University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Beast Within: A Look at the Representation of Animals in Victorian Literature by Carolina E. Fragoso 801-09-2415

presented in partial fulfillment of the INGL 4095 (Victorian Era) course.

December 9th, 2011 Prof. Natarajan

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The Beast Within: A Look at the Representation of Animals in Victorian Literature

It is a well-known fact that people in the Victorian Era placed great emphasis on the possibility of animal subjectivity. There existed a belief that animals could have a mind and a soul, opinions and interests of their own. Victorian audiences were morbidly interested in the connections that could be forged between animals and human beings, a topic that has been picked up by a number of contemporary authors who cite the topics and structure of Victorian works of Literature as influences for their work, namely those of the Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 70s. One example of said authors is Julio Cortázar, whose writings are almost plagued by a vast array of animals who serve as intermediaries between reality and alternate existences ruled by seemingly anarchic systems. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst born during the Victorian Era, had a special interest for animals as symbols, which he recorded in many of his books, including his compendium Man and his Symbols, where Joseph L. Henderson refers to animals as “symbolic denizens of the collective unconscious” (Henderson 154), the collective unconscious being a reservoir of experiences shared by beings in the same society. These experiences can be positive and traumatic, because they are a part of nature, which is neither good nor evil. This is why audiences of the Victorian Era marveled at accounts of cannibalism perpetuated by otherwise “civilized” human beings, usually by shipwrecked sailors with nothing to eat and insanity brought on by water deprivation. When the morbid side of life and evolution, and

Fragoso 3 the sometimes horrible possibility of man becoming animal (or viceversa) is toyed with, everyone's nature could be at stake. In Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, animals function as both symbols and rhetorical devices that advance the plot. The most notable of these instances is Tess’ likeness to a hunted beast: “Still no answer came for Tess. There seemed only one escape for her hunted soul.” (Hardy 170). This occurs many times in the text to the point where it can be considered a motif, constantly growing in seriousness until she is found by the police and executed for the murder of Alec D'Urberville, the man who rapes her at the beginning of the novel. Tess meets Alex through the influence of an animal, as she must look for work after her father's horse dies when she falls asleep at the reins – an instance where the animal is used to advance the plot. The scene is surrounded by a responsive nature that changes in tune to Tess' mood: “The atmosphere turned pale, the birds shoot themselves in the hedges, arose, and twittered; the lane showed all its white features, and Tess showed hers...” (Hardy 19) Birds are an important motif in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Commonly known to be symbols of freedom, birds are used by Hardy in many senses. As J. Hillis Miller writes in his article about Tess, the main thesis of the entire novel is summed up in the scene where Tess shows mercy to the wounded pheasants by ending their suffering: bearing joins man's wood, culture lies in its Part of the pathos of Tess's suffering arises from the fact that her of Alec's child follows from “doing what comes naturally.” Her act her to the general life of nature. [...]Tess is as much a victim of inhumanity to natural creatures as those pheasants dying in the wounded by hunters, whose necks she mercifully wrings[...]Tess, however, unlike the rabbits and pheasants, dwells within human as well as within nature[....]Part of the poignancy of Tess's story demonstrations of man's distance from nature. (Hillis 131)

Fragoso 4 Critic and writer D.H. Lawrence addresses the same issue of “the general life of nature” as Hillis, establishing that Tess' main argument is that life has no defined morality, as nothing in nature is good or evil – it just is. According to Lawrence, the human experience is contained within “the vast, unexplored morality of life itself”, and there is a definite line between the two “till some one of the protagonists chances to look out of the charmed circle, weary of the stage, to look into the wilderness raging around”, a characteristic of Hardy's plots. In an article titled Horses and Sexual – Social Dominance, critic Elsie B. Michie examines the relationship between three Victorian novels (Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Wives and Daughters and The Mill on the Floss) and horses. The heroines, Michie writes, “are depicted in terms that might remind us of horses [...] The men who pursue these women struggle to control or manage a set of unruly emotions, what we might call the animal passions: sexual desire, aggression, fear, anger.” (Michie 151) In this sense, a connection with nature is empowering, as it allows these

women (and their reader) to step outside their strict Victorian reality for a brief moment. Tess in specific is an example of this empowerment. It is in nature that she seems to feel at home, and it is a comfort for her to know this: if she does, she will never be in peril as long as she has her “rabbits and pheasants”. Her

connection to nature is evident right before scene where she discovers the dying pheasants: some were been would present no fear. Soon she was certain that the noises came from wild creatures of kind, the more so when, originating in the boughs overhead, they followed by the fall of a heavy body upon the ground. Had she ensconced here under other and more pleasant conditions she have become alarmed; but, outside humanity, she had at (Hardy 171)

