitute or a sort of mistress (6).  Even if Prufrock’s partners were steady girlfriends, the traditional view on moral sexual activity is that it should be reserved for marriage.  Later in the poem, Eliot writes “there will be time to murder and a time to create” (28).  This line, followed by another “and time for” line functions mirrors a bible passage directly.  The beginning of Ecclesiastes 3 is a long anaphora with lines repeating “a time to,” including one that says “a time to kill.”  The twisting of the biblical passage shows the decadence movement through its blatant falling away from the past scripture. T.S Elion also asked the question “Do I dare/Disturb the universe” (45-46).  Decadence, associated with a more modern way of living and lifestyle, connects with this question.  Previously, religion and social norms ruled morality itself.  The question asked has a way of questioning reality itself.  As decadence is a falling away from morality as suggested by Prufrock’s sexual escapades, asking if one should disturb the universe is a similar questioning of authority by contemplating disturbing reality itself.  In a way, this new form of poetry and its blatant, shameless discussion of subject matter that would be taboo in Victorian times disturbs the universe as well.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Written by T.S. Eliot in 1915 during Modernism, we can say that in this poem, we can find some aspects of Decadence, such as the tawdry subject matter, flaunting and art for art’s sake which is a bit more related to aestheticism, but which still doesn’t imply a moral concern. In a second part, we will see that this poem, in some ways, diverge from Decadence.

First, we can say that the tawdry subject matter can be found for exemple l.6 “Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels”, so here we have a frank exemple of a bed in a cheap hotel and then not of a good quality, and Prufrock doesn’t hide himself from saying that it was a restless night. He could have used a more poetic way to say it but prefers being direct, he doesn’t beat around the bush. Then, flaunting is very present, for instance l.111 ” No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;”. Prince Hamlet being a character respecting the established rules, he obviously says that he doesn’t care about it, and states that he is even less than that l.119 “Almost, at times, the Fool.”. He’s not ashamed of being ridiculous and is proud of himself to be less than Hamlet or a prince. This is against the traditional morality. Then, we can talk about art for art’s sake since it is part of aestheticism, it gives a sophisticated tone in his poem, when he says for example twice l.14 and l.36 “Talking of Michelangelo.” or, for the ultra-refined sophistication l.88-89 “After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, / Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,”.

Then, we can also say that in some ways, it diverges from the Decadence since Prufrock wonders about a lot of things, he is afraid to make a choice, whereas Decadence is about not caring about this, the consequences of his choices and his actions. For instance, he repeats a lot of time for instance “Do I dare?” l.38, l.45 followed by “Disturb the universe?” which means that he is not quite sure about it. Or, “So how should I presume?” l.54, 61 and 69 with “begin” instead of presume. So, we can say that this is not Decadent because Prufrock actually cares about morality.

Eventually, we can say that this poem have more in common with the Decadence, and that it doesn’t really diverge from it.

Theme of Decadence in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”by T.S. Eliot

The poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” begins with strong tones of decadence but as T.S. Eliot continues, the poem shifts towards having a moral direction which does follow the theme of decadence. An aspect of decadence is writing without the intent of instructing readers how to behave correctly in society. The narrator of T.S. Eliot’s poem does not have strong morals which is evident from the start. T.S. Eliot opens “The Love Son of J. Alfred Prufrock” with an excerpt from Dante’s Inferno where Dante asks one of the damned souls in hell for his name. The soul’s response strongly suggests that Dante will spend his eternity in hell. The universal theme of hell is that it is a horrible place and the people who end up there have sinned greatly. Therefore, the main character of this poem has not made morally correct decisions in his life. He seems lost. Another example that shows the narrator has not led a moral life appears in the lines, “Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells” (Eliot 6-7). The image of a night spent in a cheap hotel and faux nice restaurants suggests a night out with a call-girl. The rest of the poem continues with a look into the narrator’s indecisiveness of embracing his immorality. For example, the lines “Is it perfume from a dress / That makes me so digress? / And should I then presume? / And how should I begin?” (Eliot 66-69), contrasted with the lines “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid” (Eliot 85-86). The lines 66-69 demonstrate that the narrator is easily tempted by a woman however he is unsure of how to proceed with his temptations. This contrasts with the next lines because he is now afraid of the outcome of his immorality. This is where the poem shifts away from a decadent tone. The narrator becomes aware that there may be consequences to his actions. This gives readers moral direction, reminding them that a life in hell awaits them if they lead a sinful life.

