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Comforting creatures

Comforting Creatures: Changing Visions of Animal Otherness in the Victorian Period

Créatures et (ré)confort : aux sources victoriennes de l’humanimalisme
Laurence Roussillon-Constanty and Sara Thornton

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  • 1 See Asa Briggs, Victorian Things [1988], Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton Publishing, 2003 and Judi (...)
  • 2 Popular culture has used this term many times and particularly with regard to animal rights; for ex (...)

1The first meaning of the expression ‘creature comforts’ which informs the title of this collection is that of bodily comfort. It is difficult not to associate the desire for physical well-being with the Victorians who valued plump upholstery, good plumbing, rich cuisine and soft furnishings.1 The Victorian body, as the novels and advertisements that catered to it show us, needed objects, services, materials, victuals, many of which were animal in origin; mammals, birds, insects, fish and crustaceans were alternatively food, pets, clothing, transportation, labour, decorations or artefacts to be consumed, petted, worn, illustrated, admired, ridden or stuffed and stared at under glass. Creatures provided comfort in many ways and were indeed ‘comforting’, yet that exploitative relationship was complicated by another human need, the need to ‘comfort’ in their affliction the very creatures which humanity had enslaved; woven into the term ‘creature comforts’ is an acknowledgement of that affliction which this study will reveal.2 Already present in this supplement to the relationship between humanity and the non-human was a desire for reciprocity: comfort was not only a way of deriving pleasure from animals but involved seeking an understanding of them and a dialogue with them, forming empathetic ties, comforting them in the sense of helping and deferring to them, ceding to them, not only as pets or commodities but as potential subjectivities. In turn, the words ‘comforting creatures’ may be seen as the secondary pleasure derived by humans in liberating animals from an abject position.

  • 3 See Peter Singer, Animal Liberation [1975], New York: New York Review/Random House, 1990; Paola Cav (...)
  • 4 See Richard Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes towards Speciesism, Oxford: Berg, 2000, an (...)
  • 5 See Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, Lo (...)
  • 6 Voltaire, ‘Bêtes’, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764. Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary [1764], ed. (...)
  • 7 Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) wrote two essays advocating a vegetarian diet, for ethical and hea (...)
  • 8 See also Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, London: John Murray, 1872. Dar (...)
  • 9 See John Stuart Mill, chapter 5 of Utilitarianism [1861], Crisp, Roger, ed. Utilitarianism. OUP, 19 (...)
  • 10 See the often-told tale about Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the Piazza Carlo Alberto in (...)
  • 11 Arthur Schopenhauer, Über die Grundlage der Moral [1840], Hamburg : Felix Meiner Verlag, Philosophi (...)

2The Victorian relationship with animals was a complex one and helped form our own equally complex vision of the creature-world today in which veganism fights its ground against the mass consumption of meat. Activists try to make visible the speciesism that informs global societal values. While the Americas and China are continuing to buy tracts of land to boost beef production, others are questioning the need to kill fellow creatures to consume them; or to put it more broadly and in more philosophical terms, a percentage of the human population is questioning, and has always questioned, the assignment of different rights to individuals according to their species membership. Speciesism has been likened to racism or sexism since it involves discrimination based on physical difference, while human speciesism, a form of human supremacism which excludes non-human animals from the rights and protections given to humans, has been a focus of enquiry since the earliest times.3 Pythagoras, who posited the notion of animism which suggested that animals shared the same kind of soul or spirit with man, making man one with animals, is one early example; he was considered to be one of the first animal liberation activists, buying animals at the market to free them.4 Creatures continued to be the focus of philosophical and religious thought as the Book of Genesis shows us: ‘Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth”’ (1:26). Exegetes and philosophers of all kinds, including some eminent eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thinkers, have argued in different ways that ‘dominion’ refers not to ownership but to stewardship which contains notions of friendship and ethical responsibility.5 Voltaire defended animals through the dog which (or rather who) seeks his Master desperately and then shows his joy at finding him, only to be nailed to a dissection table.6 We might also mention Jean-Jacques Rousseau who argued in Discourse on Inequality (1754) for the inclusion of animals in natural law on the grounds of their sentience. Percy Bysshe Shelley defended a vegetarian diet7 while Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man (1871) argued that there was no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties, attributing to animals the power of reason, decision-making, memory, sympathy, and even imagination.8 Martha Nussbaum writes that utilitarianism, starting with Jeremy Bentham and later John Stuart Mill, has contributed more to the recognition of the moral status of animals than any other ethical theory, while Peter Singer argues from a preference-utilitarian perspective that speciesism violates the principle of equal consideration of interests, an idea that John Stuart Mill, in Utilitarianism (1861), attributed to Jeremy Bentham: ‘each to count for one, and none for more than one’.9 One year into the Victorian era, the trial of Bill Burns (1838) saw a donkey which had been beaten by his owner led into the courtroom and, in a ruling which Friedrich Nietzsche would have found pertinent,10 the world’s first known conviction for animal cruelty resulted. Nineteenth-century Britain played a great role in the advancing of the animal protection movement which was praised by Arthur Schopenhauer in On The Basis of Morality (1840): ‘To the honour, then, of the English, be it said that they are the first people who have, in downright earnest, extended the protecting arm of the law to animals’.11 This pan-European blossoming of animal rights discourses in the nineteenth century was part of the rationale behind the ‘Becoming Animal with the Victorians’ conference held in Paris in 2016.

  • 12 As non-animal eating gains ground, more vegan options are opening to Parisians including high-end r (...)
  • 13 See for example Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus [1980], trans. Brian Massumi (...)
  • 14 Michel Prum is Emeritus Professor of nineteenth-century British history and political culture. He h (...)

3This is the second volume of articles from that event, which was 100% vegan despite the fact that Paris was still not an easy place to be vegan. The Indian chefs at a local Italian restaurant, no strangers to veganism, helped us imagine a vegan pizza from scratch while the Tunisian manager of a tagine and couscous restaurant nearby showed us that Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan cuisine could easily become vegan.12 Fabienne Moine, one of the organisers of the conference not only helped deal with the practical and prandial aspects of the event but made sure the conceptual and theoretical aspects were also up to scratch. Her excellent introduction to the first volume of articles explains the importance of the title chosen for the conference: in ‘Becoming animal with the Victorians’, the concept of ‘becoming-animal’ that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari develop in a number of their writings13 seems to question animal-human boundaries and to creatively stretch the limits of the human—not only in terms of metamorphosis but through the possibility of new identities and the freedom to become something other than oneself. The title of the conference also gestures ironically at the idea that animals ‘become’ us—that they suit or enhance us since the Victorians literally wore them but also wanted to become like them—run wild, forget to be human, forget to be Victorian. That first volume traces the emergence and expansion of animal studies in Britain and France and gives a comprehensive analysis of how French historians and theorists have approached the subject from Robert Delort to Jacques Derrida and David Wills in The Animal That Therefore I Am, through Eric Baratay, Michel Pastoureau, Damien Baldin and Victoria Vanneau on animal rights and the law and the recent ‘Animots’ project. Fabienne Moine notes the comparatively scant attention paid to the subject by French scholars specialising in nineteenth-century Britain but lauds the impetus provided by Michel Prum, a French authority on Darwin and nineteenth-century civilisation, who first suggested to us the idea of a Victorianist conference on Animals.14 The seven articles in that first collection all address the question of the breaking down of barriers between human and non-human through the tropes of transformation, evolution, regression and hybridity.

  • 15 See Nathaniel Wolloch ‘Adam Smith’s Economic and Ethical Consideration of Animals’, History of the (...)
  • 16 See Henry Salt’s A Plea for Vegetarianism and Other Essays, Manchester: Manchester Vegetarian Socie (...)

