Author Archives: vr_wpadmin

Species Feeling in Gissing’s New Grub Street

by Jill Galvan

Gibbons mate for life. Matthias Kabel, “Pair of Lar Gibbons at Salzburg Zoo,” May 2006. Wikipedia Creative Commons License.

When I first read George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891), I was startled to find how much it focuses on a miserable marriage. I had heard about everything else this novel depicts: hack writers, the literary marketplace, the ravages of capitalism, a cruel post-Darwinian world. But Edwin and Amy Reardon were a shock. Gissing devotes so much time to their home life and to showing how the scarcity economy destroys their relationship.

New Grub Street was the very first novel that piqued my interest in fictional troubled marriage, the subject of my current research. I’ve come to think that there is something about strained wedlock that lends itself to realism and reveals its aesthetics, giving us special insight into the fiction of lifelikeness. Indeed, naturalism, a subgenre of realism—with its great attention to material and biological life as such—often dwells on marital coupledom gone awry. Think of all those spouses or near-spouses in Thomas Hardy’s novels (The Return of the Native [1878], Tess of the D’Urbervilles [1891], Jude the Obscure [1895], and so on) who find coupling up a losing game. The understudied Lucas Malet (Mary St. Leger Kingsley Harrison) likewise plots Nature’s torpedoing of wedlock in Colonel Enderby’s Wife (1885). Several other works in Gissing’s oeuvre, too, hang their naturalism on the story of a bleak engagement or marriage.

With all its focus on evolution and biology and its animalization of the human, naturalism has often been treated as a rather science-y mode. Yet it, like all realism, is an artful genre, careful and formally tricky with character. This trickiness includes a sly play with spatiotemporal scale, along with a heightened awareness of the errors of human perception. Naturalism even includes a subtle perceptual misdirection of us, its human readers. (New Grub Street illustrates this especially well through its meta-treatment of language, story, and reading.)

Perception, like sensation, is both a biological and an aesthetic issue. This makes it a major source of naturalism’s artful realism. Consider a now well-established concept in animal studies, umwelt. This is an organism’s specific in-the-world, perceptual uptake and inhabiting of the environment. A snail, for instance, experiences its environment in a certain way, and this is fundamentally non-translatable to any other type of organism: a unique being-as-experience. What happens when we apply this concept to humans, as also animals? As Ed Yong says in An Immense World (in a helpful metaphor borrowed from umwelt’s original 1909 theorist, Jakob von Uexküll), the human’s inhabited perceptual “house” may be “bigger” than other animals’, but that house still has only so many windows: we are “still stuck inside . . . , looking out. Our Umwelt is still limited; it just doesn’t feel that way. To us, it feels all-encompassing. It is all that we know, and so we easily mistake it for all there is to know. This is an illusion, and one that every animal shares.”[1]

Naturalism is constantly trying to get inside the small-scale human umwelt-house—our species’ little, ordinary, perceptual experience of life, even in its illusions. It is time to think about naturalist lifelikeness in character-perceptual terms: to get down on the ground with characters. This would include lots of attention to affect—not just bodily sense-being, but also emotion, like the emotion of being in love. In naturalism, love makes characters perceive their fates as controllable, even while the text is hinting at the cruel randomness of Nature-as-Fate. This conflict between life and Life, fate and Fate is a scalar one, and it makes naturalism oscillate; that oscillation is crucial to naturalism’s form. Naturalism renders reality not in spite of human illusion, but because of it. The illusion is, ironically, essential to the realism.  

[1] Ed Yong, An Immense World (NY: Random House, 2022) 6.

To read more, see Jill Galvan, “Love Story’s Ontology: Species Feeling in New Grub Street.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 1, 2022, p. 69-90. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.0000.

The Trollopes and Stylometry

by Eleanor Dumbill

The name Trollope is familiar to most readers of Victorian literature. It is most readily associated with Anthony Trollope, though many Victorianists are also familiar with at least the headlines of his mother’s (Frances Milton Trollope) life. There were, in fact, seven published authors in the family over the course of the nineteenth century. We wanted to see how similar the writing styles of these authorial Trollopes were, especially after our identification of particular similarities between works by Thomas Adolphus Trollope and his mother. We suspected that this may, in fact, have stemmed from the mother and son’s professional collaboration, in addition to their close personal relationship. They also acted at various times as the other’s editor. We decided to use stylometry (the statistical analysis of writing style) for a fresh perspective on the relationship between these Trollopes, and between members of the Trollope family more generally.  