Decadence in T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” contains some elements of Decadence but at the same time diverges from it. One way Decadence is shown is through somewhat subtle sexual innuendos. For example, the persona speaks of “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels” and of “one…throwing off a shawl” (6, 107). Both of these phrases hint at sexual acts. Another characteristic of Decadence present in the poem is amorality, which is shown through the slightly amoral attitude of the speaker. He says that “There will be a time to murder and create,” casually mentioning the act of murder (28). Another way Eliot uses Decadence is through conveying a bit of sympathy to social outcasts. In one line, the speaker talks about “lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows” (72). He feels bad for these men and likely empathizes with their loneliness. It is clear that Decadence is a part of this poem.

However, this poem also goes against Decadence in some ways. One is that rather than outright flaunting his amoral attitude and his stance against traditional morality, the speaker is subtle, even unsure about it, as he questions himself repeatedly, “‘Do I dare?'” (38). He is also subtle about his mention of tawdry subject matter — sex does not pervade this poem, but rather it is mentioned in a subdued way only a couple of times. Though Decadence is present in the poem, it is only to a certain extent.

Decadence and More in Prufrock

“The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot holds many ideas from the earlier poetry of Decadence.  Eliot, in this poem, repeatedly presents trivial everyday objects and events as equal in importance to questions about the stability of reality. At one point the narrator quickly switches from thinking of his outfit “my necktie rich and modest,”(43) to philosophical questions about his place in the universe, “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” (45-46) This odd juxtaposition between trivial and non-trivial is present throughout the poem and shows that Eliot is drawing on many of the same ideas presented by Decadence.

However, while Decadence was concerned with amorality, Eliot seems to be concerned with discovering some type of new morality. Eliot’s world was changing quickly during this time. Industrialization and mechanization were increasing rapidly. Global relations were getting more tense and complicated. Even the most basic pillars of reality, that space and time were constant, were being challenged. People were looking for a some set of ideas to help them lead their day to day life.  This is represented by Eliot in the narrators constant questioning. “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”(45-46) he says possibly referencing Einstein.  He even is unsure about relatively unimportant things like “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”(122) His narrator is lost in the chaos of the modern world is looking for something to guide him through his life unlike the Decadents who had no desire to have any moral guidelines.

Decadence in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”

Traces of Decadence can be found within T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock.” The poem, first of all, has a sensuality associated with Decadence as Prufock, the speaker, muses on love, long nights and vague physical descriptions of a nameless, faceless woman.  At the same time, it expresses a dissatisfaction with life and art alike.  Individuals in the poem seem to have the Decadent sophistication of taste (the women talk of Michelangelo while frequent mention of tea, talk, porcelain, and novels is made) but this does not satisfy. Prufock, for instance, states that he is no “Prince Hamlet.” He is not a hero–tragic or otherwise–but has more in common with the attendant or even the Fool. In other words, the art and literature of the past does not suit him or meld with the confusing world and feelings he finds himself in. Similarly, many of the stanzas end with Prufock asking a question: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”, “Should I then presume?”, and “How should I begin?” Decadence was, in part, preoccupied with metaphysical questions accompanied by Christian notions of temptation and damnation. Likewise, Prufock is haunted by the decisions he has made and the actions he has and has not taken. He wonders about the nature of the world and his role within it.