4This the second volume, building on the first, considers the various ways in which creatures comforted human beings in the nineteenth-century, and became them not only in the sense of enhancing and suiting them but also by virtue of that human-animal ability to grow together in trust and tenderness. By imaginatively taking up their featured animals’ positions, in a gesture of empathy that Adam Smith might have called ‘Animal Sympathy’, the nine articles all suggest, in different ways, that the full span of emotions felt and exchanged between humans and non-humans has yet to be realised.15 This collection also enquires into the different ways Victorians express their tricky relationship with animals, their speciesism, as well as into their attempts to rethink the question of ‘species’ and the values and rights attached to it.16 Many of the articles do not overtly address activist writers or thinkers but look at literature, image, reportage and print culture as forms of politics in action. The contributors to the volume show politics and aesthetics working in tandem within representation, and find the politics in the interstices of poetics, design, and reportage; in the drawn line of illustration; and within narrative. They look at the varied emotions which humans exchange with animals and how their sense of being is tied up with their interactions with animals, sometimes revisiting the Hegelian idea of the Master’s reliance for his sense of existence on the slave. They examine in different ways the awakening in the Victorians of a realisation that somehow animals are us as opposed to the easier, more Darwinian idea that we are animals. This accepting of the otherness of non-human creatures goes beyond the condescension of the mini-me syndrome since it obliges the perceiver to leave the comfort zone of the centrality of the human and venture out into a new world of competing and ultimately co-operating othernesses.

5The collection focuses on three main areas of enquiry: firstly literature, then reportage and illustration and finally material culture. ‘Literature and its new animal phenomenologies’ is addressed by Peter Merchant, Pauline Macadré, and Anna Kérchy, ‘Reportage, illustration, encyclopaedia: cats, dogs, and gorillas gaining ground’ is covered by Hilda Kean, Beryl Gray, and Rose Roberto, while ‘Material culture: creatures as artefacts and objects of comfort’ is explored by Silvia Granata, Julia Courtney, and Ariane Fennetaux.

Literature and Its Animal Phenomenologies

6Peter Merchant opens the collection with a piece entitled ‘With Collies Graven on His Heart: The Canine Projections of Thomas Anstey Guthrie (1856–1934)’. He shows the way in which literary dogs allow humans to perform feeling, becoming emotional prostheses through which to express emotions. Although popular writer Thomas Anstey Guthrie projects emotions onto dogs, he shows that the emotions we thought were only human are shared and exchanged in a complex movement of recognition. That reciprocity is shown firstly in the famous Landseer painting, ‘The Shepherd’s Chief Mourner’, of a dog mourning its Master by laying its head on his coffin. That image is finally reworked in a photograph in which the Master mourns his dog before death—anticipating the pain of loss and leaving us with an image of connection between creatures entwined in a network of feeling rather than simply as players in a master-dog dialectic. Merchant stresses the ‘seriousness of those canine commitments’ and shows representations of dog-human reciprocity which amount to a phenomenology of human-dog or pan-species interaction. Anstey’s light Wodehousian humour and style prove strangely effective here since they run counter to and render more powerful a serious ontological base; the comic and quotidian are able to contain and enhance a deeper message. A sub-text is therefore at work in the writing in which we see that dogs are the perfect vehicles for human projections of love, rivalry, violence and ultimately of our own mortality. Animals are given agency, albeit tentatively, in return. Comedy acts as a safe space of negotiation for an exploration of humanity’s emotional need for animals and theirs for us.

