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Animal Figurations in Modernist Literature and Culture

Edited by Alex Goody and Saskia McCracken
Deadline for Abstracts 14 September 2020

This edited volume aims to bring together scholarship from across literature and culture to engage with the animal turn in modernist studies. We welcome work by early career researchers and are particularly interested in chapters which address critical race studies, indigeneity, colonialism, modernisms of the global south and marginalised modernists.

If modernism heralded a moment of socio-political, cultural and aesthetic transformation, it also instigated a refashioning of how we think about, encounter and live with animals. Beasts abound in modernism. Virginia Woolf’s spaniel, Zora Neale Hurston’s dog and mule, Langston Hughes and Leonora Carrington’s cats, James Joyce’s earwig, D.H. Lawrence’s snake, Samuel Beckett’s lobster, Mulk Raj Anand’s cows, and Djuna Barnes’s lioness all present prominent examples of where animals and animality are at the forefront of modernist innovation. At stake in such beastly figurations are not just matters of species relations but of the animal in excess of its capture by culture, language and representation. The attendant questions of human animality, non-human agency and the limits of humanism also open onto broader ideas of social relations, culture, race, sex, gender, capitalism and religion. Modernism’s interest in the figure of the animal speaks to the immense changes in animal life in the early twentieth century, a period where the reverberations of Darwinian theory were being felt in the new life sciences, as well as emergent social theories that employed discourses of species, and developing technologies, media and markets that radically altered everyday human-animal relations. It was also a period in which new theories of human responsibilities towards animals were also being articulated with Donald Watson coining the idea of veganism in 1944.

The recent ‘animal turn’ in the humanities invites new ways of thinking about the beasts that we find in modernist culture. Moreover, animal studies arrives at a point at which modernist studies is already in the process of redefining what modernism means. Turning to modernism’s beasts not only promises fresh ways of understanding its multispecies foundations, but also signals how modernist studies might intervene in contemporary debates around animal life. Building on the foundational work on animals and modernism by Carrie Rohman, Margot Norris, Kari Weil, Derek Ryan and others, the editors invite chapters on animals and all aspects of modernist culture.   Beastly Modernisms focuses on the ‘beastly’ understood as both/and the non-human other of modernity; the contiguous animality of contemporary human existence; the persistence of more than human life; the unknowable animal that is apprehended within the experiments of modernism. The beastly modernisms we seek to explore in this volume are, thus, those “material semiotic knots’ (Donna Haraway 2007) that modernists generated in attempts to apprehended the non-human animal world. We propose, following Rosi Braidotti, that animal figurations be conceived as ‘living maps’ that acknowledge ‘concretely situated historical positions’ (Braidotti 2011). Indeed, ‘animal signifiers [are] deeply bound up with human cultural, political, and social meaning’ (Mel Y. Chen 2012), and in this volume we are endeavouring to respond to Maneesha Deckha’s call for ‘intersectional analyses of animal issues’ (2012). We are particularly concerned to support the work of contingent and early career researchers and in decentring the canons and geographies of modernism. We thus seek new research contributions that interrogate the imaginative animal interventions of modernism, conceived in broad aesthetic, temporal and geographical terms.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Animal Figurations, Signifiers
  • Animals in Critical Race Studies
  • Indigeneity & the Animal
  • Animals &/in Empire/colonialism
  • Animals in the Global South Avant-garde
  • Pacific Beastly Modernisms
  • Blue/Marine Modernism
  • The Creaturely and Beastliness
  • Animal Rights, Ethics, Activism
  • Political Animals
  • Anti/Vivisection Movements
  • Bestial Ontologies and Materialities 
  • Animal Biography
  • SF & Utopias
  • Queer Animals and Sexuality 
  • Anthropocentrism and Anthropomorphism
  • Human Animality and Social Darwinism 
  • Subject and Subjectivity
  • Surrealism
  • Animal Commodification and Capitalism
  • Class, Hierarchy, Status
  • Sex and Gender
  • Religion, Myth and Animism
  • Wildlife and Hunting
  • Animal Trauma, Death, Violence, Warfare
  • Biology, Ethology, Ecology and the Natural Sciences
  • Animal Performance, Circuses, Zoos 
  • Disability and Animals
  • Pets, Companion Species and Domestication
  • Extinction, Ecocriticism, the Anthropocene  
  • Meat Production, Livestock, Agriculture, Working Animals
  • Vegetarianism, Veganism, Eating Animals
  • Modernist Animal Philosophy
  • Posthumanism and Transhumanism
  • Animal Life, Species, Speciesism
  • Form, Medium, Methodology, Narratology 
  • Early and Late Modernist Animals 

By addressing these questions, the book as a whole aims to offer a definitive collection of contemporary scholarship on animals in modernist literature and culture, to showcase the vibrant field of modernist animal studies and illustrate the different methodological/theoretical concerns that are at stake in the study of beastly modernisms.