After removing those family members who primarily worked in genres other than prose fiction or to whom only one novel was attributed, our corpus consisted of four authors: Frances Milton Trollope, Frances Eleanor Trollope, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, and Anthony Trollope. Rounding out the group was Charles Dickens, chosen because of his editorial relationship with the three younger members of this group and his more scandalous connection to Frances Eleanor Trollope, née Ternan. Our work was guided by two research questions. To what extent can we trace the influence of familial relations on one another’s work? How might we go about the process of untangling these influences when some of these authors are markedly more well-known by modern readers?  

Figure One. Stylometric analysis of prose by the five Trollopes.

The latter question warrants more substantial thought than is possible in an initial study of this kind. However, our results indicated several interesting conclusions about familial and editorial influence. The five authors appear in more or less overlapping clusters (see above figure). A particularly busy area of this analysis represents the similarities between the fiction of Thomas Adolphus, Frances Eleanor, Dickens, and Frances Milton. In our Victorian Review article, we explore what this busyness might mean. In the article, we also reflect on other conclusions we draw from our computational literary analysis, showing how researchers can use ‘distant reading’ techniques like stylometry to complement more traditional methods.  

For more, see Henrickson, Leah and Eleanor Dumbill. “Tangling and Untangling the Trollopes: A Stylometric Analysis of Frances Milton Trollope, Frances Eleanor Trollope, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, and Charles Dickens.” Victorian Review, vol. 47 no. 2, 2021, p. 243-262. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2021.0032.

Ideological Contradictions and Political Power: Rudyard Kipling’s Kim

by Brian Reinken

Figure 1. “On the Road,” an illustration for Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. By John Lockwood Kipling. 1901. Image courtesy of The Victorian Web. Scanned by Jacqueline Banerjee.

A photographed plaster relief illustration that John Lockwood Kipling produced for his son Rudyard’s novel Kim (1900–01) shows Kim and the Lama strolling down the Grand Trunk Road in the company of Indian men and women (Fig. 1). The illustration portrays all of these people in the same pale shade of green, making them look very much alike. The text of the novel, in contrast, represents the Grand Trunk Road as a cornucopia of vivid colors—red, blue, pink, white, and saffron—whose profusion complements the travelers’ human diversity.

Kim is keenly attuned to the details of human difference. Although readers like Edward Said and Patrick Brantlinger have stressed the delight that the novel takes in representing the people of India, there is inevitably something sinister in the way that it observes, classifies, and separates these people into different communities. Oftentimes, the narrator implies that India’s communities reflect “natural” divisions originating in race, religion, or language. At other times, however, Kim suggests that the subcontinent’s social diversity is the product of careful imperialist engineering.

The contradiction between these two claims is difficult to miss—but, rather than revealing a fatal weakness or uncertainty within the pro-imperialist novel’s anthropology, it enables Kim to buttress British power in South Asia. By upholding different claims about Indian communities in response to different circumstances, Kipling portrays the ostensibly immutable facts of nature as protean fabrications. From the perspective of his novel, Indian communities are simultaneously organic and artificial, born and built. They grew into existence from the dawn of history, and they were invented in the nineteenth century by the British Empire’s demographers.

In effect, the contradiction at the heart of Kim empowers British administrators to dictate what it means to be “organically” Indian even while permitting them avoid entrapment in the rigid categories that they call into existence. These administrators become observers who cannot be observed and categorizers who cannot be categorized. Kim’s famously chameleonic protagonist provides the clearest example of this phenomenon. The novel’s opening paragraphs describe him as white and English, but they also invoke his dark skin and his preference for speaking Hindustani rather than his European mother-tongue. When Kim joins the Secret Service as a British spy, his proteanism becomes his greatest asset. He anticipates, manipulates, and co-opts multiple—even contradictory—categories of identity in order to disguise himself, adapt to adverse circumstances, and defend the British Raj.