Many critics have indeed compared Tess to a “Mother Nature” Earth goddess

Fragoso 5 in the sense of Gaia or Terra. If this was Hardy's intention (and not a neo-Victorian idea made up by critics and fanatics wishing to elevate the text even further), the objective was attained with impressive subtlety. Tess can be considered a

“denizen” of that limbo between the animal and the human, toeing the lines that would make her a mythical creature of the same quality as a sphynx or a mermaid. This would certainly spark an interest in the Victorian reader, who was already curious about supernatural beings that crossed paths with the real world. Tess’

status as a goddess is most tangible in the scene where she lies down at Stonehenge after arriving there with Angel Clare, the man she truly loves. couple arrive at the ancient rock formation by chance. The

The stone Tess casually

chooses to throw herself on happens to be warm and inviting, as if nature had designated it for her, and Angel Clare makes a reference to it being an altar. In the light of her imminent doom, Tess may be seen as a sacrificial victim, a virgin offered up to attract the favors of the universe. Her good nature has been corrupted by her father’s pride and greed, destroying the purity that critic D.H. Lawrence would qualify as nonexistent, a common practice in many occult rituals where a deity or superior must be desecrated in order for men to attain the same status of that being. The book’s phases may also be indicative of this meaning, as the name of each phase (“The Maiden”, “The Convert”, “Fulfillment”) seems to represent parts of a ritual initiation or murder. The scene that immediately follows this one is a reference to the moment in the Bible in which Jesus is found praying in the Mount of Olives, where soldiers find him and arrest him for being a traitor to the policies of Israel. The situation is paralleled in Tess of the D'Urbervilles with a main character who simply cannot find it in herself to follow the “policies” of “civilized” society. George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss also tells of a female character that is

Fragoso 6 greatly connected to nature and uses it to escape reality, especially during her youth. Maggie Tulliver, Tom Tulliver's perky, impulsive little sister, is a veritable

force of nature. This is evident in her burgeoning sexuality: Maggie's beauty and charm seems to send men chasing after her with marriage proposals. One of these men is Stephen Guest, Lucy's suitor with whom she almost elopes after the boat they are traveling down the Floss in is carried away by a current (again, the forces of nature are used by the author as a tool for plot advancement). Like Alec

D'Urberville, Stephen Guest is often in the company of a horse. It is interesting how it is the horse, not the man, that stirs emotions in Maggie's heart according to Elsie B. Michie's article Horses and Sexual-Social Dominance: […] it is no longer reason that rides and therefore controls and manages passion, but that passion is now the rider. In The Mill on Floss in particular, the push and pull of aggression associated with are manifested as much within the beasts of the individual in their dealings with each other...When Maggie sees Stephen horse streaked with the sweat of fast riding, she “felt a beating at and heart – horrible as the sudden leaping to life of a savage had feigned death”. (Michie 160)

the riding characters as arrive on a head enemy who

Maggie's “trysts” are disapproved of by Tom, who spends most of the novel putting a damper on his sister's imagination, and essentially exiles her after she and Stephen run away with intentions of eloping. In her essay George Eliot and The British Empire, Nancy Henry studies Maggie's use of animals (or her knowledge about them) as a tool for “the intellecual emasculation of Tom” (Henry 28) and other male characters, a possible reason for Tom's constant chastising of his sister. Even as a child, Maggie seems able to understand and harness the power of the animalistic, which she uses to supplement her human experience. Her brother,

however, must remain within the confines of the real, immediately accessed world: images of Issues of manliness in The Mill on the Floss circulate around hunting wild animals and of military combat and are linked by the

Fragoso 7 larger themes of reading and imagination. Engaged in conversation with the mill-hand Luke, who is opposed to books on the grounds that “they're mostly lies”, Maggie argues that through books we learn about other people, and “we ought to know about our fellow creatures” (30). she offers the example of Goldsmith's Animated Nature with its “elephants and kangaroos, and the civet cat, and the sun fish” (30) […] Maggie is distinguished by her sympathetic imagination, which allows her to feel for “fellow creatures” of the animal and human kind. Her imagination takes flight with her knowledge of wild and exotic animals while Tom's remains grounded by ignorance. (Henry 27) However, the same author acknowledges that this “ignorance” is what enables Tom to function (however erratically), as “he transforms his limitations into strength, working to save the mill and losing his already limited capacity for sympathy in his vow to avenge his father's name” (Henry 28). This characterization by the use of connections between animal and human is ever present in The Mill on the Floss, even in the justifying of the character's way of being. This is the thesis proposed by Mary Jean Corbett in her article “The Crossing O' Breeds” in The Mill on the Floss. Corbett considers an instance in which the Tullivers discuss the nature of their children, and Mr. Tulliver says “That's the worst on't wi' the crossing of breeds: you can never justly calkilate what'll come on't” and establishes that it is the intangible character of its nature (and the examples of nature contained in the novel) that sets the novel apart from its predecessors: That Adam Bede, published just a year before The Mill, poses few or no questions about the genesis of character indicates much about Eliot's conception of that historical moment as cold pastoral; set about thirty years later, the emphasis of The Mill, in its concern with generational and gendered sameness and difference, falls much more heavily on the mechanisms of change, deploying animal and plant analogies that are all about process. (Corbett 121) One “animal and plant analogy” that seems relevant in the novel occurs right at the beginning of the text. Maggie has been entrusted with the care of her

brother's rabbits – an animal that is known to be a universal symbol of sexuality –

Fragoso 8 and subsequently forgets to feed them, so the animals die. Psychoanalysts of the Carl Jung tradition would ascribe this situation to that of the sister who wants her relationship with her brother to remain close, innocent and childlike. These tight relationships between children are tolerated, but Maggie knows that it will all end when she reaches a certain age where it is no longer acceptable. Her unconscious murdering of the rabbits is a symbol of defiance, and at the same time it allows Maggie to verify the status of her brother's allegiance to her: he lovingly forgives her and she manages to stay in control. Even though their relationship suffers

throughout the novel, the ending is a parallel of the rabbit situation. In this case, it is Maggie's actual sexuality that has upset Tom, and the chance for forgiveness is brought about by nature when a flood forces them to come (and die) together. Abraham Stoker's Dracula is yet another character that exists between two worlds. However, the vampire is not allowed a choice like Maggie and Tess could: he has been cursed with almost eternal life, which, according to critic Rosemary Jackson: otherworld to dead […] parasites, interstitial [...]dissolves the life/death boundary, returning from an prey upon the living. He occupies a paraxial realm, neither wholly nor wholly alive. He is a present absence, an unreal substance Dracula's victims share his un-dead quality. They become feeding off the real and living, condemned to an eternal existence, in between things. (Jackson)

In Dracula, this forced imposition of animal nature on a human being is used to promote the ideas of chastity proposed by organized religion. The scariest

quality of Dracula is not the fact that he draws blood, but his lack of a “fixed form. He metamorphoses as bat, rat, rodent, man. He is without scruple, without form. His appearance means that chaos is come again, for he is before good or evil, outside human categorization” (Jackson), much like Tess' nature qualifies her as a

Fragoso 9 demigod, a nature deity. Dracula is a nature demon, however, belonging to that “wilderness raging round” that D.H. Lawrence mentions in his article about Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and thus has a connection with nature that other humans demonize because they cannot relate to it. Hence his characterization (and that of his victims) by the use of animals. Critic Carol A. Senf studies the relationship of Dracula's animal characteristics with the ideas of human evolution that were so known during the Victorian Age: […] it is equally important to note that Stoker's depiction of Dracula (and the women vampires as well) identifies them as more animal than human. This identification links Stoker's concern with the nineteenthcentury scientific discussion of humanity's past, a discussion that involved biologists, archaeologists, historians and laymen. For example, Darwin in The Descent of Man (originally published in 1871) discusses at length several of the characteristics that Stoker assigns to Dracula and specifically identifies these traits (among them: enlarged canine teeth, pointed ears, and excess hair) as characteristics of more primitive species. (Senf 80) According to Rosemary Jackson, these characteristics allow Stoker to treat “difficult or unpalatable social realities […] Through this identification [with animals of a lesser evolutive quality], troublesome social elements can be destroyed in the name of exorcising the demonic”, just like Tess and Maggie had to die in their respective novels. No one explains it best than Ignacio Malaxechevarría in his

Bestiario Medieval: “Animals are the inscrutable and strange, excellent reason for man to project in them his angst and terror.” (Malaxechevarría 198).

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Bibliography Corbett, Mary J. The Crossing O' Breeds in “The Mill on the Floss”. Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture. Edited by Deborah Denenholz and Martin A. DanahayAldershot: Ashgate, 2007. Print. Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. Obtained through Project Gutenberg: Release date, February 1994, EBook #110. < > Henry, Nancy. George Eliot and The British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Library of Congress. 7 Dec 2011. <>. Jackson, Rosemary. Gothic Tales and Novels. In her Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. Methuen, 1981, pp. 95-122. Lawrence, D.H. A Study of Thomas Hardy. in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence. edited by Edward D. MacDonald. Viking Penguin, 1936. pp. 398-516 Malaxechevarría, Ignacio. Bestiario medieval. Madrid: Siruela, 1989. Miller, J. Hillis. "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982. Print. Michie, Elsie B. Horses and Sexual-Social Dominance. Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture. Edited by Deborah Denenholz and Martin A. DanahayAldershot: Ashgate, 2007. Print. Senf, Carol. Dracula, the Jewel of Seven Stars and Stoker's “Burden of the Past”. in Bram Stoker's Dracula: Sucking through the Century, 1897 1997. Toronto: Dundurn, 1997. Print.

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