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Title: Transcending the insuperable line : notions of boundary in eighteenth-century poetic representations of animals
Author: Baker, I. M.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2000
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Jeremy Bentham's image of 'the insuperable line', perceived as a pernicious metaphysical divide between the human and animal realms that excluded other species from man's moral responsibilities, has provided a useful point of reference in contemporary debates on animal-welfare. In this thesis, I hope to show how this concept can also be profitably applied to eighteenth-century animal-verse, since poets expressed a similar commitment to deploring this kind of divisive attitude. I explore the ways in which the concept of boundary itself was imaginatively invoked in a rich variety of ways, through predominantly as a means of strengthening the reader's respect for animals and of enhancing his appreciation of their realm. I aim at demonstrating how this was galvanised, in part, by the contemporary fascination with natural history, a subject in which the issues of knowledge, dominion and sociability came together and were held in productive tension. Although my discussion inevitably encompasses the works of such canonical figures as Alexander Pope, James Thomson and William Cowper, all ardent advocates of the animal-welfare issue, I support my argument principally by exploring the verse of several lesser-known poets of the period. Many of these poets have been unduly neglected in contemporary critical discussions of the period's verse, and an evaluation of their lively contribution to the discourse on animals enables a more complex picture of eighteenth-century poetry to emerge. In the first chapter, I examine William Somerville's ardent defence of hunting in The Chace, a poem that unapologetically promotes the anthropocentric notion of man as the unrestrained and arbitrary sovereign of animals. In the second chapter, I suggest how Somerville's conception of human dominion often appeared anomalous in the period, amongst poets at least, and was fiercely challenged by James Thomson, Henry Brooke, Richard Jago and James Hurdis. These poets denigrated man's pernicious effect upon the animal 'economy' and identified animals themselves as deserving subjects for man's moral concern. In the third chapter, I demonstrate how Anna Laetitia Barbauld had enlisted the full voice of her poetry in exposing man's disruptive impact on the life and liberty of other species, as exemplified by her criticism of the experimental scientist.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available