Today, activists and advocates for human rights often embrace the idealistic hope that exposing the ideological contradictions within oppressive power structures will contribute to those structures’ downfall or reform. Reading Kim, however, offers a sobering reminder that ideological contradictions frequently sustain oppressive institutions rather than weakening them. In the Raj as Kipling represents it, imperial authority thrives on its own internal inconsistency, and imperialism has the potential to survive in perpetuity because it deliberately refuses to commit itself to any particular end. Ultimately, calling attention to inconsistencies within imperialist ideology does not weaken it because the inconsistencies are precisely the point.

To read more, see Brian Reinken, “Recasting India’s Organicism in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.” Victorian Review, vol. 47 no. 2, 2021, p. 263-279. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/vcr.2021.0033.

Call for Submissions: Victorian Clothing and Cloth

Victorian Review invites submissions for a special cluster of essays on clothing and cloth. Eager to support exciting work on the sartorial lives of Victorians and on the textiles they created and collected, we plan to fast-track publication of accepted articles, which will appear in our Spring 2022 issue (48.2). Essays might address any aspect of Victorian clothing or cloth, from studies of specific makers and designers and artifacts, to analysis of the fabrics and fashions depicted in the literature and art of the period.

Queries can be addressed to Submissions Editor Kristen Guest at Submissions are due no later than May 15, 2022 to and should conform to the requirements of the journal (5,000-8,000 words, MLA style).

Novelistic Modes and Sociological Thought at the Fin de Siècle: George Gissing and Emile Durkheim

by Maria Su Wang

At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive to pair fin de siècle Victorian author George Gissing’s novels of lower middle class urban life with French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s writings on social theory.  After all, not only are they separated by disciplinary context but also national borders.  Upon closer examination, however, bringing these two figures together reveal surprising convergences about novelistic modes and sociological thought at the end of the nineteenth century.

I first encountered Durkheim’s writings on social theory and sociological methodology during my graduate studies, via an interdisciplinary seminar that prompted us to explore various social scientific disciplines and query their potential for literary studies.  When I read Durkheim’s discussion of social facts, which he defines in The Rules of Sociological Method (1895) as “any way of acting, whether fixed or not, capable of exerting over the individual an external constraint” (59), I couldn’t help but be reminded of late nineteenth-century realist form.  Durkheim’s definition here emphasizes the notion of constraint, something external to individuals that exerts pressure on how they act, whether it be physical density limiting movement or internalized social norms restricting behavior.  Yet how does one grasp, much less represent, social constraint?  How does an author make legible what is presumably an internalized social consciousness into narrative form?  Social facts, according to Durkheim, are mostly visible as traces, as aftereffects – they determine and constrain individuals, but are by nature hard to capture directly.

Social facts, that is to say, exist as an invisible collective consciousness that powerfully constrains individuals.  For me, this description crystallizes Gissing’s abiding thematic interest in his novels, what he portrays so powerfully – the pathos of individuals caught within social structures and norms beyond that of their own choosing.  Gissing’s fiction focus on those who experience economic and class precarity brought about by tremendous structural changes at the fin de siècle.  In order to represent such changes, he must strategically craft his narration to show both the external structural constraints and their affective impact on the individual.  Looking at Durkheim’s notion of the social fact allowed me to pinpoint exactly how Gissing’s novels so vividly render such pathos in textual form: by deploying what I call a “constrained omniscience” as a narrative strategy in New Grub Street (1891) and The Odd Women (1893).  This narrative mode, especially in characterization, points to social constraint by performing it.

By looking at Gissing and Durkheim together, my essay reinscribes them into their respective traditions and asks, more broadly, what this comparison reveals about Victorian narrative realism and the development of sociology at the fin de siècle.  Through emphasizing the parallels between Gissing’s narration and Durkheim’s concept, this essay treats both as symptomatic of a broader interest in the fact, pointing to resonances between realist narrative technique and the longer history of disciplinary reorganization that emerges over the nineteenth century.

To read more, see Maria Su Wang, “Constrained Realism: Representing Social Facts in George Gissing’s Fiction.” Victorian Review, vol. 47, no.1, 2021, p. 97-114.

Works Cited

Durkheim, Emile. The Rules of Sociological Method. 1895. Translated by W. D. Halls, The Free Press, 1982.

The Eye, the Ear, the Tongue, the Spirit: W.T. Stead’s Unsurprising Turn to Spiritualist Journalism

by Barbara D. Ferguson

A seated woman in Victorian garb writes in a notebook.