7In ‘Solving the Problem of Reality in Virginia Woolf’s Flush’, Pauline Macadré continues the work done by Merchant yet takes her thinking in a new direction, beyond the merging of human and animal agencies. She shifts Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘becoming-animal’ towards a ‘non-subjective perspective that seems difficult, if not impossible, to categorize’. It is less a question of imitating than of ‘writing as an animal by allowing within the self the animal that both the “I” and the writing become’. Woolf’s story brings together the human biographer and the Victorian dog and in so doing enables, as Macadré playfully and astutely points out, ‘a form of “becoming-Victorian” with the animal’. This modernist vision of Victorian society shows Woolf’s uneasy relationship with the epoch that formed her. It critiques the gender and class injustices that Woolf hated in her own period as well as playing with the relationship between writing and the sensorial world: ‘part of a quest towards l’imperceptible, l’indiscernable and l’impersonnel, again in Deleuze and Guattari’s words.’ The dog provides a non-human-centred viewpoint, ‘raw, unfiltered sensations and primeval instincts’ which help to reconfigure the ‘phenomenological world’. What the dog sees, smells and touches is a sort of mixed-sense truth: he literally smells love, form, colour, music, law and politics, fro example. This ‘present-yet-absent state, this not-Being-in-the-world’ is a sort of progress towards what Bernard, from The Waves, calls ‘the world seen without a self’ that escapes the screen of the human eye/I. The novel has indeed managed a ‘becoming-animal’ with the Victorians, says Macadré, helping Woolf rethink her Victorian past and allowing Flush himself to make a statement for a new multi-creature phenomenology.

8If this section begins with literary dogs, it quickly embraces the multitude of creatures encountered by Alice during her various perambulations through Wonderland. Anna Kérchy in her article entitled ‘Alice’s Non-Anthropocentric Ethics: Lewis Carroll as a Defender of Animal Rights’ reveals ‘humanimal’ blurrings and an ethics of love similar to those discussed by Peter Merchant. She firstly shows the many ways in which critics have looked at animals in Carroll: from making the wonders of nature more fantastic to entertain and teach children, to John Tenniel’s mimicking of natural history illustrations to depict the competitive Victorian class system (with an aristocratic caterpillar and gentlemanly White Rabbit or the smaller and lesser creatures like the mice vying with others to survive), to the Wonderland animals’ fear of being eaten (the oysters for example) seen in psychoanalytical terms. When the hierarchy of dream and reality is challenged it is no wonder that boundaries between different species become blurred allowing the appearance of ‘uncategorizable’ animal hybrids like the Gryphon, the Unicorn ‘or monsters born from linguistic innovation’ like the Jabberwock and the Bandersnatch. Kérchy shows that in his anti-vivisectionist pamphlets Carroll made harsh criticism of his time’s ‘lust for scientific knowledge’ that exploited animals for ‘vain professional gain’. She argues that Carroll’s dilemmas are already present in fictionalised form in his Wonderlands: ‘His in-between creatures refuse to be dominated by aggressive taxonomical knowledge’ and these suggest the alternative perspectives of formerly powerless lesser life forms. This new vision of reality, Kérchy tells us, even contributed to important political steps in animal protection. If Alice ‘struggles to view certain animals as more than just food-stuffs’, then all ‘humanimal blurrings’ are important in unpacking cultural practices which blind us to the inhumanness of the speciesism which ruled the nineteenth century.

Reportage, Illustration, Encyclopaedia: Cats, Dogs, and Gorillas Gaining Ground

9In ‘From Skinned Cats to Angels in Fur: Feline Traces and the Start of the Cat-Human Relationship in Victorian England’, Hilda Kean considers the changing feline-human relationship in Victorian reports on the treatment of cats. Human responsibility for cats was growing as food for cats became a statistic noticed by social thinkers like Henry Mayhew. The growth in ownership by ordinary people is important in this study since it implies ‘a certain relationship of reciprocation’. Kean looks at a variety of sources including The Cat, Its History and Diseases written in 1856 by Lady Mary Anne Cust, an example of the many works which revealed the low status enjoyed by cats and their omission from written volumes on animal treatment. Yet cats were starting to be acknowledged as part of society rather than as set apart from human structures. Carrington’s work, The Cat: Her Place in Society and Treatment, was part of an understanding of the way cats were starting to be integrated into a society in which they were increasingly loved, employed and regarded as a vital part of affective, domestic and commercial life. Perhaps the most poignant and telling fact is the analysis of cats who were used to watch over those who were bedridden, ill or dying: these were named ‘angels in fur’ which lent them agency, usefulness and the status of actor in society.