However, these questions also signal a divergence from Decadence. The amoral or perverse attitudes of Decadence were often flaunted. Individuals were open and unapologetic about their interest in sophistication and sexuality and the idea of “art for art’s sake” was popular. Simultaneously they were unapologetic for their sometimes contradictory or unreasonable actions and lifestyle. Prufock, on the other hand, does appear to feel some form of regret or guilt and the questions he asks in regard to parting his hair or eating a peach at the poem’s end reflect his feeling that everything has become meaningless.

T.S Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and decadence

In “the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” T.S Eliot uses aspects of decadence such as metaphysical opening that has a conceit, appreciation to art, and flaunting that tells us about the speaker to exemplify the new style of modernism. The metaphysical aspect happens from the very beginning of the poem with “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky” to show the opening conceit of having two lovers in the poem succumb to death together at a certain time of day (1-2). He also uses this to show how complexity of his style that was common in most modern texts. Another aspect of decadence was the appreciation of art in the poem with the mention of “Michelangelo” to show Eliot want others to appreciate art for themselves and not for society’s sake (14). This line is repeated in the poem to reiterate the appreciation of art and the importance of valuing it. Another aspect is the speaker flaunting toward his lover with “No, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; /Am an attendant lord, one that will do” to show how he flaunts about himself by not being one that is far superior than him (111-112). Eliot also uses this to show how dissimilar he is toward the speaker of the poem and how much he is telling about himself. These are the ways in which elements of decadence are expressed through Eliot’s writing.

However, there are instances where Eliot does not use decadence in his poem. An instance of this is when he addresses the actions he made and then repeatedly questions himself before proceeding further in the next action. What is the use of such a style in the poem? Another aspect is his attention to detail with “yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes” that show how a form of aestheticism he uses instead of decadence in his poem (16). This detail also illustrates the profound love that he feels toward his lover as well.

Decadence and “The love song of J. Alfred Prufruck”

As discussed in class, decadence is the decay of morals held by people and society which is possibly due to an unrestrained indulgence amongst society.  We seek out the forbidden and speak without regret about tawdry subject matters.  In T.S. Elliot’s work ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufruck’ he shows some aspects of decadence.  One part of decadence he illustrates is by saying things how they are.  For example, in line 6 “of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels” he doesn’t sugar coat having to stay somewhere other than one’s bed.  No, he says it how it is, sleeping on a cheap foreign bed brings next to no sleep.  Elliot also shows decadence when he talks about the ‘yellow fog’.  As a result of the industrial era, England was covered in the smoke produced by the factories.  Elliot does not hold back when he talks about this smoke.  He goes into great detail about how it just covers everything i.e. “rubs its back upon the window-panes”, “rubs its muzzle”, “licked its tongue into the corners”, “lingered upon the pools” (15-18).  Another aspect of decadence Elliot illustrates is unrestrained indulgence.  He constantly says “would it have been worth it, after all” which leads me to believe he is talking about these over indulgences such as tea and marmalade.  In my opinion it sounds as if he is questioning these indulgences of his.


Lady of Shallot

In 1832, just years before the death of William IV and the crowning of Victoria, the heavily modernized societies pushed forward, searching to define who they were and what they stood for. With such a rapid economic expansion, citizens were becoming whiplashed by the unthinkable poverty and immense national success. This unpredictable society, constantly engaged in social changes and bright innovations, was later stabilized as Queen Victoria stepped into her role in 1837. Becoming the face of British continuity, Victoria knew she must command firmly, not to correct the chaos, but direct it toward further building the industrialized world. Editors of the Longman Anthology discuss how the “Victorian” period, first coined in 1851, “Signifies social conduct, governed by strict rules, formal manners, and rigidly defined gender roles” (Damnrosch Pg. 1051). This placed enormous pressure on women to selflessly remain enslaved by the household duties and spousal expectations. Of course the poor families needed a double income in order to feed the starving mouths they bred, but the well-born or well-married women were not so “lucky.” This shackling predetermination led to the feminist revolution, aided, not only by the oppressed women, but by journalists, artists and poets like Lord Alfred Tennyson. In his poem “The Lady of Shallot,” Tennyson exaggerates the affluent women’s condition by imprisoning a Lady in her castle, placing a curse on her for if she disobeys, and forcing her to weave year round, completing her womanly duty. These literal actions portray the hidden emotion of the wealthy and able women during the Victorian period, furthering the campaign of the feminist movement. “The Lady of Shallot” exemplifies how playing along with the guidelines of society can entangle the individuality of the person and halt progression.

our society at cranford.

