(R)evolutionary animal tropes in the works of Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf

McCracken, Saskia (2021) (R)evolutionary animal tropes in the works of Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis is the first full-length study of Woolf’s preoccupation, across her writing, with Darwin’s works. I will draw on the recent animal turn in literary criticism to provide original insight into the politics of Darwin’s animal tropes, and Woolf’s Darwinian animal tropes. My central research questions are how, to what extent, and with what effect, did Woolf engage with Darwin’s works, particularly his animal tropes? I will make two key claims in this thesis. First, I will argue that Woolf’s engagement with Darwin’s works – particularly the critically overlooked Descent of Man (1871) – was more sustained, extensive, and subversive than previously recognised. Both Darwin and Woolf were concerned with the limitations and (r)evolutionary potential of figurative language, in Darwin’s case to describe the world, and in Woolf’s case to constitute the world. I use the term (r)evolutionary to invoke both Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution and the revolutionary potential of Woolf’s evolving, Darwinian, beastly ‘chain of tropological transformations’ (de Man 241) to reconstitute the world. I will demonstrate that both writers’ works swarm with literal (yet always already discursive) and figurative animals which operate as signifiers overloaded ‘to the point of Benjaminian allegorical ruin’ (Goldman 2010 180). These tropes often gesture towards women, people of colour, and the working classes, and animals themselves. I will argue secondly, therefore, that analysing these unstable animal tropes can provide insight into the gender, racial, class, and animal politics of each writer. I will show that while Woolf embraced Darwin’s radical levelling of species she challenged the proto-eugenicist and misogynist aspects of his work. More specifically, I will analyse Woolf’s (r)evolutionary Darwinian pedigree politics of breeding figuration in chapter two; her anti-eugenicist dogs in Flush: A Biography (1933) in chapters three and four; her (anti)imperialist feathers in ‘The Plumage Bill’ (1920) in chapter five; and her ‘dictator’ worms (TG 135) in her feminist polemics A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), in chapter six.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Goldman, Dr. Jane and Leask, Prof. Nigel
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82313
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Jul 2021 13:39
Last Modified: 08 Jul 2021 13:39
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82313
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82313

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