Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford: Analysis – A Look at the Brown’s Representing Selflessness

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

The Browns represent different levels of selflessness. Mary Brown, the sickly daughter, is the desire to be so. She feels oppressed that her family cannot live as comfortably because they need to purchase her medicines:

“The original generosity of her disposition added acerbity to her temper”

Her sufferings make her churlish and impatient but as she’s on her deathbed she gives herself a ‘bitter self-upbraiding’ that reveals her true nature and just when she’s about to let go of her sufferings braces herself, realizing that her little sister will be all alone, but Miss Jessie quiets her worries and soothes her to eternal peace.

Miss Jessie represents a self-sacrificing selflessness towards her family. When the man she loves, Major Gordon proposed she turned him down because she felt she must nurse, comfort, and cheer both Mary and her father. When her father dies, she  nobly endures the news, hiding the truth from her sister until Mary who’s too weak for the shock. It’s not until Mary expresses a wish that her father knew how she loved him that she shares the news since it’s now a comfort to the dying Mary instead of grief.

Captain Brown is self-sacrificing towards neighbors. When Lord Maulevour visits we learn that Captain Brown saved the his life in a battle off the Cape of Good Hope. Later he notices an old lady having difficulty walking with difficulty as she carries her dinner, he goes and assists her.

Grieved at the estrangement with Miss Jenkyns because of their literary dispute he takes the time to make a wooden fire shovel, he’d heard her mention how loudly the iron one scraped against the coals. And his most noble act, while reading Pickwick Papers he glances up and sees two children playing along the railway line, one lingers and as the train makes it’s full-speed approach and he quickly dashes to rescue the child from danger, sacrificing his life.

Many of those who have watched the television adaptation were no doubt shocked at this different fate of Captain Brown. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote Cranford as short story and the first two chapters were all she intended to write about the town reluctantly killing off one of her favorites. The adaptation decides to keep him on as Gaskell would certainly have done. Read more about Cranford’s publishing history: here.


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