Julia Ames, c.1880, photographer unknown. Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

By the time my article about W.T. Stead’s often-overlooked spiritualist periodical Borderland found a home at the Victorian Review, it had already been a graduate seminar presentation, a semester-end essay, a VSAWC conference paper, and a guest lecture. Navigating its research rabbit holes and shifting formats, I sometimes wished I too had a collaborator, as Stead had had Miss X (Ada Goodrich Freer) and Julia for Borderland. Stead openly acknowledged his collaborators in the pages of the work, recognizing Miss X as a prolific spiritualist writer and co-editor, and Julia as the spirit of American journalist Julia Ames, dead more than a year when the periodical launched.

Of course, if I had found even one such collaborator – allowing us to eschew both Zoom and email in favour of telepathy or automatic writing – our results would have raised the same issues Stead’s did more than a century ago: as amanuensis, how would I be able to mediate between my collaborator’s thoughts and my own, or indeed discern one from the other? How would we signal on the page who had written what? And, inevitably, would anyone even take me seriously if I co-authored with a spirit, or would my friends and colleagues tell me I had taken a career-ending misstep onto the fringes of acceptable behaviour?

Stead contended with all these concerns as he and Freer launched Borderland in 1893. He had already established himself as a cultural figure, an author/editor with connections and media clout to be reckoned with, albeit also one with a reputation and a prison record from his years of investigative work. Using multiple pages of the first few editions of Borderland to reprint letters of support and criticism, where activist Josephine Butler, biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, and newspaper editor T.P. O’Connor appear alongside Members of Parliament, regional clerics, and obscure academics is typical of Stead’s social reach and willingness to court public comment (“The Response to the Appeal” pp.10-23; “Some More Opinions on the Study of Borderland” pp.103-113, etc.). Stead’s version of the New Journalism was, by his own publicized assertions, one which strove to influence audiences into action more effectively than any other communication platform. For Stead, the journalistic author was an embodied force on and off the page, present abstractly in their printed byline and voice, and more materially in their public self as a gatherer of information, “at once the eye and the ear and the tongue of the people,” and the means by which those people were represented in print (“Government by Journalism” par.7).

Given his imagining of the journalist’s role as an informational relay – a body simultaneously present and absent in the process of textual transmission – it seems to me hardly surprising that Stead accepted the role as Julia’s amanuensis with little qualm (“My Experience” pp.41-4). Wielding his familiar tools from the New Journalism, he expanded his readership into the spiritualist community by foregrounding Borderland’s collaborative ethos, printing rather thrilling tales of first-person accounts of the uncanny, and recurrently featuring a female voice as an authoritative speaker on the afterlife. On those levels, the project seems entirely in keeping with the savvy journalist Stead had long been. But resolving just how to present these dual-authored messages on the page, and how to attribute the words of each speaker when both he and she were, by his own account, writing as a single being with two consciousnesses… that proved more difficult, and indeed challenged the very tenets of the New Journalism Stead had so long championed.

For more about Stead’s reconfiguration of voice and the new journalism for spiritualist audiences, see Barbara D. Ferguson’s “‘My Spook Speaks Steadease:’ Voice, Mediation, and the New Journalism in W.T. Stead’s Borderland.Victorian Review, issue 47, Spring 2021, pp. 135-52.

Works Cited

Stead, W.T. “Government by Journalism.” Contemporary Review, vol. 49, May 1886, pp. 653–74.

—. “Some More Opinions on the Study of Borderland.” [Various authors] Borderland, vol. 1, no. 2, October 1893, pp. 103-113.

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Gentility and Sympathy in Felix Holt

by Susan Zlotnick

James Gilray, Farmer Giles and His Wife Showing Off Their Daughter Betty to Their Neighbours on her Return from School, 1809. Image Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At first glance, James Gillray’s satirical depiction of a farmer’s daughter displaying her genteel accomplishments, Farmer Giles and his Wife shewing off their daughter Betty to their Neighbours, on her return from School (1809), seems far afield from George Eliot, the most intellectually ambitious and morally serious of all the great Victorian novelists.  However, Gillray’s print captures the social ambitions of families like Eliot’s as well as the derision to which their aspirations were subjected. Growing up in rural Warwickshire as the daughter of a carpenter-turned-estate manager, Eliot was–like Betty–sent off to school to acquire the gentility that was the hallmark of the rising middle class.  One consequence of Eliot’s early training in gentility was a lifelong self-consciousness, a morbid sensitivity to the opinions of others, that was intensified by her later move into London’s elite intellectual circles, where her rustic roots led to frequent accusations that she was insufficiently ladylike.  Eliot’s sensitivity has long been noted by scholars and assumed to be a character trait, part of Eliot’s essential psychological makeup.  In “Class Affect and the Victorian Novelist,” I suggest that we consider Eliot’s self-consciousness as a class affect, or what Raymond Williams refers to as a structure of feeling.    