Throughout this story, Elizabeth Gaskell makes the them of Darwin’s “natural selection” very evident. Natural selection is define by google as: the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The author focused heavily on the external aspects of the characters describing some as “20 shades prettier” and others as sickly and pale. This represents the difference between those who may have been “selected” as opposed to those who have slim chances. The idea is that beauty is connected to strength and adaptability but it is not always the case. Some may have all the physical aspects yet not be able to adapt. This is manifested in her writing. The only character that represents all the qualities as explained in the previous stated definition is Miss Jessie Brown. She being the only one that survives proves that and especially being able to adapt and get married. Which is the second part of the definition; to produce more offspring. Being one that survived and adapted she will produce offspring who will be stronger and more capable of serving as well which will reinforce the idea that Darwin put forth.

It is very clear that the qualities we talked about in class (sweetness and beauty) are representative of the ability to adapt and survive. Darwin may suggest that maybe inherently people are subconsciously looking for a “mate” who will allow their offspring the best chance at survival.

Darwin’s Evolution in “Our Society at Cranford”

While reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford” I didn’t recognize any outstanding tie-ins to Darwin and his theory of evolution. It almost seemed as if Gaskell was attempting to juxtapose her thriving, supportive town with Darwin’s theories. Upon revisiting the text, it became apparent to me that Gaskell was taking great care to highlight the closeness and intimacy of the community at Cranford. Even between the narrator’s many visits to her town, the people do not change much. This ties in with the tribes of Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle” reflections, just as the natives pose to be such an isolated and constant collection of individuals. Elaborating, Darwin writes, “the structure of every organic being is related” and that, therefore individuals will, “come into competition for food or residence” (1276). However, the town at Cranford supports those who suffer, as apparent when the residents care for Miss Brown until she dies (1442).

Gaskell’s slight opposition of Darwin’s theories continues as Darwin lectures his readers on ‘survival of the fittest’, where those who outlast their peers are intelligent, “enabling [them] to use language, to invent and make weapons” (1279), and dominant. Those who thrive in “Our Society at Cranford” are indeed brilliant, though they abstain from any aggressive attempts to dominate those around them. When they pass, it’s a natural, graceful happening which Gaskell describes as lovely in the case of Miss Brown or noble with Captain Brown’s fatality. She does, however, reiterate Darwin’s statement that “every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers; that each lives by a struggle at some period of its life” (1275). While the characters in Gaskell’s piece may not struggle against each other, they certainly fight against time. As Captain Brown’s physical appearance alters from a man of “military smartness” and “infinite recourses” (1440) to the “older” and “poor, brave Captain” (1442) within a single page turn, Darwin’s arguments on humanities mortality are illustrated. Gaskell gently reminds readers that Darwin’s theories do not necessarily pin humans against humans for survival, but also humans against nature and time.

“The Descent of Man” in comparison to “Our Society in Cranford”

While Darwin’s main focus is the scientific process of Natural Selection in The Descent of Man, he outlines some basic innate social policies that must “have been acquired through natural selection” (1279). The moral qualities described by Darwin are classified as “instincts… of a highly complex nature” (1279). Man’s higher intellectual power gives us the ability to have a very “distinct emotion of sympathy” (1279). The animalistic instincts to “take pleasure in each other’s company, warn each other of danger, defend and aid each other” (1279) is innate in humans according to Darwin. Darwin also suggests that this natural selection only happens in communities, not an entire species. This is highly reflected in the excerpt by Elizabeth Gaskell.

The Cranford community is as tightly knit as Darwin’s instinctual society suggests. The Cranford ladies are “quite sufficient”, and only have “an occasional little quarrel” (1433). These women abide by strict societal expectations that are naturally selected for this specific community. This selection almost always leads to men being pushed out due to not being able to adapt to the society that they enter, and accord to Gaskell, “in short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford” (1432). This instinct to aid each other is seen when a tea-party is thrown that is not up to the aristocratic par of the norm, but there is no issue brought up with it. “…every one took this novel proceeding as the most natural thing in the world…” (1434). Even after the disagreement of Captain Brown and Ms. Jenkyns over the authors, the instinct to aid and be sympathetic is seen when Ms. Jenkyns demands to have a funeral for Ms. Jessie’s father. She also demands that Jessie live with her instead of the house where she would be all alone. “Miss Jenkyns insisted that Miss Jessie should come to stay with her rather than go back to the desolate house…” (1445). The final example of the instinct to defend was when Ms. Jenkyns sent the gentleman to court Ms. Jessie, Ms. Matty was outraged and said “Deborah, there’s a gentleman sitting in the drawing-room with his arm round Miss Jessie’s waist!” (1446) All of this goes to show that this community was ruled by instinctual social norms that were created not due to human intentionality, but the human’s distinct sense of empathy and natural instinct to thrive in social settings with other humans.

Darwin’s evolutionary ideology in “Our Society at Cranford”

The society of Cranford easily incorporates Darwin’s theories of Survival of the Fittest, and of Adaptation, over the course of the story.

Broadly speaking, Survival of the Fittest prevails. Miss Jessie outlives both her father, Captain Brown, and her sister, Miss Brown. Neither died from “old age”: Her father died from a freak accident and her sister from a chronic illness. Miss Brown, in her last few words, reveals that their family had lost even more members before Captain Brown had died– “‘Father, mother, Harry, Archy'” (1445). Based on Darwin’s theory, Jessie’s characteristics set her up for success. She appears “childlike”, “twenty shades prettier” than her sister, and the narrator declares that “she should live to a hundred” (1436). Also, Survival of the Fittest requires fertility and successful reproduction, which applies to Jessie here as well. At the end of the story, Jessie has had a daughter, Flora, who has managed to survive long enough to learn to read (she has surpassed the age in which child mortality is highest in this era).

Adaptation also becomes apparent in this story by the changes in the Cranford ladies overall. Initially, the society of Cranford was entirely populated by women; “all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women”, and in Victorian society, property ownership often equated to those of some power. All of the ladies had a polite facade where talk of their average lives was practically nonexistent, and disdain for poverty made itself clear. When Captain Brown moves to Cranford (an intense change in the society already, solely due to his gender), he makes his financial situation known when determining a house to buy, and the women react with affront and distaste, declaring that if “he was so brazen as to talk of being poor–why, then, indeed, he must be sent to Coventry” (1434). This dislike of poverty ties back to Darwin’s thought that should all incapacitated and/or poor people not reproduce, the human species would have higher success or be better for it. He does, however, recognize that this is not possible and moves on from that. After this initial reaction of the ladies of Cranford, most of them adapt pretty quickly to this outsider because of his “manly frankness”, and his “excellent masculine common sense” along with his ability to “overcome domestic dilemmas” (1435). Not only did these qualities help Captain Brown fit in to society, but they also “gained him an extraordinary place as authority among the Cranford ladies” (1435).

