In eighteenth-century England, the encounter between humans and
other animals took a singular turn with the discovery of the great
apes and the rise of bourgeois pet keeping. These historical
changes created a new cultural and intellectual context for the
understanding and representation of animal-kind, and the nonhuman
animal has thus played a significant role in imaginative literature
from that period to the present day.
In Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes, Laura Brown shows
how the literary works of the eighteenth century use animal-kind to
bring abstract philosophical, ontological, and metaphysical
questions into the realm of everyday experience, affording a
uniquely flexible perspective on difference, hierarchy, intimacy,
diversity, and transcendence. Writers of this first age of the rise
of the animal in the modern literary imagination used their
nonhuman characters-from the lapdogs of Alexander Pope and his
contemporaries to the ill-mannered monkey of Frances Burney's
Evelina or the ape-like Yahoos of Jonathan Swift-to
explore questions of human identity and self-definition, human love
and the experience of intimacy, and human diversity and the
boundaries of convention. Later literary works continued to use
imaginary animals to question human conventions of form and
Brown pursues this engagement with animal-kind into the
nineteenth century-through works by Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens,
and Elizabeth Barrett Browning-and into the twentieth, with a
concluding account of Paul Auster's dog-novel, Timbuktu.
Auster's work suggests that-today as in the eighteenth
century-imagining other animals opens up a potential for dissonance
that creates distinctive opportunities for human creativity.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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