This essay explores the traces of Eliot’s class affect that can be discerned in Felix Holt: the Radical (1866) and through the trajectory of its heroine, Esther Lyon.  Esther not only shares Eliot’s humble background and boarding-school education in gentility, but she is also singled out in George Eliot’s Life (1885) by Eliot’s late-in-life husband, John Cross, for her resemblance to Eliot on account of her sensitivity to class rank.  While Felix Holt is ordinarily discussed in the context of debates about the extension of suffrage to working men, my analysis places middle-class gentility at the center of the novel, of equal importance to the issue of working-class voting rights, and contends that Eliot uses the trope of sugar to represent both as parallel threats to the moral advancement of the nation.  Moreover, while the titular hero, Felix Holt, has no success convincing his fellow workers to embrace education rather than electoral politics, he does reform Esther.  Under Felix’s rough tutelage, Esther unlearns the lessons of her schooling in fine-ladyism and comes to understand that true distinction, at least in Eliot’s moral universe, arises from renouncing middle-class gentility in favor of sympathy.  In doing so, Esther forgoes the self-consciousness of gentility and embraces the reparative double consciousness of Eliotic sympathy, as she ceases to worry about what her neighbors think of her and begins to think with Felix in mind. Thus, by carefully attending to Esther’s narrative, I argue that Felix Holt offers readers an origin story for Eliotic sympathy by recapitulating its development out of the self-consciousness that was a by-product of Eliot’s own instruction in gentility.  Eliot transforms the excruciating sensitivity that was gentility’s affective legacy into her most distinctive moral concept, and thereby betrays the obscured class underpinnings of her own investment in sympathy.

To read more, see Susan Zlotnick, “Class Affect and the Victorian Novelist: George Eliot’s Gentility and the Origins of Sympathy in Felix Holt.” Victorian Review, vol. 47 no. 1, 2021, p. 115-133. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2021.0012.

Guano, Night Soil, and Dreams of Sustainability

by Mary Bowden

Often seen as prim and repressed in the popular imagination, the Victorians are not usually known for their frank discussions of excrement. In nineteenth-century agriculture, however, excrement was a constant topic of public interest and debate. By the mid-nineteenth century, British farmers had become increasingly dependent on supplies of South American guano (accumulated lodes of bird and bat feces), which they praised as a potent fertilizer. At the same time that farmers scattered guano over their fields, speculators sought to revitalize an older practice in which human excrement, euphemistically termed “night soil,” was used to return fertility to exhausted agricultural fields. In public debates about these fertilizers, the contrast between guano and night soil took on outsized meaning. Critics denounced farmers’ guano dependence for implicating Britain in extractive, international trade, while praising night soil schemes for ensuring a sustainable recycling of nutrients within the British nation.

title page for “Prospectus of the Metropolitan Sewage Manure Company.” Metropolitan Sewage Manure Co., 1845.

As I show in my article, “Night Soil and Nation Building: Trollope’s The Prime Minister, the Guano Economy, and Sustainability,” the novelist Anthony Trollope responds to this agricultural debate by contrasting guano with older agricultural methods. Trollope’s 1876 novel follows Ferdinand Lopez, an arriviste adventurer who speculates in extracted guano. Lopez marries Emily Wharton, the daughter of a wealthy family who characterize Lopez as a suspicious foreigner; this marriage amounts to an extraction of Emily from her family and friends, the Whartons and Fletchers. While the novel does not directly reference excrement recycling schemes, the novel’s marriage plot contrasts Lopez’s implication in guano extraction with the Whartons’ and Fletchers’ promotion of intranational agricultural sustainability. Arthur Fletcher, who had long courted Emily, promotes older agricultural reforms that return benefits to the nation. As Trollope contrasts the Whartons and Fletchers with Lopez, he also contrasts older and newer methods of agriculture, and extractive international trade with intranational sustainability.

