Gothic Animals: Uncanny Otherness and the Animal With-Out
'The boundary between the animal and the human has long been unstable, especially since the Victorian period. Where the boundary is drawn between human and animal is itself an expression of political power and dominance, and the "animal" can at once express the deepest fears and greatest aspirations of a society' (Victorian Animal Dreams, 4).
'The animal, like the ghost or good or evil spirit with which it is often associated, has been a manifestation of the uncanny' (Timothy Clark, 185).
In the mid nineteenth-century Charles Darwin published his theories of evolution. And as Deborah Denenholz Morse and Martin A. Danahay suggest, 'The effect of Darwin’s ideas was both to make the human more animal and the animal more human, destabilizing boundaries in both directions' (Victorian Animal Dreams, 2). Nineteenth-century fiction quickly picked up on the idea of the ‘animal within’ with texts like R.L. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau. In these novels the fear explored was of an unruly, defiant, degenerate and entirely amoral animality lying (mostly) dormant within all of us. This was our animal-other associated with the id: passions, appetites and capable of a complete disregard for all taboos and any restraint. As Cyndy Hendershot states, this 'animal within' 'threatened to usurp masculine rationality and return man to a state of irrational chaos' (The Animal Within, 97). This however, relates the animal to the human in a very specific, anthropocentric way. Non-humans and humans have other sorts of encounters too, and even before Darwin humans have often had an uneasy relationship with animals. Rats, horses, dogs, cats, birds and other beasts have, as Donna Haraway puts it, a way of 'looking back' at us (When Species Meet, 19).
Animals of all sorts have an entirely different and separate life to humans and in fiction this often morphs into Gothic horror. In these cases it is not about the 'animal within' but rather the animal 'with-out'; Other and entirely incomprehensible. These non-human, uncanny creatures know things we do not, and they see us in a way it is impossible for us to see ourselves. We have other sorts of encounters with animals too: we eat animals, imbibing their being in a largely non-ritualistic, but possibly still magical way; and on occasion, animals eat us. From plague-carrying rats, to 'filthy' fleas, black dogs and killer bunnies, animals of all sorts invade our imaginations, live with us (invited or not) in our homes, and insinuate themselves into our lives. The mere presence of a cat can make a home uncanny. An encounter with a dog on a deserted road at night can disconcert. The sight of a rat creeping down an alley carries all sorts of connotations as does a cluster of fat, black flies at the window of a deserted house. To date though, there is little written about animals and the Gothic, although they pervade our fictions, imaginations and sometimes our nightmares.
This collection is intended to look at all sorts of animals in relation to the Gothic: beasts, birds, sea-creatures, insects and domestic animals. The editors are not looking for transformative animals – no werewolves this time – rather they want essays on fictions about actual animals that explore their relation to the Gothic; their importance and prominence within the Gothic. They invite abstracts for essays that cover all animal/bird/insect/fish life forms, from all periods (from the early Modern to the present), and within different types of media – novels, poetry, short stories, films and games.
Topics may include (but are not bound by):
Please send 500 word abstracts and a short bio note by 1 November 2017 to: Dr Ruth Heholt (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr Melissa Edmundson (email@example.com). The collection is intended for the Palgrave MacMillan ‘Studies in Animals and Literature’ series. Completed essays must be submitted by 1 July 2018.