Research Stream


Jennifer Jorm
The University of Queensland

Emotions and Animals in Eighteenth-Century England

Animals provoke many types of emotions in humans. Modern depictions of animals are often infused with emotion. The loyal family pet, the innocent lamb, the working dog, a prized horse – all are well-represented in literature, art and song.

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The eighteenth-century British had complicated relationships with animals, just as humans do now. Animals were not just pets and companions: they were food, pests, workers and property. Utilitarian perspectives on animals did not necessarily preclude individuals from experiencing emotions about them. Animals could inspire love, affection, sympathy and admiration, but also fear, disgust, loathing and cruelty. Seemingly senseless acts of abuse and violence were common and provide valuable information about how those committing these acts felt about animals.

What made one animal food and another a companion? Was there a difference between the treatment of domestic animals and livestock and if so, why? How were people who went against those norms perceived? How did a human express affection, disgust and other emotions about animals? The thesis seeks to answer these questions by uncovering the kinds of emotions contemporaries felt towards animals, and the underlying emotional rules and expectations guiding them.

Image: William Hogarth, First Stage of Cruelty, The Four Stages of Cruelty, 1751. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum