UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The modern bestiary : animal fiction from Hardy to Orwell Asker, D.B.D.


The aim of this study is to explore different kinds of animal fiction written in English literature between 1870 and 1945. Neither an inclusive account nor a survey, it examines both literary technique and thematic substance. Taking Darwin's "Origin of Species" as a significant point of departure, it discusses such authors as Hardy, Kipling, Wells, Lawrence, Orwell, and others, arguing that the great variety of animals we find constitutes a substantial revival in the fortunes of Bestiary art. In the Middle Ages much animal literature was produced, and the burden of this, either as fable or Bestiary proper, was moral instruction. In the modern period we see that this broad moral base remains intact and that animal life forms a natural paradigm to which an age in moral turmoil can turn. This thesis shows that modern British writers, like other men in other times, have turned to the world of animal nature, realistically or figuratively or 'fantastically', to find a better orientation to the world — to find a more satisfactory view of man's place in nature. Although the moral base remains consistent, the literary techniques of animal depiction do not. The first part of the thesis, for ex ample, examines "The Socio-political Bestiary" of Kipling and Orwell, and notes that these authors frequently (though not always) rely on highly personified animal, characters to embody abstract qualities or ideas relevant to particular political ideologies. Hardy and Lawrence, on the other hand, seek to depict animals "as" animals, without the overt anthropomorphism implicit in the personified and fablistic manner. These two authors constitute Part II of the thesis, and in endowing their animals with the lively integrity of beings distinctly 'other' than man, they implicitly argue for an integrated view of all natural life. At the same time, their animals are very deliberately 'used' as symbolic analogues of human situations, and thus bear a thematic significance to the intense concerns held by Hardy and Lawrence. The third section differs considerably from both of the previous parts. Here we analyse three authors (H.G.Wells, David Garnett, and John Collier) all of whom describe different kinds of human/animal metamorphosis whereby the attenuated relationship between man and animal becomes more blurred than usual; animal life here becomes a predominantly negative force by which man's moral and psychological health may be gauged. Whether by scientific vivisection, magical change of form, or rapid evolutionary growth, the animals (or creatures) represent fears and anxieties that lurk beneath a thin veneer of civilization. The modern Bestiarists represent a wide variety of fictional technique and an equally extensive range of thematic interest. Nonetheless, there is a consistency in the common idea that animals may effectively represent an objectified version of human life and thus serve an obvious educational function. An age in which the Darwinian revolution had demonstrated man's kinship with the animals, and in which traditional social mores came increasingly under attack, could well seek to learn from an animal life unsullied by the intense pressures a technological society imposes.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.