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Empire and the animal body: violence, ecology and identity in the imperial romance

Miller, John William (2009) Empire and the animal body: violence, ecology and identity in the imperial romance. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis examines representations of exotic animals in Victorian and Edwardian adventure fiction and how they produce the boundary between human and nonhuman animals. Particularly, it scrutinises how violent engagements with animals participate in the construction of masculine identities and how these reflect and contribute to imperialist conceptions of ecology. I contend that the ostensibly fundamental distinction of humans from their animal others emerges in this context as compromised and unstable: a complex interplay of kinship and difference rather than an innate, monolithic and hierarchical opposition. This argument both continues the postcolonial dismantling of empire’s logic of domination and develops the recentering of the nonhuman in environmentally focussed criticism, but, most vitally, signals the relation between these fields: the necessary interdependence of human and nonhuman interests, of environmental activism and global social justice. Chapter One begins by examining recent critical interventions in the colonial adventures of G. A Henty, John Buchan, G. M. Fenn, R. M. Ballantyne, H. Rider Haggard and Paul du Chaillu. While intimately involved with an imperialist agenda that seeks to assimilate foreign environments and their denizens into colonial order, such texts also draw on a long-standing literary tradition that relishes wilderness as the theatre of narrative excitement and heroic testing. Through analysis of Henty’s Rujub the Juggler (1895) and Buchan’s A Lodge in the Wilderness (1906), I illustrate how imperial romance simultaneously narrates the symbolically powerful domestication of animal others through depictions of hunting and warfare and embraces animal otherness through a fetishistic investment in animal bodies re-presented as a panoply of imperial trophies and trinkets. Exploring further the ambiguities of domination, Chapter Two investigates colonial natural history as a material and discursive violence that forcefully integrates animals into Western patterns of signification. Adventure fiction’s role in this, however, emerges in Henty’s By Sheer Pluck (1884) and Fenn’s Nat the Naturalist (1882) as a conflicted celebration of restraint and aggression; the masculinities that such texts aim to construct and marshal suggesting an uncomfortable intimacy of civilisation and savagery that besets imperialist racial and species hierarchies and the unitary relation of the genre to colonial power. The themes of race, species and narrative form are developed in Chapter Three through a close reading of the cultural history of gorillas in the second half of the nineteenth century in the romanticised travel writing of Paul du Chaillu and the fictions of R. M. Ballantyne. The ‘invention’ of these extraordinary animals troubles the generic boundaries between romance and natural history and raises pointed questions about what it means to be human. A rhetoric of hygiene and contamination emerges as adventure heroes consistently find themselves deprived of their upright human dignity and floundering in a series of mucks and mires. The relation of sanitation and species forms a significant element of degenerationist discourse and the starting point for Chapter Four. Metropolitan decay is recurrently implicated in a potential devolution that threatens empire with both practical and philosophical dilemmas. Paradoxically, in Haggard’s Nada the Lily (1892) and Buchan’s Lodge the cure for this malaise is figured as another form of becoming animal as the enervated urbanite recovers in the colonial wilds. Such naturalisation of colonial violence leads into a discussion of the psychological undercurrents of male aggression. While the eroticisation of hunting is crucial, the imperial romance reveals male sexualities that hinge, most notably in Ballantyne’s 1861 The Gorilla Hunters, on imaginings of vulnerability as much as on fantasies of self-empowerment. In conclusion, I posit the human/animal border as one permeable at many points and follow Val Plumwood in delineating a selfhood ultimately in relation to, rather than separated from, the other and radically divergent from dualistic, colonial conceptualisations of human identity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Postcolonialism, ecocriticism, animal studies, adventure fiction, Victorian and Edwardian romance, environmental ethics, gorillas
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Mackenzie, Dr. Donald and Radford, Dr. Andrew
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Mr John Miller
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-810
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:26
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/810

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