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Title: Beastly arrangements : animals, classification, and literary form, circa 1830-1870
Author: Westwood, Benjamin
ISNI:       0000 0004 7960 0120
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis constructs a new literary history of animals in Victorian literature by focusing on questions of categorisation and classification. Noting that the nineteenth-century obsession with taxonomy-what Harriet Ritvo has termed the 'classifying imagination'-is perceptible not only in the natural and social sciences, but also in the form of literary works, it argues that writers of this period adopted and adapted forms of classificatory arrangement in their works. In so doing, the writers considered by this thesis found new and more flexible ways of representing human-animal relations than has hitherto been recognised. The introduction establishes the historical significance of classification to the period, suggesting that the increased production of taxonomies of the natural world were a response to the extraordinary and newfound diversity of animal life discovered during the nineteenth century. As well as showing the omnipresence of the language of animality in the language of the period, it also situates the thesis in relation to existing work in literary animal studies. Chapter one bridges the gap between the theoretical discussions of the introduction and the readings of individual authors in the subsequent chapters. It shows how a particular species was used by writers to make sense of both Victorian society and its literary productions, particularly in terms of their constitutive categories (the domestic, class, gender). It is a test case for the succeeding chapters, focusing on the ubiquitous animal of the period: dogs. Chapter two takes an extended look at the interconnected construction of social order and orders of being in the work of Charles Dickens. The panoply of humans and other animals in Dickens's works is especially helpful for considering the taxonomic status of animals in literature, as well as for raising fundamental questions about the capaciousness of the novel. I show how Dickens finds ways of creating narrative arrangements that can both accommodate a large population of creatures and distinguish between them. Chapter three turns to another novelist, Emily Brontë, to think further about how writers of this period imagined a textual world that included other animals yet enabled differentiation between them and humans. It shows how the animalised figure of Heathcliff complicates the orthodox Christian belief in humans' possession of an immortal soul and animals' lack of one. Chapter four builds on the ambiguous classificatory status of Heathcliff discussed in the previous chapter, focusing on the significance of hybridity in Victorian fairy tales (particularly Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies). A hybrid genre itself, Victorian fairy tales refract many of the senses in which the category of 'humanity' became historical in the period-that is, mutable and conditioned by circumstance. Chapter five brings together the questions of a blurred human-animal boundary and textual cohabitation, showing how Edward Lear used the formal resources of poetry and illustration to model forms of relation between humans and other animals that complicate our sense of their absolute distinction. Exploring the influence of Lear's early natural history work on his nonsense, it shows how his artistic and poetic fascination with other animals led to forms of arrangement that were predicated on lines as much as on categories. In a short conclusion, I recapitulate the main arguments of thesis. I also suggest that, despite the ambitions of mastery that seem to inhere in taxonomic approaches to other animals, the cultural poetics of classification explored by this thesis produces visions of democratic cross-species sociability, which are worth recovering.
Supervisor: Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available