Keridiana W. Chez, Victorian Dogs, Victorian Men: Affect and Animals in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

Keridiana W. Chez, Victorian Dogs, Victorian Men: Affect and Animals in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2017) 212 pp. 4 illustrations. $69.00 Hb. ISBN: 9780814213346.

This study explores how transatlantic novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth century portrayed the dog, in various representations and subjectivities, as an interspecies prosthesis for improving upon the bourgeoisie’s “affective capacities and [completing] their humanity” (2). The dog was imagined as “humanity’s Other,” then reattached as a prosthetic appendage to improve upon the human design. Chez’s book builds upon such thinking and is comprised of five chapters that map the intersections of animal and affect studies while also theorising how interspecies relationships may have influenced gender hierarchies.

Chapter 1 “Happy Families in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield and Oliver Twist” examines how novels depicted the dog as a familial prosthesis for improving domestic affection within the bourgeois home. Chez uses the disorderly home of Copperfield and the volatile relationship of Nancy and Sikes to exemplify how dogs mediated conflicts, so that couples and families could “cohabitate within the confines of middle-class Victorian domesticity” (23). Chez suggests that Dora’s failure to discipline Jip and Sikes’s mistreatment of Bulls-eye illustrated this function within their respective novels. When domestic conflict occurred, it was often triggered by the dogs’ misbehavior. Masculine tyranny and domestic violence served as reminders of an oppressive “gendered and species-based hierarchy” (42). The male assumed power over the submissive female and the pet became a witness-observer to emotionally strained and artificial representations of a loving couple and a “happy family” (30).

Chez goes on to consider how dogs became both an emotional prosthesis for restoring human connections and for questioning interspecies and intraspecies relationships in Chapter 2 “Canine Connections in George Eliot’s Adam Bede and Middlemarch.” She describes how Western Religion and Philosophy used the “ongoing demarcation of the irrational, instinct-driven animal Other to define the rational and soulful human” (53); however, she does not explain the contradictions within Christian doctrines, which advocated the humane treatment of animals while also reinforcing the subjugation of nonhuman species. Chez may have strengthened her argument further by tracing the evolution of human-dog relationships in other cultural and visual forms, including lithographs and advertisements.

In transforming the human-dog relationship from “antagonistic, dominant, and exclusionary to prosthethic” (59), the dog became a conduit for enabling “emotionally deficient humans to feel and connect to other humans” (60). Chez argues that Gyp performs this function admirably for his master Adam by assisting in his conversations with his mother Lisbeth and Dinah, upon whom he “transferred his [romantic] affections” (69). In Middlemarch (1871-72), Dorothea serves as an emotional prosthesis to Casaubon by entering into what Eliot describes as “some fellowship with her husband’s chief interests” (qtd. in Chez 72). Casaubon’s refusal to be transformed by their relationship reduces Dorothea to the “passive role of mere canine affection” (74).

Chez explores deeper animal subjectivities through autobiographical stories of “canine abuse and rescue fashioned humaneness toward animals” (23) in Chapter 3 “The Ugly Animal in Margaret Marshall Saunders’s Beautiful Joe and Beautiful Joe’s Paradise.” As Chez points out, Saunders used “canine interiority” to portray the “‘humane’ interspecies relationship as a gender-disciplining process of pleasure, power, and control” (78). In Beautiful Joe (1893), for example, Saunders allowed the dog to describe how “the cruel milkman” (qtd. in Chez 78) Jenkins murdered his siblings and mutilated him. In so doing, she created a “first-animal” (79) narrator to inspire her readers’ humane response to animal abuse and cruelty. Joe later prevented Jenkins from burgling the home in which his adoptive mother Laura and her friend Bessie sleep. His heroic act produced a dog suitable for male appropriation as a “prosthetic technology” (98).

Chapters 4 and 5 probe the threatening possibility of inverting the “interspecies prosthetic attachment” (24). “Deceptive Docility in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” examines how the dog was transformed into a “domestic technology” for reconstructing self, family, and home. The process of reconstruction exposes the “human subject” to deeper levels of vulnerability within interspecies relationships (24). Petted domesticates, be they canines or middle- and upper-class women, were susceptible to rabies. Once infected, they yielded to Dracula’s wishes. Rabid women, such as Mina and Lucy, became complicit in their own victimization and inspired masculine fears of trustworthiness and intimacy that destabilized gender and species hierarchies. Women and dogs were instantiated as “domestic creatures that [were considered] dangerously useless” (127), particularly as “objects of love and attachment” (128).

Chez does not fully evaluate the range of ethical debates on animal experimentation that shaped the human-dog relationship in the nineteenth century. She also does not address how Stoker’s radical conceptions of emotional prostheses may have been influenced by his eldest brother Sir William Thornley Stoker (1845-1912), a noted anatomist, surgeon, and advocate for the antivivisectionist cause.

In her final chapter “The Bare-Dog in Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang,” Chez considers London’s depiction of interspecies intimacy. She also evidences how “canine fidelity served to produce masculinity” (24). Chez contends the “trait of fidelity was not inherent to dogs” (133). Rather, it was a misrepresentation or manipulation of their independent nature, “with the ultimate goal of creating hierarchical and masculinized master and servant subjectivities” that were further exemplified by violent or sexualized encounters (140). Female characters in London’s two stories do not play a significant role in “either motivating or enabling male attachment to canine prosthesis” (146) as Chez suggests. She speculates how young boys nurtured their relationships with their dogs in order to mature into “humane masters” (151). Chez argues that the dog replaced the woman as “man’s best friend.” In so doing they learned to cohabitate in isolation from conventional notions of hegemonic masculinity, which influenced patterns of dominance and submission between men and women.

Chez provides a thoughtful commentary on the representation of human-dog relationships in her selection of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century novels. She also integrates animal, gender, and affect studies within her analyses of both British and American canonical and noncanonical works. She provides a persuasive argument on the emotional and instinctual impulses that influenced interspecies relationships, which come to resemble a “monstrous chiaroscuro of worship and defilement, love and loathing, life and death” (153).

John C. Murray, Curry College