Anthropomorphic Representations: Blurring Animal-Human Boundaries in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

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This dissertation focuses on the concept of anthropomorphism in a series of nineteenth-century novels, arguing that these works index imperial values by blurring species boundaries between humans and non-human animals. Through readings of canonical fiction—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and Wilkie Collins’ Heart and Science—I argue that Victorian culture’s pervasive anthropomorphism does not operate merely in a unidirectional motion from animal to human, moving animals to a higher position within what Mel Chen terms “animacy hierarchies.” Instead, it draws attention to indeterminacy between humans and animals through a series of forms, which I theorize as hybridity, chiasmus, inversion, and metonymy. The project focuses on how animals in these works transcend human-animal hierarchies, at some points making space for liminal positions between humans and nonhuman animals, at some points totally reversing human-animal hierarchies by claiming positions of superiority, and at others, working in solidarity with human characters through relations of contiguity. At the same time, the project demonstrates that animal figures in literature have a long and violent history of oppression that animal studies must acknowledge and contend with. The language of animality has dragged marginalized human groups down species hierarchies in the service of racism and misogyny. These forms demonstrate that zoomorphism, language used to describe human bodies in often racist and xenophobic ways, is intricately intertwined with anthropomorphic representations. This dissertation urges us to take seriously zoomorphism’s (and by proximity, anthropomorphism’s) role in perpetuating racism and the power of empire in the nineteenth century. Yet it also asks us to consider the implications of constructing the animal as a repository of negative stereotypes and a metaphor for inferiority. Though the violence against marginalized human communities and animals has often taken vastly differing forms, a dual examination of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism reveals how the British empire’s oppression of marginalized communities and animals are entangled with one another. Though these novels sometimes rely on animalistic tropes that dehumanize people of color, they also pose a challenge to structures that oppress both animals and humans, alike.

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267 pages


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animal studies; feminist thought; history of science; nineteenth century; novel studies; postcolonial studies


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Cohn, Elisha Jane

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Brown, Laura Schaefer
Saccamano, Neil Charles

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English Language and Literature

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Ph. D., English Language and Literature

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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