Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy ,especially the section “Doing as One Likes”, espouses a conservative view of human nature and government. It argues that too many liberties will only lead to pure anarchy. Like Burke and Hamilton, Arnold does not view large mobs agitating for political gains as a good thing. He worries about men “all over the country…beginning to assert… his right to march where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot where he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes” (1598). He thinks that the opening of too many freedoms will only lead to some individuals imposing their “liberty” on others. He has the entirety of the French Revolution as evidence that using violent means to better society rarely leads to any actual progress. This view does not oppose the idea of reform by the government. It does however oppose the idea of upending society to enforce a political viewpoint. Through one its most prominent writers we see how the Victorian Age’s reforms were a delayed reaction to the violent revolution across the channel.
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.
In his writings, Darwin’s theories around evolution, natural selection, and sexual selection are commonly known as the survival of the fittest. In part, it identifies the alpha male’s dominance over and competition for the strongest female in order to pass along the best traits that will ensure the continuation of the species. But Darwin in Cranford? The ladies would vigorously object, I’m sure. But he does make his way in – at least with his ideas, not his person.
Elizabeth Gaskell chronicles the day to day life of the women in Cranford. The men of the town are largely absent, leaving the women the freedom to live their lives without the sexual tension when men are around. Gaskell naively asks, “What could they do if they were there?” When Captain Brown moves into town and inserts himself into their society, the sexual tension erupts. Using Darwinian terms, “The ladies of Cranford were already rather moaning over the invasion of their territories by a man.” Captain Brown soon adapted “in the way of a tame man about the house” yet the women succumbed to instinct by quoting his opinions as authority, and recognizing his “excellent masculine common sense.” When he attends one of their tea parties, the ladies respond thus: “ruffled brows were smoothed, [and] sharp voices lowered at his approach.” When Gaskell pits the only two men in the town together in church, the two compete when they try to outsing each other:
[Captain Brown] made the responses louder than the clerk- an old man with
a piping feeble voice, who I think, felt aggrieved at the Captain’s sonorous bass, and
quivered higher and higher in consequence. (pg 1436)
While the story is recognized as an accurate portrayal of life in small town England in its day, Gaskell is also accurate in her representation of Darwin’s theories. She seems to use the sexual tension as a humorous conflict to move the story along.