10Like Peter Merchant, Beryl Gray, in ‘In the Eyes of the Beholder: Towards Depicting the Dog in the Nineteenth Century’ looks at the Landseer painting of the dog mourning its master and also at a 1520 image of a shepherd and his dog and remarks upon the emotion which such ‘humanimal’ blurring creates. The medieval and Renaissance images she evokes anticipate ‘the attitude that would come to be particularly associated with the latter part of the eighteenth century, and that would carry its influence into and beyond the nineteenth’: it was a period when the faithful and courageous dog was ‘recognized, personalized, and celebrated in literature of all kinds, its death lamented, its portrait searchingly and frequently drawn, painted and sometimes sculpted’. The sharing of life, meals, friendship with collies and mongrels of all kinds is the subject of this article that looks at a vast wealth of literature and visual art focusing on the dog. Texts and images evoke the possibility of a canine self, of faithfulness and reciprocity between man and dog as well as betrayal: Hardy presents a poignantly portrayed betrayed dog of unidentifiable breed in Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). Even though the cooperation, ‘emblemized by the Beverley woodcarver in 1520’, had survived for hundreds of years’, thus showing the persistence of a static faithful dog image, it also reveals the complexity of that image and, as Gray argues, the dog’s increasing representation as a creature which actively collaborates in the human-animal relationship making it dynamic and nuanced.

11In ‘Illustrating Animals and Visualising Natural History in Chambers’s Encyclopædias’, Rose Roberto looks at W. & R. Chambers who in the 1860s and 1890s produced two editions of Chambers’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge for the People, with hundreds of entries and illustrations of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and microorganisms. She discusses how animals are shown to the public and the implications of the aesthetics used, comparing how entries and representations evolved between the two editions. She also looks at the influence of wider trends in the growing popular markets for natural history (in accounts of zoos, travelling menageries, and museums with animal specimens). Museum exhibitions, where people could interact on a tactile and visual level, meant people could consume natural history, become more aware and develop more nuanced kinder attitudes to animals which in turn produced protective legislation. New visual images meant ways of seeing changed, and this allowed the encyclopaedia to play its part in schooling new audiences: an animal may be represented anatomically, as a specimen in its natural habitat, as a fossil, or in different phases of its life cycle. Depending on the pose of the animal depicted, the illustrator can suggest a certain type of evolution with possibly theological or teleological content. Encyclopaedia illustrations in the manner of John Gould and Philip Gosse show young birds being nurtured and fed, suggesting a nuclear family and domestic settings, sometimes tranquil and unspoilt, while gorilla hair texture, and foliage or the facial features of the orangutan or monkey may seem ‘realistic and individualistic’ fostering inter-species empathy. Following Michael Bhaskar in The Content Machine, who shows that publishers do four things—frame and model, filter and amplify—Roberto shows these processes at work in the rich and prolific world of Chambers illustrations.

Material Culture: Creatures as Artefacts and Objects of Comfort

12In ‘Animal Objects: Memory, Desire and Mourning’, Julia Courtney shows that if ‘humans leave behind a vast array of artefacts which quite literally objectify their past presence’ (Tilley 60), then animal remains quickly become part of that array, and did so in the nineteenth century particularly, making boundaries between the human and the non-human more permeable. The contact Victorians had with animals was often ‘not with their living bodies but with their body parts’ (Colley 16): taxidermic mounts used only selected body parts such as skin, hooves, claws while dismembered parts were made into furniture, jewellery and other domestic items. The emotive or affective effect of the dismembered parts, what Biles calls the ‘dialectic of matter and affect’, means that categories overlapped; the metonymic part helped the Victorians mourn the loss of the past moment and at the same time triggered a desire for its recapture and re-presentation. The hunter, through the agency of the skilled taxidermist, creates an illusion of the life he has taken; the use of animal parts in rugs and in ‘animal furniture’ complicated this since the trophies were not just hung on a wall and contemplated but were integrated into the activities of daily life. The dog ‘Tim’ who collected money at Paddington Station for the Great Western Railway widows and orphans, working from 1892-1902 and attracting the patronage of Queen Victoria, was stuffed after death and exhibited in the station. Whether beetles or elephants, the reduction of animals to objects by human agency, such as jewellery, clothing, furniture or as celebrity ‘characters’, was an absolute part of Victorian life and the creatures that inhabited it.

