Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle is interesting in the way that it is presented through a scientific mind that challenged the close-mindedness of the Victorians, which greatly influence a movement of deadly curiosity towards a faith of morality. This stems from Darwin’s unique writing style that presents the realities of the unknown with a clear, analytic perceptive with devices such as diction and imagery. For instance, Darwin has very strong, descriptive diction that further pushes curiosity in the minds of the readers. When Darwin presents the Fuegians found on the west coast of Wollaston Island, he describes them as “poor wretches” with “hideous faces” and “filthy and greasy” skin that makes one question how they are “inhabitants of the same world” (1266). Just as he concluded, the appearance of the these people are unbelievable, especially for minds that did not think of the realities of what they considered unknown. Along with this description, in the earlier selections Darwin also presented Fuegians with the same intense astonishment like the previous. When describing his first arrival to Tierra del Fuego, he explains how the natives’ language was compared to someone clearing their throat with many “hoarse, guttural, and clicking sounds” and how they all “posses the power…[the] power of mimicry” (1264). Again Darwin continues to compare the humanity of the natives to the men that have “long civilized” as he claims how this unknown reality is entirely tangible. With this influence, Victorians may question their own set of norms and morals, and how in a sense have been shielded by their own internalized superiority complex throughout the many years of colonization. Regardless of the tone and intention Darwin originally constructed, his works do influence the way one views and concludes about a concept, idea, and so on.
Darwin’s work “The Voyage of the Beagle” is applicable to literary analysis through its reflection of the radical transformation of the Victorian beliefs, while still trying to work within them. When Darwin arrives at Tierra del Fuego he immediately establishes his lack of understanding of the world before him, it is something he has never “beheld” (pg. 1262). However, he takes the time to create a barrier between “savage and civilized man”, despite his lack of knowledge (pg. 1263). Darwin is still trying to fit these new experiences within his current Victorian/Colonialism belief system– anything new is inferior and infantile. For example, the party he meets at the island resembles “the devils” from the “plays like Der Freischutz” and the language they speak is barely “articulate”(pg. 1264). He still chooses to hold an entirely different world to Victorian ideals, and fit them with his preconceived notion of what is acceptable. This accurately reflects the Colonial mindset of English superiority and English responsibility to the native inhabitants to “educate them and instruct them in religion” (pg. 1265). When Captain Fitz Roy “bought” a child with a “pearl-button” for this very purpose. This juxtaposes the opposing views of the time period: improve the world through cruel colonization. However, Darwin tries to assuage his guilt with the description of “brutal” husbands and fathers (pg. 1267). This shows the unsustainable belief system trying to work within a world that does not play by the same rules. This same conundrum is paralleled when Darwin tries to explain “inherited habit[s]” in birds and the “natural history of these islands” (1270-72). The conclusions he must draw cannot be made within the same cultural rule book. For Darwin to understand he must break away.
I think we are reading Darwin because he has a distinct style involving lots of imagery, he is a scientist as so he has a different view on the world, and his writing provides another view on Victorian beliefs. Starting with his style, Darwin describes the scenery and people in his account with more detail and imagery than would be expected. He describes “dense gloomy forests” and “heavy squalls” to set the scene of his story. This provides a clearer picture for the reader. He describes the people he meets almost like characters in a story, going through their identifying features and traits one after another. He describes the natives he meets as “devils” and describes their face-paint as “bright red”, “white like chalk”, and “black like charcoal”. He describes their language as “hoarse, guttural, and clicking”. Darwin has a very descriptive style which is one of reasons why we are reading him. Darwin’s style may have evolved from his job as a scientist, or naturalist in his time. Darwin, being a scientist, writes is a more clear and less ornate style than some of the other authors we have read. He writes his observations with very little of his own opinions coming in until the section on the Galapagos in which he theorizes why he thinks the islands have such varied organisms. Lastly, Darwin was a Victorian and as such he shares many of the same views as his contemporaries. In his writings, you can see his racist view of the natives and his view that western society is helping them get out of there “savage” ways.
Darwin’s writings profoundly affected thought and one’s perspective, in England; as such, his ideas would certainly influence English writers. The nineteenth century was a period of turbulence for traditional ideas; Darwin’s writings added to the skepticism of old beliefs regarding humans’ place in the world. For the first time, many began to consider taking the perspective that, perhaps, humankind’s origins lie with the beginnings of all other animals, as Darwin suggests. Such ideas were problematic for religious institutions, as they contradicted the Bible’s explanation of the creation of the universe. While on his voyage, in an attempt to explain why the birds were so docile, Darwin states: “[fear of humans] is not acquired by individual birds in a short time, even when much persecuted; but that in the course of successive generations it becomes hereditary” (Darwin 1272). This quote illustrates the inspiration given to Darwin by the voyage for the idea of natural selection, as he compares the birds he encounters to the birds in England, which do have fear of humans (Darwin 1272). Darwin implies that the laws of natural selection apply to humans, as well: “Nature by making habit omnipotent and its effects hereditary, has fitted the Fuegian to the climate and the productions of his miserable country” (Darwin 1267). Darwin sees the differences between himself and the Fuegian people; he sees how they evolved differently from himself to adapt to their environment. Whereas many once believed humankind to be separate from the rest of the animal kingdom, Darwin’s revolutionary ideas rendered those ideas null to the open-minded people of English society. As Darwin’s ideas influenced English thinking so much, understanding them and the conflicts they created is important in comprehending the writings of writers of the period.
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.
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.
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).