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Accommodating the Animal: Domestication in Eighteenth-Century English Literature

By Erin Parker

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Eighteenth-century English writers imagined domestication as the education of animals, as a mutually beneficial contract between species, as a form of cruelty and exploitation, and as an extension of hospitality. This study analyses how these diverse literary portrayals of domestication intersect and what they can tell us about eighteenth-century Britons’ conflicted and conflicting feelings about humans’ close relationships with creatures different from, and yet similar to, themselves. I argue that representations of domestication—as an improving or destructive, collaborative or coercive process—provide valuable insights into how eighteenth-century English writers and their readers positioned themselves in relation to animals and dealt with the challenges of “accommodating” or “making room” for animals within their houses and their communities. Each chapter focuses on a different depiction of domestication and the questions it raises about the extent of animals’ capabilities and proximity to humans. I begin with texts that present domestication in terms of education and, in so doing, suggest a link between animals and children. Chapter one examines natural histories and pedagogical treatises that separate animals’ ability to learn from their possession of reason; literary responses to the learned pig and its rumored talent at spelling; and fables and stories for children that entertain the possibility of interspecies collaboration in the classroom. In chapter two, using Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa as a case study, I trace how seemingly progressive representations of domestication as a contract which has the informed and voluntary consent of both parties can be used to legitimise oppressive treatment. In chapter three, I explore the connections drawn between domestication and hospitality—and between pets, menagerie animals, guests, and captives—in texts by Francis Coventry, Sarah Trimmer, William Cowper, Gilbert White, and others. The thesis concludes with a brief look at the continued relevance of eighteenth-century representations of domestication today.


Katie Carroll

Date 2013
Pages 212
Publisher University of Toronto
Department Department of English
Degree Doctor of Philosophy
Language English
University University of Toronto
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animals in culture
  3. Animals in literature.
  4. Domestication
  5. Human-animal relationships
  6. Human-animal studies