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Title: "We teach 'em airs that way" : bird-sounds, language and the mind in nineteenth-century literature
Author: Mackenney, Francesca
ISNI:       0000 0004 5993 6233
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2016
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Poets, linguists, ornithologists and musicologists have wrestled with the apparently irreconcilable difference between the language of birds and the human forms that attempt to 'recapture' its 'rapture', in Browning's phrase. My thesis traces an alternative approach that was developing in the eighteenth century, in which the emphasis was on analogies between animal and human language (for example between the nestling learning to sing and the child acquiring speech). Such analogies worked both ways, and were given a variety of social and political, as well as aesthetic, meanings. The thesis explores this double relationship in texts including scientific treatises, works of popular birdlore, poetry, and fiction. The introduction gives an overview of the argument of the thesis and traces the historical origins of the debate about the relation of human language to the language of birds. Chapter 1 discusses the increasingly 'scientific' approaches to birdsong in the late 18th and 19th century, from Daines Barrington's 'Experiments and Observations on the Singing of Birds' to Darwin's The Descent of Man (1871). Chapter 2 looks at the ways in which ideas about social class and education inflected the debate about the origins and nature of language. The remaining three chapters present case-studies drawn from the work of John Clare, Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy. Chapter 3 argues that Clare uses his knowledge of how birds learn . to sing as a way of reflecting on his own experience of' learning' to be a poet. Chapter 4 focuses on the serious comedy of the 'strange companions' in Barnaby Rudge (1841), the talking raven and his 'idiot master' Barnaby. The final chapter opens with the scene in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) in which Tess is asked to 'whistle' to Mrs D'Urberville's bullfinches, and concludes with a close reading of some of Hardy's poems about birds and birdsong.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available