Minor CreaturesPersons, Animals, and the Victorian Novel

Minor CreaturesPersons, Animals, and the Victorian Novel

Ivan Kreilkamp

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226576237

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

In the nineteenth century, richly-drawn social fiction became one of England’s major cultural exports. At the same time, a surprising companion came to stand alongside the novel as a key embodiment of British identity: the domesticated pet. As England became known as a nation of shop-­keepers, it was also preeminently associated with long novels and beloved pet animals, two cultural forms which, I argue in this book, developed not just in parallel but in tandem. Indeed, the history of English domestic fiction is deeply bound up with that of the domestic animal. In works by authors from Dickens to George Eliot, the Brontës to Olive Schreiner and Thomas Hardy, animals appeared as markers of domestic coziness and familial kindness. Yet for all their supposed significance, the animals in nineteenth-century fiction were never granted the same fullness of character or consciousness as their human masters: they remain secondary figures. Minor Creatures re-examines a slew of literary classics to show how Victorian notions of domesticity, sympathy, and individuality were shaped in response to the burgeoning pet class. The presence of beloved animals in the home led to a number of welfare-minded political movements, inspired in part by the Darwinian thought that began to sprout at the time. Nineteenth-century animals may not have been the heroes of their own lives but, as Kreilkamp shows, the history of domestic pets deeply influenced the history of the English novel.