  • 17 See Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1862-1863) with its fresh wa (...)

13Silvia Granata, in ‘At once pet, ornament, and “subject for dissection”’, studies the unstable status of marine animals in Victorian aquaria. George Henry Lewes captured the protean quality of sea animals when he described the sea anemone as ‘[a]t once pet, ornament, and “subject for dissection”’ (Lewes 115). Marine species seldom featured in studies of animals in Victorian literature and culture although Carroll’s Alice is an exception to this as Anna Kérchy in her article in this collection shows us.17 Yet in the second half of the century, thanks to the saltwater aquarium, they became a familiar presence in many homes. Granata explores the ways in which early aquarists ‘saw, conceptualised and related to marine species’, often unfamiliar to the public, in the newly available home tanks. Aquarium texts had an impact on shaping people’s perception of these creatures, creating conceptual frameworks and ‘models for interaction’. In particular, she focuses on four ways in which Victorians related to tank residents: watching, domesticating, experimenting on, and eating them. The first aquaria were populated by crustaceans, molluscs, sea-worms, sea slugs and zoophytes: ‘Some of these animals were very tiny, or observable only through magnifying lenses or microscopes; some could neither move nor emit audible sounds; some even lacked a recognizable face, not to mention facial expressions’. Similes, metaphors, or explicit references to poetry and the theatre helped to show people how to relate to and enjoy these strange creatures by creating an anthropocentric network of references in which animal agency is suggested as well as the capacity to feel pain. Like Rose Roberto, Silvia Granata considers the religious and political implications of the poetics of presentation. Creatures were simultaneously humanised and objectified, moving across the boundaries between categories as ornaments, pets, specimens, and food.

14In ‘Birds of a Feather: Alexander McQueen’s Victorian Bestiary’ Ariane Fennetaux opens our thinking to the future, creating links between Victorian creatures and the present day world of fashion and design. Fur, snake skin, feathers, corals and butterflies were part of Victorian aesthetics yet persist in contemporary fashion collections such as McQueen’s ‘Savage Beauty’ where monstrous hybrids are both post-Darwinian and post-industrial. The liminal states between animals and humans or the ‘becoming animal’ of Deleuze and Guattari are central to Fennetaux’s argument where the borderline is paramount. From the silk worm’s cocoon, beaver hair used for hats, to whalebone corsets, birds’ plumage, ivory and the birds of paradise of Papua New Guinea or the Huia bird from New Zealand, we are plunged into a world of global trade and empire. We follow the aesthetics of anxiety in McQueen’s collections where Jack the Ripper and surgical cuts and tears in human and animal material create a gothic commentary on animal exploitation. One collection on the theme of ‘Natural distinction / unnatural selection’ had models walking in between a gallery of stuffed animals, while another featured live wolves and a mouse. As Fennetaux tells us, McQueen’s use of animal references is not just mimicry but an exploration of the notion of ‘becoming animal’ (les devenirs-animaux) and other literally-liminal identities. Shells and feathers, birds and fish are mixed, while razor clams are broken off by the model during one show suggesting pain and exploitation. The theory of evolution is shown working in reverse in many of the collections. McQueen’s role as a ‘tailor-surgeon attempting unprecedented grafts’ is an attempt to amalgamate animal, human and machine to test the limits of all these entities.

Conclusion

  • 18 Williams developed the notion of ‘structure of feeling’ over a number of his works. See in particul (...)
  • 19 See the idea of accessing a thinking which thinks differently about the absence of a name or a word (...)
  • 20 See Hilda Kean’s article in this collection in which she discusses the cats who guarded the sick.

15In a century that witnessed the emergence of public zoos, animal protection societies and the theory of natural selection and also encouraged big game hunting in the British Empire and condoned cruelty to wild animals, the Victorians continued to have ambivalent attitudes to the non-human stimulating public debates on issues like vivisection or the possibility of an animal soul. This collection assesses the place of animals in Victorian society and the scope of humanimal interactions. With the current rise of critical Animal Studies and a real ‘animal turn’ in academic research that shows no sign of abating, these articles have considered Victorian culture and history from the point of view of the animal. Many of our authors look at how power, voice and even subjectivity were beginning to be transferred to furred and feathered friends at a particular moment in time. What seems to emerge from the different discussions featured here is what Raymond Williams called a ‘structure of feeling’ which occurs on the cusp of one episteme as it gives way to another.18 Victorians were reconfiguring their relationship with animals and their relationship to themselves as animals. As we move from literature to law and reportage to finish with the dis-comforting cruelty embedded in aesthetics and the world of fashion we can literally feel the time it takes, with false starts and untimely simultaneities, to move from one structure of feeling or episteme to another. Many of these articles suggest, albeit in very different ways, the possibility of a ‘language-less’ animal thought and the need for an ‘idiomatic language’ (or animot) that would articulate ‘the absence of the name and of the word’.19 Such a possibility radically reconfigures and flattens out what was once called the ‘Great Chain of Being’, that strict hierarchical structure of all matter and life which placed the angels second after God but higher than stars, moon, kings, princes, nobles, commoners, wild animals, domesticated animals, trees, plants and minerals. The nineteenth century saw the gradual replacement of the Great Chain with a tentative new structure in which ‘angels in fur’20 and many other species besides might exist in a flat network of mutual symbiosis and understanding. We are still making this transition today in a dialogue with otherness that is becoming a movement towards a pan-species definition of the word ‘creature’.

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Bibliography

Briggs, Asa. Victorian Things. 1988. Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton Publishing, 2003.

Cavalieri, Paola. The Animal Question: Why Nonhuman Animals Deserve Human Rights. Oxford: OUP, 2001.

Darwin, Charles. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London: John Murray, 1872.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. 1980. Trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

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Flanders, Judith. The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed. London: Harper Perennial, 2003.

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Kingsley, Charles. The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby. 1863. London: Penguin Classics, 2008. 

Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 1861. Ed. Roger Crisp. OUP, 1998. Chapter 5.

Moine Fabienne, ed. Becoming Animal. Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens 85 (Spring 2017). http://journals.openedition.org/cve/3149.

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Scully, Matthew. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. London: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

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Notes

1 See Asa Briggs, Victorian Things [1988], Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton Publishing, 2003 and Judith Flanders, The Victorian House : Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed, London : Harper Perennial, 2003.

2 Popular culture has used this term many times and particularly with regard to animal rights; for example, Creature Comforts (translated into French as L'Avis des animaux) is a 5-minute film made by Aardman studios and produced by Nick Park in 1989 using filmed plasticine models like those used in Wallace and Gromit. A mini-series followed in which the captive animals express their discontent with humour and poignancy like the chickens in the animated film Chicken Run (2013).

3 See Peter Singer, Animal Liberation [1975], New York: New York Review/Random House, 1990; Paola Cavalieri, The Animal Question : Why Nonhuman Animals Deserve Human Rights, Oxford: OUP, 2001; Michael Green, ‘Animal Rights Movement’, Ideas and Movements That Shaped America: From the Bill of Rights to ‘Occupy Wall Street’, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2015; David Nibert, ‘Humans and Other Animals: Sociology’s Moral and Intellectual Challenge’, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 23.3 (2003): 4–25. Speciesism can also refer to other forms of false reasoning (if they look like us we don’t eat them), for example human–chimpanzee speciesism involves human beings favouring chimpanzees over pigs, cows and dogs, because of human-chimpanzee similarities.

4 See Richard Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes towards Speciesism, Oxford: Berg, 2000, and Gary Steiner, Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy, Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2005.