We invite chapters that address these issues. Submissions are open to all researchers at every level of study. We welcome co-authored work. Please send 500-word proposals for chapters, and any questions, to by 14 September 2020. The deadline for full chapters, 6,000-7,000 words in length (including notes and works cited), will be 30 June 2021. We look forward to reading your proposals.

An irreverent historical look at lockdowns, plagues and pandemics. Killer germs, superbugs and pestilential plagues have long fascinated writers and musicians. Join a cast of actors, scientists and literary researchers to take a long view on the crisis of the moment. From Angels in America to Mary Shelley, from obscure Victorian Medical Parlour Songs to Fascinating Aida’s Herpes Tango, The Contagion Cabaret is riddled with infectious extracts from plays, poems, journalism and music, past and present.

A collaboration between Chipping Norton Theatre, and the Diseases of Modern Life team (University of Oxford), led by Professor Sally Shuttleworth. Suitable for ages 14+. View here.

In particular, please note the competition for school pupils which closes on July 6.

Our funding page is fully updated with details of the new rounds of two funding schemes. The Small Grants Scheme awards up to £400 for all kinds of activity which promotes the study of literature and science. The Postgraduate/ECR Conference Fund covers expenses of around £200 to help junior colleagues with the expenses of presenting research. The deadline for applications to both schemes has been extended to 1st September 2020, and more details can be found here.

The materials from our 2020 conference, which was moved online after the pandemic forced us to cancel the Sheffield event, have now been taken down. This was always the plan: the exec wanted members to be able to access materials at their own pace, but we also wanted to preserve some of the ephemerality of an in-person meeting. Contributors, too, wanted to feel confident sharing work in progress.

During the two weeks the conference was online, there were 894 visits to the site, peaking on April 17th - the day we hosted our online AGM and live keynote from Martin Willis. Video presentations (not including Martin's) were viewed a total of 319 times during this period. These numbers give only a vague sense of how many people were actually using the site, but at the very least they suggest that a healthy number of the c.110 prospective delegates to Sheffield visited at least fleetingly - and that some of the wider membership, who were not planning to travel to Sheffield, have also taken advantage. We hope that the papers, discussions, and live events - poor substitutes for the real event - were nonetheless useful and stimulating.

Our thanks are due to the thirty-six delegates who prepared and sent in presentations against a background of global turmoil; to Martin Willis for delivering a graceful keynote under pressure; to the University of Liverpool for hosting our Teams discussions; and, of course, to the organising team at Sheffield, led by Katherine Ebury and Helena Ifill. The programme of the conference-which-never-was is here, and the programme of our online offerings can be read here.

Delegates who did not send presentations in - please hold on to your abstracts! The BSLS is planning future ways of giving you a platform for your research, possibly this winter. The BSLS remains committed to its annual meeting, and the 2021 gathering at Edinburgh Napier is currently being planned. But we have also been delighted by the uptake of the digital conference, and are thinking about ways for our future events to incorporate more online elements.

Over the next few months, I will be assembling ideas about what the society could offer to members via its site and its vimeo channel, thinking both about enhancing our research events and adding separate content. Anyone who wants to contribute to this thought process is encouraged to contact me!

Will Tattersdill
Communications Secretary

Following our brief announcement at the BSLS conference AGM last week, we are now delighted to announce that we have appointed three new Assistant Review Editors:

Iro Fillippaki (Johns Hopkins), who will have a responsibility for US presses, Joan Passey (Bristol) to assist with UK publications, and Leonie Rowland (Manchester Metropolitan) for continental European & Australasian Presses.

If you have any queries about reviews, please email

The number of applications, which were all excellent, far exceeded our expectations – and we are thrilled to see so much enthusiasm for participation in the BSLS. DO keep an eye out for positions for the executive committee which will become vacant in 2021!

The winner of the BSLS Book Prize for 2019 was announced yesterday at the Society's online conference: it is Gerard Passannante's Catastrophizing: Materialism and the Making of Disaster (University of Chicago Press)

Gerard Passannante’s timely study brings together literature, visual art, and the history of science to provide rich insights into catastrophic thinking and the history of materialist thought. His accounts of analogy and of the juxtaposition of incompatible scales will be stimulating to readers working across a wide range of periods. His key idea is that the image of disaster renders the imperceptible perceptible. The book takes in Lucretian materialism, Leonardo da Vinci, John Donne, the idea of interpretation ‘anything out of anything’ (quidlibet ex quolibet), Shakespeare, Robert Hooke and microscopes, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and – in a suggestive Afterword – our current climate crisis. It has foundations of precise historical scholarship, but is informed by a wider range of historical knowledge, such that Sergei Eisenstein can inform a discussion of Leonardo da Vinci, or Samuel Beckett provides the opening to a chapter on Shakespeare.

Further details of the book prize, and of past winners and shortlisted titles, are given here.

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In place of the Sheffield conference, which was to have started today, we have collected a large number of presentations onto a special part of the website. You can access the confauxrence here.

Please note that you must be logged in for this link to work, and that the materials will be viewable only until April 30th.