Darwinism in “Our Society at Cranford”

Darwin’s idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ is also exemplified through the Brown family in this piece. By the end of the story, Miss Jessie is the only surviving member of her family because she had the natural advantages and the adaptability necessary to thrive in a new community. She is described to be physically attractive and youthful, as “her eyes were large blue wondering eyes” and she was “twenty shades prettier” than her sister (1436). Miss Brown, on the other hand, is described as having a “sickly, pained, careworn expression” (1435). The narrator’s immediate focus on the physical traits of each sister illustrates the importance of natural physical advantages to survival. Miss Brown was unhealthy and did not have physical beauty, and her sickness ultimately caused her death. Captain Brown didn’t have the natural disadvantages that Miss Brown did, but he shared her fate in not surviving. This was due to his inability to adapt to the society he was placed into. Captain Brown at one point violated a social norm and then was described to have “been blind to all the small slights, and omissions of trivial ceremonies, with which he had been received” (1435). Not only did Captain Brown go against many of the rules in place in Cranford, but he was totally ignorant of his doing so. This combination made him unable to adapt to the society and therefore lowered his ability to survive. Miss Jessie, a respectable and hardworking woman, fit well into the society at Cranford. She was able to adapt to her situation and had natural advantages, allowing her to survive when her family did not. Her marriage at the end emphasizes this even further, because she was successful in finding a mate and will possibly be able to leave offspring behind, making her even stronger in a Darwinistic sense.

Darwinism found in “Our Society at Cranford”

“Our Society at Cranford” is a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell that follows the story of residents in the town of Cranford. In this novel, Cranford is a small town found in England. The very nature of Cranford is very different from any real setting. To begin, Cranford is described as being “in possession of the Amazons” (1432). This statement immediately sets an interesting tone to the work by pointing out that there is a fierce race of people found in Cranford. Ideas such as one race being superior to another and that race being able to maintain a higher mental/physical ability reflects a very popular scientific contribution of the time made by Charles Darwin. The basis of Darwin’s natural selection is rooted in the idea that some species are made greater than others because they have evolved to be that way. “Our Society in Cranford” comes to reflect that sentiment even deeper when the reader reads on to learn that the women are in charge of running everything in Cranford, while “somehow the gentlemen disappears” (1432). The town that Gaskell builds is one that has deeply ingrained the hierarchy between different humans that was first noted by Darwin to exist between the species. Furthermore, Cranford is a town that believes itself to be above all other places because “though some might be poor, we were all aristocratic” (1434). The divisions that Darwin often makes between species and their developed mental capacities, seem to parallel the distinctions Gaskell makes between residents of Cranford, the women in Cranford, and the poor in Cranford. The way the narrator speaks about the poor in Cranford it is practically as if those who spoke “of poverty as if it was not a disgrace” were lower beings than the rich women who made up the substance of Cranford (1435). Overall, there appears to be distinct levels in Cranford between those who are higher ranking in intelligence and those who are not.

Our Society at Cranford and Darwinism

In “Our Society at Cranford,” Elizabeth Gaskell explains how the Amazons way of life resemble Darwin’s “struggle for existence”(1273). This predominantly female culture upholds their own social decorums such as wearing practical instead of flattering clothing and practicing modesty when discussing wealth. They also naturally remove the men who enter into their culture by singling them out and scaring them to death, whatever they do “somehow the gentlemen disappears”( 1432). The women have evolved to live in harmony with each other and easily get past the “occasional little quarrel” (1433). Captain Brown, on the other hand, was different than most men and lasted longer in this ecosystem than the women had initially thought. His ability and understanding of the way these women would talk, act and think gave him a leg up. He was able to treat the women the way they wanted to be and “his manly frankness had overpowered all the shrinking which met him as a man who was not ashamed of being poor”(1435). He would help the maids at parties and would tend to the ladies needs. It is not discussed if Captain Brown was like this before entering this environment or if he knew to evolve like darwin’s finches but either way his characteristics, although physically different, fit well with his new home. In the end Captain Brown was not deceived or outcast by the women yet it “was the Captain’s infinite kindness of heart”(1439) that caused the wheel of natural selection to land on him. In his efforts to save a boy from getting hit by a train, Captain Brown tripped and fell just before the train passed over him. Sometimes it is not the animals in the ecosystem that plot your demise for further gain but the interworking of that ecosystem that takes the life. No matter how a being evolves with regard to its fellow beings, one must always remember to evolve with regard to the system itself.

