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Beastly Journeys

Beastly Journeys: Travel and Transformation at the fin de siècle

Volume: 63
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 225
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  • Book Info
    Beastly Journeys
    Book Description:

    Bats, beetles, wolves, butterflies, bulls, panthers, apes, leopards and spiders are among the countless creatures that crowd the pages of literature of the late nineteenth century. Whether in Gothic novels, science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales, journalism, political discourse, realism or naturalism, the line between the human and the animal becomes blurred. Beastly Journeys examines these bestial transformations across a range of well-known and less familiar texts and shows how they are provoked not only by the mutations of Darwinism but by social and economic shifts that have been lost in retellings and readings of them. The physical alterations described by George Gissing, George MacDonald, Arthur Machen, Arthur Morrison, W.T. Stead, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, and many of their contemporaries, are responses to changes in the social body as Britain underwent a series of social and economic crises. Metaphors of travel – social, spatial, temporal, mythical and psychological – keep these stories on the move, confusing literary genres along with the indeterminacy of physical shape that they relate. Beastly Journeys will appeal to anyone interested in the relationship between nineteenth-century literature and its contexts and especially to those interested in the fin de siècle and in metaphors of travel, animals and shape-changing.

    eISBN: 978-1-78138-089-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: The Unchaining of the Beast
    (pp. 1-38)

    In 1936, Georg Lukács wrote of the ‘degradation and crippling under capitalism [that] is far more tragic, itsbestiality viler, more ferocious and terrible than that pictured even in the best of these novels’. He was referring to modern realism, which, in his view, had ‘lost its capacity to depict the dynamics of life, and thus its representation of capitalist reality is inadequate, diluted and constrained’.¹ The present study grapples with this vile bestiality, but examines its earlier manifestation in British texts between 1885 and 1900 – the period that saw the development of realism and its sister movement, naturalism,...

  2. CHAPTER ONE City Creatures
    (pp. 39-73)

    This chapter examines images of beasts and bestiality in selected fictional and non-fictional writing about the city produced during the second half of the 1880s and 1890s. Some of the texts will be better known than others, but the concentration on animal imagery should provide a new approach to even the most familiar of these and is quite distinct from commentaries on naturalism. The focus will be on London, since the main themes explored in this study are evident in the literature set in the capital; in particular, the East End looms especially large. However, it is important to recognise...

  3. CHAPTER TWO The Bat and the Beetle
    (pp. 74-106)

    Although subsequent representations of Dracula have tended to fix his alter ego as a vampire bat, in Stoker’s 1897 novel itself the animal analogies are more varied and extensive. Early on, when Jonathan Harker spies Dracula crawling down the wall of his castle, he compares his host’s movements with those of a lizard (p.35). Shortly afterwards, Dracula is heard calling to wolves, which seem to answer ‘from far and wide’ (p.46), and he throws a child to be consumed by them. Five days later, Harker hears the howling of these ‘allies’ of Dracula, ‘almost as if the sound sprang up...

  4. CHAPTER THREE Morlocks, Martians, and Beast-People
    (pp. 107-139)

    Probably the writer best known for populating his tales of the 1890s with beastly specimens is H. G. Wells. Often hailed as a prophetic figure, Wells is most firmly of his time, his texts born of attempts to come to terms with late nineteenth-century social and cultural anxieties. One can readily apply to Wells Rosemary Jackson’s observation that:

    Like any other text, a literary fantasy is produced within, and determined by, its social context. Though it might struggle against the limits of this context, often being articulated upon that very struggle, it cannot be understood in isolation from it.¹


  5. CHAPTER FOUR ‘Beast and man so mixty’: The Fairy Tales of George MacDonald
    (pp. 140-164)

    Fairies might seem to have little in common with the unattractive Beast-People of the preceding chapters, but no matter how different their appearance, they perform something of a similar role. ‘I[f] fairy tales, are about anything, they are about transformation’,² writes a biographer of George MacDonald (1824–1905), the subject of the present chapter. According to one study of the genre, fairy tales not only symbolise ‘transformation and its borders’ and take a myriad forms, but they ‘can represent cultural as well as personal transitions’.³

    MacDonald transformed the fairy tale, taking the traditional form and restructuring it, ‘giving it a...

  6. CHAPTER FIVE Oscar Wilde: ‘an unclean beast’
    (pp. 165-196)

    Appropriately, given his propensity for role-playing, Oscar Wilde attracted a variety of animal comparisons. These may have been largely forgotten now, replaced by the baser images of his three trials, which supplied another infamous conjunction of sex and animality.² In 1895 Wilde sued the Marquis of Queensberry for libel. Queensberry was the father of Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas and had accused Wilde of ‘posing as a somdomite [sic]’.³ Wilde was himself then prosecuted for, and convicted of, committing acts of indecency in private with members of his own sex, an offence which, under section 11 of the Criminal Law...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 197-210)

    The preceding chapters have argued that the shape assumed by beasts in the literature of the late 1880s and 1890s is moulded by the changing identity of Britain at that time. The 1880s were a ‘period of extraordinary transition’.¹ The travels and transformations found in contemporary writing provide a response to those critical years, one that also resonates in more recent surveys and reviews of the period. This is illustrated in the following brief quotation (one of many such), which sums up what much of the foregoing discussion has shown: ‘England in the 1880s was in transition, shedding the skin...