Representing animals in the literature of Victorian Britain

Authored by: Jennifer McDonell

The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193260
eBook ISBN: 9780429468933
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



I begin with two iconic images of the Victorian era (Figure 10.1, Figure 10.2). The first is a photograph of Queen Victoria with one of her favourite border collies, Sharp (1866–79), who is seated on a gothic chair resembling a throne and leaning into his dour mistress’s breast. The second is of the celebrity elephant Jumbo, who tragically died after being hit by a freight locomotive, a death that is all too neatly emblematic of nineteenth-century industrialisation. As they merge into each other, Sharp and his mistress embody Victorian domesticity in all its glaring contradictions, with Sharp standing in as a confidante and honorary royal and as a model of the obedient and loyal subject, an emblem of how good breeding anchors the bourgeois home. 1 Born around 1861 in what is now Eritrea, Jumbo was violently separated from his mother by hunters and sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris before being relocated to the London Zoo, where he was tortured by night for seventeen years to make him docile by day. When Jumbo became violent in middle age, he was bought by P.T. Barnum and emerged as one of the most lucrative circus acts of Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, that is, until 1885 when he wandered onto a railway track in Ontario, Canada. Jumbo’s body was subsequently dissected, with its parts attaining historical and cultural afterlife as museum specimens and taxidermied exhibits. 2 The real animals in these images represent extremes of sentiment and violence, the homely and the exotic, sympathetic interdependence with, and instrumental use of animals by humans that was in many ways characteristic of Victorian Britain.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.