“Our Society at Cranford” and Darwinism

            Darwin’s idea of “survival of the fittest” is prevalent throughout Elizabeth Glaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford”. The story starts by establishing an isolated environment where “the Amazons” (1432) are dominant. The women of Cranford can almost be seen as the top predators of that ecosystem; however, instead of monopolizing resources or killing off competitors such as animals would, the women maintain a strict social environment that causes the men to be “frightened to death” (1432). The women of Cranford themselves have almost seemed to evolve away from the social norms of other societies; for example, the fact that “their dress is very independent of fashion” (1433) shows that they don’t feel the need to act on the impulses of traditional society. This is similar to how the finches discovered by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands evolved from traditional finches into completely different species. Cranford society illustrates how those who haven’t adapted to live in specialized conditions (the men) will be unable to thrive in a community dominated by a fitter species (the women).
            Captain Brown, however, managed to adapt to the Cranford society, and for awhile he even thrived, as many invasive species do when entering a new ecosystem. Unfortunately, his “great goodness of heart” (1439) that the women found to be “very eccentric” (1439) ended up being his downfall as he pushed a child out of the way of a train; he was unable to fully adapt to the society of Cranford and ultimately died because of this. Similarly, his oldest daughter was too “sickly, pained” (1435) and disagreeable to survive in the Cranford environment, and she ended up dying as well. Miss Jessie Brown, on the other hand, was actually fit to survive in Cranford due to her beauty and lighthearted nature and lived happily at the end of the story, showing that as long as someone or something can adapt to their environment, they can survive.

Our Society at Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell

At the first reading of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Our Society at Cranford, I thought that Darwnism was not obviously present in the text. I had to think more about it to realize that this short story might actually be a sort of fictional practical application of Darwin’s theories about the evolution and the natural selection. Indeed, in this fictionnal city, most of the inhabitants are women, as it is underlined by the very first sentence of the text : “Cranford is in possession of the Amazons”. This reference to the mythological Amazons clearly puts the reader in a context of fight, of struggle, since the Amazons are a people exclusively composed of women, who were real warriors. This can be read under Darwin’s theory of natural selection influence, which involves a real struggle for life. We can thus suppose that the inhabitants of Cranford are strong women who survived the hardship of life and of natural selection.

But I think that what puts the most into practice Darwin’s theories in this text is the story of the family Brown. In many ways, this family seems to be the fictional example of the application of Darwin’s theories. Indeed, the three members of the family embody the phenomenon of natural selection as defined by Darwin. At the end of this extract, only one out of three members of the family survives. This is the youngest daughter, who is described from the beginning as a strong person, spoilt by nature : ” It was true there was something childlike in her face; and there will be, I think, till she dies, though she should live to a hundred.” In this sentence, we can notice that Miss Jessie seems really young, yet youth is associated with strengh and vitality. Plus, the narrator underlines the fact that she will live old : “a hundred”, supposed, “years” ; which is a very long life for a human being, especially at the time Gaskell wrote that short story. On the contrary, her sister is presented as a very weak person : “Miss Brown must have been forty; she had a sickly, pained, careworn expression on her face, and looked as if the gaiety of youth had long faded out of sight.”. Contrary to her sister, she embodies the old age. Moreover, the enumeration of pejorative adjectives such as “sickly, pained, careworn” insists on the fact that she is sick, and make the reader suppose from the beginning that she won’t live as long as her sister. Indeed, whereas her sister is spoilt by nature, she is not. She belongs to the “weak” beings, while Miss Jessie belongs to the “strong” beings, according to Darwin’s theory. Then, Miss Brown will not live long. Finally, even the last member of the family, Captain Brown, the father, is confronted with natural selection. He is, like his daughter Miss Jessie, appointed as a “strong” being, who is supposed to survive. However, he will die too, not because of weakness, but because of an accident. In other words, Captain Brown is victim of what we could call “random”. In a way, he is also a victim of natural selection, because nature is in someway made of randoms. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. To summurize it, family Brown is the practical application of Darwnin’s theory of natural selection : two out of three beings are going to die – one of them because he was too weak to survie, the other one because of random – and only one of them will survive – the strongest.