5 See Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, London: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

6 Voltaire, ‘Bêtes’, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764. Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary [1764], ed. and trans. Theodore Besterman, London: Penguin, 1972. ‘Hold then the same view of the dog which has lost his master, which has sought him in all the thoroughfares with cries of sorrow, which comes into the house troubled and restless, goes downstairs, goes upstairs; goes from room to room, finds at last in his study the master he loves, and betokens his gladness by soft whimpers, frisks, and caresses. There are barbarians who seize this dog, who so greatly surpasses man in fidelity and friendship, and nail him down to a table and dissect him alive, to show you the mesaraic veins! You discover in him all the same organs of feeling as in yourself. Answer me, mechanist, has Nature arranged all the springs of feeling in this animal to the end that he might not feel?’ (39).

7 Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) wrote two essays advocating a vegetarian diet, for ethical and health reasons: A Vindication of Natural Diet (1813) and On the Vegetable System of Diet (1814–15).

8 See also Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, London: John Murray, 1872. Darwin consulted several leading British psychiatrists including James Crichton-Browne in the writing of this work showing that animals were worthy of psychological enquiry.

9 See John Stuart Mill, chapter 5 of Utilitarianism [1861], Crisp, Roger, ed. Utilitarianism. OUP, 1998. See also Peter Singer Animal Liberation op. cit., Martha Nussbaum, ‘Beyond Compassion and Humanity: Justice for Nonhuman Animals’, in Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (eds.), Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, Oxford: OUP, 2004. See also Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership, Belknap Press, 2006.

10 See the often-told tale about Nietzsche seeing a horse being beaten in the Piazza Carlo Alberto in Turin, running up to it and throwing his arms around its neck to commiserate with it, and then collapsing. Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1974, p. 74.

11 Arthur Schopenhauer, Über die Grundlage der Moral [1840], Hamburg : Felix Meiner Verlag, Philosophischer Bibliothek, 2007, III, 8, 7, 3. My translation. He also argued against the Kantian idea that animal cruelty is wrong only insofar as it brutalizes humans.

12 As non-animal eating gains ground, more vegan options are opening to Parisians including high-end restaurants like ‘The Gentle Gourmet’.

13 See for example Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus [1980], trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987. See Fabienne Moine, ed. Becoming Animal. Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens 85 (Spring 2017). http://journals.openedition.org/cve/3149.

14 Michel Prum is Emeritus Professor of nineteenth-century British history and political culture. He has published widely on ethnicity, identity, industry and capital and has translated David Ricardo, Adam Smith and Darwin into French.

15 See Nathaniel Wolloch ‘Adam Smith’s Economic and Ethical Consideration of Animals’, History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 26 issue 3, pp. 52-67. Issue published: July 1, 2013. Article first published online: April 17, 2013. Wolloch examines Adam Smith’s views on animals, centring on the singularity of his economic perspective in the context of the general early ethical debate about animals. Particular emphasis is placed on his discussions of animals as property. The article highlights the tension between Smith’s moral sensitivity to animal suffering on the one hand, and his emphasis on the constitutive role that the utilization of animals played in the progress of civilization on the other. This tension is depicted as a precursor of problematic aspects of the modern environmental crisis.

16 See Henry Salt’s A Plea for Vegetarianism and Other Essays, Manchester: Manchester Vegetarian Society, 1886.

17 See Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1862-1863) with its fresh water creatures such as the Caddisfly.

18 Williams developed the notion of ‘structure of feeling’ over a number of his works. See in particular Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, Oxford: OUP, 1977 and The Country and the City, Oxford: OUP, 1973.

19 See the idea of accessing a thinking which thinks differently about the absence of a name or a word and does not see it as a privation: Jacques Derrida and David Wills in The Animal That Therefore I Am: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy, New York: Fordham UP, 2008.

20 See Hilda Kean’s article in this collection in which she discusses the cats who guarded the sick.

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References

Electronic reference

Laurence Roussillon-Constanty and Sara Thornton, Comforting Creatures: Changing Visions of Animal Otherness in the Victorian PeriodCahiers victoriens et édouardiens [Online], 88 Automne | 2018, Online since 20 January 2019, connection on 25 June 2021. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/cve/3790; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/cve.3790

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Laurence Roussillon-Constanty

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Sara Thornton

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