Trollope is typically seen as a writer interested in cultural mores and political machinations (particularly in the Palliser series, of which The Prime Minister is a part). But I suggest that Trollope’s engagement with the guano economy positions him as an environmental writer, one who is both keenly aware of attempts to achieve agricultural sustainability, and of the ways in which nationalist sentiment inflected these attempts.

To read more, see Mary Bowden. “Night Soil and Nation Building: Trollope’s The Prime Minister, the Guano Economy, and Victorian Sustainability.Victorian Review, vol. 47 no. 1, 2021, p. 79-96. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/vcr.2021.0010.

‘We do not need more men in pith helmets’: Environmental anxieties in the imperial romance novel

By Elly McCausland

Illustration by Charles Kerr in Rider Haggard, Maiwa’s Revenge; or, the War of the Little Hand (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1888)

In 2017, children’s author Katherine Rundell published The Explorer, a modern-day adventure novel that would go on to win the Costa Children’s Book Award. The novel follows a group of four children whose plane crash-lands in the jungle after the pilot suffers a fatal heart attack. They stumble upon the ruins of a magnificent ancient city, deep in the heart of the Amazon. Its guardian is a former explorer who has taken it as his life’s mission to protect the ancient city. He has built a jungle canopy to shield it from ‘people surveying the land from the air […] From people looking for El Dorado. From people looking to pack places like this into parcels of stone and sell them to curious ladies and gentlemen in Chelsea for the price of a bus driver’s yearly wages. From people exactly like me’.[1] He is determined to keep the magnificent ruins a secret until human society relinquishes its obsession with dominating and plundering the environment: ‘The time will come, I hope, when the world values people as much as it values land. But for now, we do not need more men in pith helmets marching through the jungle towards us.’[2]

We can read Rundell’s story as ‘writing back’ to the adventure novels of the later nineteenth century, often grouped under the genre ‘imperial romance’ and featuring an all-male band of heroes who venture into the unknown – usually darkest Africa or South America – stumble upon a lost city and escape its inevitable booby traps and hordes of avenging ‘savages’ in order to regale a Victorian reading public with tales of their derring-do. Rundell offers a clear counter-narrative to such tales, with her gruff explorer condemning the activities of colonialist soldiers and the havoc they wrought upon the forest ecosystem. At the end of the novel, its young protagonist Fred grows up to become what the newspapers call ‘A new kind of explorer’ – one who, it is implied, is respectful of the landscape he traverses and aware of his potential impact.[3]

The Explorer situates itself firmly in opposition to what it implies to be the single narrative of exploration that dominated the late nineteenth century: masculinist, colonialist, anthropocentric. It is a narrative often brought to life in the fiction of renowned Victorian adventure writers such as Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad, with recent scholarship devoted to identifying the problematic environmental ideologies of these novels in addition to their noted racist and misogynist tendencies. Destruction of animal and plant life is rampant in many of these texts, but gathers relatively little critical attention, overshadowed as it often is by the gratuitous slaughter of native peoples that is also often a key plot feature. Yet it struck me, while reading Rundell’s novel for the first time recently, that the counter-narrative she offers is not a new one, and in fact exists as a haunting sub-text within many of the novels themselves.

Recently, scholars have begun to identify more ambiguity in these texts, and I have attempted to continue this conversation in my article for Victorian Review, ‘“The Game has Gone”: Animal Fantasies and Environmental Realities in H. Rider Haggard’s Imperial Romance’. I argue that we ought to pay close attention to the frequent, detailed depictions of the animal body and native flora and fauna in Rider Haggard’s novels, as these offer clues to a fundamental anxiety that underpinned his depictions of colonial adventure. In Haggard’s writing we can identify a paradox that inflects a large proportion of nineteenth-century imperial romance: adventure relied for its thrills on tempting travellers into the ‘blank spaces’ of the map, but simultaneously acknowledged that those spaces could only retain their appeal if left uncharted. This tendency is evident in multiple examples from the genre – novels by Frank Aubrey, J. Provand Webster, R. D. Chetwode and James Cobban, among others – all of which close with a dramatic incident or accident that sees their explorers unable to return to, or map, the lost worlds at their hearts. We might actually trace the seeds of Rundell’s counter-narrative back to these novels, which, even as they promoted anthropocentric, violent adventure in exoticised locales, were simultaneously haunted by the guilt and anxiety that they might be contributing to the irreversible disappearance of such places. There is little difference, in actual fact, between the stern warnings of Rundell’s explorer and the sentiments of Haggard’s Henry Curtis, over a century earlier:

