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Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination

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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 imaginat 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 thought. 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.


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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 imaginat 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 thought. 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.

23 review for Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Taylor

    Brown begins her book by exploding the (false) “opposition between anthropomorphism and alienation/alterity,” asserting instead that both often occur simultaneously in literature, even if this is not represented in the theoretical and scientific discourse surrounding animal studies. Like Kari Weil, Brown covers the philosophical ground leading up to the eighteenth century, focusing on the interrelated capacities for reason and language as the distinction made between human and nonhuman animals. Brown begins her book by exploding the (false) “opposition between anthropomorphism and alienation/alterity,” asserting instead that both often occur simultaneously in literature, even if this is not represented in the theoretical and scientific discourse surrounding animal studies. Like Kari Weil, Brown covers the philosophical ground leading up to the eighteenth century, focusing on the interrelated capacities for reason and language as the distinction made between human and nonhuman animals. In the subsequent four chapters she elaborates on the two key historical phenomenon that influenced eighteenth-century attitudes about animals: the discovery of the hominoid ape and the beginning of petkeeping. She focuses on wild apes, lapdogs, pet monkeys, and stray dogs in literature from the early 1700s to the mid-1800s to demonstrate how authors represented and thought through these new relationships with animals—relationships which forced them to consider questions about human nature, sexuality (especially female sexuality), and humanity’s claims to uniqueness or supremacy. Whether describing the shock inherent in recognizing oneself in an ape for the first time or the potential pleasures and perils of sympathetic connection with a toy spaniel, Brown’s trek across a century and a half of fables, naturalist histories, satires, lyric poems, conduct-manual novels, and dog narratives demonstrate that what many believed to be a nineteenth-century shift in human-animal relations actually began in the century before Darwin. Brown’s attention to literary form, especially her claims about the inherent “itinerancy” of the dog narrative, will provide a strong starting point for my argument about dog autobiographies; I will both elaborate upon and dispute her points about canine narration. Her careful attention to the slow turn from satire to sentiment between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century imaginary animals is also useful for foregrounding my dissertation, which overlaps her period by half a century.

  2. 5 out of 5

    McKenzie Price

  3. 5 out of 5

    Molly Labenski

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ada F.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  6. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ruta

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  9. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  10. 5 out of 5

    T.J. Kasperbauer

  11. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amy Robson

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dominic

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Klaczynski

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lexidreams

  16. 4 out of 5

    Petre

  17. 4 out of 5

    Maija

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bianca

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aline Job

  20. 4 out of 5

    R

  21. 5 out of 5

    Krzysiek (Chris)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Aaron LaPorte

  23. 4 out of 5

    Will

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