Furthermore, Brown’s family is also a kind of practical application of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. In this city fulled with women, a man is obviously not going unnoticed. But Captain Brown appears to be a very attractive man, who answers to all the categories that makes a male individual attractive to the eyes of a female individual. We can read : “his excellent masculine common sense […]  had gained him an extraordinary place as authority among the Cranford ladies”. The words “masculine common sense” here refer to a sort of scientific language. These words added to the meliorative adjective “excellent” clearly show that he is a kind of model of what masculinity should be, according to women. So there is an obvious reference to Darwin’s sexual selection, and, globally, the whole family seems to be a sort of fictionnal application of Darwin’s theories of evolution.

Our Society at Cranford and Darwinism

“Cranford is in possession of the Amazons;” (1432), perhaps sums it up better than I can. Cranford has, through fairly organic means, developed a very typical Darwinian style. It had a clear cut alpha species situated at the top of the food chain, the female residents, and subservient species, their husbands. The species at the top of the food chain then becomes the dominant driving force behind this section of society, such as a keeping the gardens well trimmed, or developing a system of etiquette around the discussion of one’s poverty.

Captain Brown shows off this established hierarchy as well. The Captain becomes a respected figure among the ladies, after an initial rough period, but this shift in perspective ripples along the entirety of the  dominant faction, as popular opinion of Brown quickly sways from its initial disgust of him. “He himself went on in his course, as unaware of his popularity as he had been of the reverse” (1435), illustrates the unity with which the strongest group reached this new conclusion. Brown might be more influential than most men, but the reaction and tonal shift the female populace has towards to him shows that is still the will of the alphas that decides the will of the lower species.


“Our Society at Cranford”

In the short story “Our Society at Cranford,” by Elizabeth Gaskell, there are elements of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The struggle for existence is present throughout “Our Society at Cranford.” The ladies in the town all struggle for existence in a “large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another” (Pg 1273). In the city of Cranford, the ladies all depend on each other “for keeping the trim garden full of choice flowers without a weed to speck them; for frightening away little boys who look wistfully at the said flowers through the railings, for rushing out at the geese that occasionally venture into the gardens if the gates are left open; for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons for arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody’s affairs in the parish; for keeping their neat maid servants in admirable order; for kindness to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient” (1433) All the ladies in the town depend on one another whether they want to or not. They must depend on each other to keep the town going, and running efficiently. Everyone’s actions affects the social lives of everyone else. By social life I mean, that not every “man can be a surgeon,” so everyone chases a different skilled/unskilled occupation (Pg 1432).
Survival of the fittest is also present throughout the short story “Our Society at Cranford.” Miss Brown and her sister are observed by the ladies in Cranford, and compared too based on their style and looks. Miss brown and her sister are described in great detail. Miss Brown is “forty; she had a sickly, pained, careworn expression on her face, and looked as if the gaity of youth had long faded of sight. Even when younger she must have been plainly and hard featured” (1436) On the other hand, she has to compare herself to her sister Miss Jessie, who is “ten years younger than her sister, and twenty shades prettier. Her face was round and dimpled….Her eyes were large blue wondering eyes, looking straight at you; her nose was unformed and snub, and her lips were red and dewy, she wore her hair too in little rows of curls” (1436) By the manner in which Miss Jessie is described, it can be said that she is seen as better candidate in the Brown family, than her sister is. The assertion  women in the town make of the sisters is based on their beauty and style. Miss Brown has to live with the constant comparison of her sister in the society of women. This could be a stretch, but it is as if society in a way is sets up people in competition of one another based on character traits, since there is always something to compare too.