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.

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One thought on “Darwinism found in “Our Society at Cranford”

  1. I find it interesting how you pointed out Gaskell’s reference to the Amazons and of the disparity of classes in the story. I found a very interesting type of power reversal in “Our Society at Crawford.” One where women were intelligent and powerful and men seemed only seemed to get in the way. This is brought up in the line “‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!'” (1433) This also comes up in Miss Jenkyns response to the idea of women being equal to men: “Equal, indeed! she knew they [women] were superior.” I believe that Darwinism can be connected to this aspect of the story through isolated ecosystems. While most of Britain, men had come into a disproportionate amount of power, it seems that in this small relatively isolated town, women held a larger portion of the power. This could be compared to the way Darwin found each island in the Galapagos to have its own unique ecosystem.

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