Ritið 1/16

Ritið 1/16 - 2016

Gunnar Theodór Eggertsson: Realistic animals and natural science fiction: the animal story in the aftermath of Darwinism

Animals in literature are generally connected to symbolism or allegory and therefore become stand-ins for anything but themselves. In this article, the author argues for the value of literal readings of animal stories by examining the little known genre of realistic animal stories. Such stories were popular in the aftermath of Darwin’s publishings on the inner lives of other species and appeared in the latter half of the nineteenth century as a sort of continuation of the realist school, in addition to the writers’ growing interest in the fields of natural science and ethology. The realistic animal stories focus on the animal standpoint and serve as reminders that different species enjoy various inner lives, even if they might remain inaccessible to humans to a certain degree.
The author discusses some of the period’s key authors and analyzes the genre’s most distinctive features. Special attention is given to the academic tendency to belittle the animal standpoint in literature, where stories about animals as themselves are rarely taken seriously, unless they can be argued to be representative of the human standpoint in some manner. The author connects this to the philosophy of anthropocentrism and therefore situates the animal stories within an ethical context, which is never far off when the inner lives of other animals are under discussion. Elevating their standpoint is both a relevant and an important issue within a society that routinely belittles their inner lives through the objectification and mass production of their bodies. The realistic animal story is therefore defined by the author as a radical form of literature and described as an important genre that needs serious reevaluation.
Keywords: animal stories, anthropomorphism, animal ethics, factory farming, anthropocentrism, realism, evolution, darwinism


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