"Who Cares for Grip?" Dickens' Thoughts on Animals

Date
2014-09-26
Authors
Elkner, Joy
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract
Man is master of the world. So the Enlightenment taught us. Man is sometimes unfit to rule. So the Industrial Revolution taught us. The nineteenth century was the time when man's power over nature became so great that nature began to lose. Man’s power became even greater as it became concentrated in the hands of the industrialists. Too late, they began to realize that power is a responsibility as well as a privilege. In the meantime, the powerless suffered. Much has been written about the social evils of the industrial age, but one important element has been neglected. That is the changes that came about in the lives of animals exposed to the pressures of modern society. Why study the treatment of animals? Animals have always been immensely important to mankind. Man and animal have a close economic, social and psychological relationship. We have learned a great many things from the study of animals, and are still learning today. In the nineteenth century, animals were even more important. Animal labor and animal products were essential. Anyone who owns a pet or appreciates natural beauty understands the value of animals for our psychological well-being. The quality of animal life declined along with that of many people's lives in the industrial age. We have to look long and hard to find an advocate for the animals. There were too many human problems to worry about. Nevertheless, some writers of visions recognized the importance of animals and accorded them great respect. Such a writer was Charles Dickens. He spoke for the animals to a far greater extent than he has been given credit for. He was one of the few Victorians who realized that harmony is essential between man and his natural environment. In this account, Dickens' views on animals, his experiences with animals, and his use of animals in his literary works will be explored against the background of industrial England's attitudes and practices towards the treatment of animals.
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