I have no fancy for handing over this beautiful country to be torn and fought for by speculators, tourists, politicians, and teachers, whose voice is as the voice of Babel […] nor will I endow it with the greed, drunkenness, new diseases, gunpowder, and general demoralisation which chiefly mark the progress of civilisation amongst unsophisticated peoples.[4]

To learn more, see McCausland, Elly. “”The Game Has Gone”: Animal Fantasies and Environmental Realities in H. Rider Haggard’s Imperial Romance.” Victorian Review, vol. 46 no. 2, 2020, p. 235-254. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2020.0021.

[1] Katherine Rundell, The Explorer (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), p. 299.

[2] Rundell, The Explorer, p. 301.

[3] Rundell, The Explorer, p. 392.

[4] Rider Haggard, Allan Quatermain (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1994), p. 310-11.

Kipling’s Animal Worlds

 by Linda Shires

a cat walks through a grove of trees in this black and white illustration
Left: Rudyard Kipling, “The Cat That Walked by Himself,” in Just So Stories for Little Children, 1902. Courtesy of the British Library Board, MS 59840 f118r.

What is your very first memory or impression? Is it your mother’s holding you? Your father’s singing to you? An avenue of trees? I hope yours is positive. Rudyard Kipling’s certainly was. Born in Bombay to Anglo-Indian parents, he recalled: “My first impression is of daybreak, light and colour and golden and purple fruits at the level of my shoulder” (Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown, 1). After being nurtured by loving parents and a devoted ayah for his first five years, Kipling suffered a traumatic childhood when he and his younger sister “Trix” were abruptly taken to Southsea, England and left behind with paid guardians to start a British education. For the next six years he suffered cruelty and bullying. Kipling’s deep love for his own children, Josephine, John, and Elsie emerges throughout his writings, from his address to his “Best Beloved” Josephine in Just So Stories to numerous later illustrated letters from across the globe. One can only imagine the horror he and his wife felt upon burying their first daughter at age six and losing their only son at eighteen on the Western Front.

Yet what does any of this have to do with muteness, speech or survival in Kipling’s animal worlds, the topic of my recent ‘animal studies’ essay in Victorian Review? In re-reading his fiction and poetry over the last decade, I have increasingly come to question inflexible theoretical lenses used to interpret his works. Ideologies stressing binaries, including animal/human, repeatedly fail to account for the complexities, ambiguities, and ironies of his corpus.

The most acute readers of Kipling, such as Daniel Karlin or J.M.S. Tomkins, have sought in various ways to complicate binary thinking. Moreover, numerous scholars, usually focusing on the Mowgli stories, have studied his representation of animals and humans, but few have explored Kipling’s lifelong fascination with animal language or his complex depiction of muteness. Begun as an MLA talk in 2017, this essay draws upon relevant theoretical contexts to examine differing language/muteness relations among animals and humans. I argue that Kipling’s frequent reliance on muteness carries a variety of meanings and values: the silencing of non-human animal sounds by instinct; silent yet communicating animal gestures and movements; a chosen human quietude; the muting of sounds by sleep or by caresses and lullabies; the silence that follows individual deaths, mass killings, and extinctions.

I purposely begin with three of the non-Mowgli stories that were collected in the 1894 Jungle Book: “The White Seal” and “Toomai of the Elephants,” and in the 1895 The Second Jungle Book: “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat.” Each dissolves human/non-human binaries in different ways. Kipling continues to explore how and why creatures communicate in his brilliant image/text collection Just So Stories for Little Children (1902). As he still investigates language and silence, across species, years later, he creates in Thy Servant a Dog, Told by Boots (1930) an animal mind, akin to a toddler’s, trying to process human speech. Rudyard Kipling cares deeply for children, animals, and, above all, for sameness within difference—that survival matters, that we all suffer, that we all die.

To read more, see Linda M. Shires, “Kipling’s Animal Worlds: Muteness, Speech, and Survival,” Victorian Review, 46.2, pp. 191-210.

For further information, consult: