Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)
Lissette Lopez Szwydky
Second Committee Member
Sean A. Dempsey
Adaptation, Animal studies, Ecocriticism, Gender, Nineteenth Century, Natural Science
In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin and other proponents of evolutionary theory provided a theoretical framework for discussing the question of humanity’s place in the world. These nascent theories emphasized the shared animal nature of humans and the nonhuman creatures who had once occupied a distinctly lower place on the chain of being. My dissertation addresses the question of how nineteenth-century scientific attitudes about animals were reflected in the literature of the period. By examining culture-texts from the nineteenth century, it is clear that literature was an active participant in extending scientific knowledge, often by playing with the blending categorical distinctions of human and nonhuman animals.
I argue that highly-adapted texts (culture-texts) reveal a transhistorical development (or evolution) of nineteenth-century natural science that reverberates into contemporary attitudes about animal and human nature. I extend the theories of Linda Hutcheon (a postmodern theorist and adaptation scholar) and Gary Bortolotti (an evolutionary biologist) that propose that adaptation of literature is itself an evolutionary act. I do so by tracking the development of individual narratives from their roots in scientific and philosophical writings about natural science to their current forms in a variety of mediums including comic books, film, television, video games, pornography, illustration, fanfiction, and more. In doing so, I have discovered that, transhistorically, narratives tend to exhibit traits or patterns that reveal increasingly complex attitudes about hybridity, or the slippage that occurs when the categorical distinctions of human animal and nonhuman creature are blurred.
In each of these narratives and their adaptations, animals are identified as a possible Other who, through the workings of scientific experimentation, moral questioning, artistic interpretation, or language become more human and thus emphasize the possible good of human animality. Animals are also often identified with traditionally Othered humans, emphasizing the concomitant trajectories of the oppression of women, colonized peoples of British holdings, and other minoritized groups with the oppression of nonhuman creatures. As categorical boundaries are challenged through the slippage of the narrative animal’s body, the hierarchical categorization that occurs amongst human animals is similarly challenged, especially within the potentially remediative framework of adaptation.
Figgins, K. L. (2021). Adapting Animals: Nineteenth-Century British Literature, Science, and Media. Graduate Theses and Dissertations Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/4390
Available for download on Saturday, February 17, 2024