On the site you'll find:

  • 35 presentations, loosely divided into 11 theme areas. Some are videos, some are transcripts, and some are narrated PowerPoint files.
  • Details of our two live events (including a streamed keynote this Friday, 17th).
  • Publisher links, including discounts and free trials for BSLS members.

The live and discussion elements of the conference use Microsoft Teams. You should already have received an email from Greg Lynall, the society's Chair, about how to access Teams.

We understand that this provision will only be an echo of the meeting we had all planned for, but we hope it will be better than nothing! If you have any problems accessing the material, contact the communications secretary.

We hope all members are safe and well at this uncertain time.

It was a huge disappointment to the Society not to be staging its annual conference in Sheffield 15-17th April, and we were especially sad for this year’s organizers, Dr Katherine Ebury and Dr Helena Ifill, who we thank once again for their hard work over many months.

We are aware that our members have many commitments and concerns at this present time, but even so we thought it appropriate to try to do something which would replace the annual conference in the best way we could, given the circumstances and the short notice.

The executive committee has therefore decided to host an online version of the conference from Wednesday 15th April, on the BSLS website, and with a couple of live events via Microsoft Teams.

Speakers have been encouraged to make short videos of their presentations, or PowerPoints with audio narration, or pdfs, and they will be placed in the Members section of the website, and ready to view from Wednesday 15th.

We encourage members to leave comments and questions on each paper in the Members section, and also to tweet responses, using the hashtag #bsls2020 (and any handles or unique hashtags mentioned in the papers themselves).

The videos and pdfs will be made available until the end of April (at least in the first instance), but we hope delegates will view as many of them as possible 15-17th April, to emulate the immediacy of a face to face conference.

To open the conference formally, there will be a short live video stream Welcome via Microsoft Teams at 3pm BST on Wednesday 15th April. We urge everyone to join this event, to bring us all together and as a way of troubleshooting the platform.

At 3pm BST on Friday 17th, the Society will use Microsoft Teams to stream its AGM and one of the planned keynote talks, from Professor Martin Willis (thank you so much for agreeing to do this Martin!). We hope that the timing of this synchronous element will enable our international members to participate.

A week before the conference, all members should receive an email invitation from me (Greg Lynall) to join the BSLS2020 Microsoft Teams site, hosted by the University of Liverpool. You should download and install the MS Teams app, and log in to the Teams site, prior to Wednesday 15th. You will see ‘Welcome’ and ‘AGM and Keynote’ channels where those separate meetings will be held – please ‘Join’ the meetings, which will start at 3pm precisely on 15th and 17th. There are plenty of online guides to installing and troubleshooting MS Teams should you encounter any problems.

It is possible that the 2020 Winter Symposium will serve as a supplementary replacement to our annual conference, but it is too early to confirm this, or to say whether this will be hosted by a UK HE institution or run online. Nevertheless, we hope that hosting a virtual version of the annual conference on the original dates will allow our international members to be involved, whatever is eventually decided regarding the Winter Symposium.

The BSLS executive committee hopes that members will be able to embrace this alternative way for us to come together, and we look forward to reading your comments and seeing you over MS Teams very soon.

Best wishes, and take care,
Greg Lynall (BSLS Chair)

The British Society for Literature and Science is very pleased to announce the shortlist for its annual book prize.  Nominations were sought from publishers and members of the BSLS; books published by current members of the BSLS executive committee are not eligible. Alphabetically by author, the four books are:

The winner will be announced at the online conference on Friday 17 April 2020, after Martin Willis's keynote lecture.

A list of past winners and shortlisted books is to be found here.


Our 2020 annual conference at the University of Sheffield has been cancelled, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BSLS executive committee and conference organisers know this will be very disappointing, but given ‘social distancing’ measures, international travel restrictions and, above all, concern for the health of our members, this is a necessary step for us to take.

The BSLS exec is deeply appreciative of the careful planning and many, many hours of work carried out by Katherine Ebury, Helena Ifill, and the rest of the conference committee, and we thank them for their efforts in putting together what would have been a wonderful programme.

We will endeavour to host the AGM (and book prize announcement) online in some way, and will announce the details of this soon.

We are currently investigating whether parts of the programme might be repurposed – perhaps hosted online, or transposed to our Winter Symposium or 2021 annual conference at Edinburgh Napier University. Please send any suggestions you might have to Fran Kohlt (, our book reviews editor, and these will be discussed at the online AGM.

Refunds for conference registration can be obtained by emailing the University of Sheffield’s online shop:

The executive committee recognises that some delegates (particularly the unwaged and those not affiliated to institutions) may be unable to reclaim some of their expenditure, and may not be covered by travel insurance. More fortunate members might wish to donate their reclaimed registration fees to a hardship fund - they can do so here: If you cannot reclaim expenditure and wish to apply to the hardship fund, please email relevant receipts to our Communications officer, Will Tattersdill (, by 15th April.

Wishing you all the very best at this difficult time, and hoping we can all meet again soon,

Greg Lynall (Chair of BSLS)

14 March 2020

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