Past Attitudes to Animals

1. Introduction

Welcome to our online study resource which will help you revise for your GCSE English Language exam.

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There are 3 sections to explore:

Section 1: Victorian Pets

Section 2: Empire and Animals

Section 3: Hardy and Friends

Sections 1 and 2 contain articles and illustrations from a 19th-century newspaper called the Graphic. Section 3 contains 20th-century letters.

Section 1: Victorian Pets

3. Context

During the Victorian period domestic animals, such as cats and dogs, were typically treated as part of the family. However, just as in today’s society, attitudes to animals in the nineteenth and early twentieth century could be quite varied and often contradictory. Lots of people showed concern for domestic animals but working animals suffered greatly and exotic creatures had a hard time as well.

4. A Dog's Life

The Graphic was an illustrated 19th-century newspaper and it even included entertaining cartoons, like this autobiography of a dog! This gives us a good idea of what people thought about pet dogs.

Graphic, 1891

5. Pet Dog Clubs

Did you know that most modern dog breeds were invented in the nineteenth century? Middle-class dog owners would breed and exhibit their dogs as status symbols, as you can see in this article entitled 'Feminine dog-lovers in New York'.

Q

- Why do you think the writer describes pet dogs as 'canine darlings' in this article?

Graphic, 1891

6. Section Break

Take a break and have a look at these pets posing for family photos.

Then

Now

Section 2: Empire and Animals

8. Context

During the Victorian period Britain conquered and claimed the right to rule as an imperial power over large areas, including much of India and parts of Africa. This meant British people encountered a lot of different animals that were shipped over from the colonies – both dead and alive. Elephants, tigers and zebras would emerge in crates at London Docks and be taken to zoos, menageries and circuses. If you had enough money you could even purchase exotic animals as pets. It sounds fun but in reality these wild animals suffered from not being in their natural habitats.

Graphic, 11 April 1891

9. Hunting Exotic Animals

Hunting in the colonies of India and Africa was a way of demonstrating imperial power. It also brought home just how vast the Empire had become, extending to all continents.

Large or dangerous animals were particularly desirable targets as they were challenging opponents that made the hunter look brave and heroic. This front cover of the Graphic in October 1891 is a good example.

Q

The text below the Graphic's illustration is from a letter by a British politician, Lord Randolph Churchill.

- How does he use language to convey a sense of danger and excitement?

You might think about:

  • The writer's use of emotive language
  • How the lions are described

Read the transcript

Graphic, 24 Oct 1891

10. Victorian Zoos

Lots of zoos started to spring up across Europe as a way of displaying exotic specimens to demonstrate the Empire's power. The illustration on the right shows how a trip to the zoo became a normal part of Victorian life.

Q

- How does the language used in the caption describe the relationship between animals and the people looking at them?

Caption: 'SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST'

- How might the language persuade people to visit the zoo?

Graphic, 21 Nov 1891

11. Victorian Naturalists

During the Victorian period collecting and studying animals, birds and insects was a pretty normal hobby ̶ at least for those with enough money to fund their interests. It was seen as educational and became a way of advancing scientific knowledge; Darwin's evolutionary theories came from just this kind of study.

Q

On the right is a short article about Victorian naturalists.

- How does the writer use the rule of three – 'stuffed, or skeletonised, or impaled upon a pin' – to convey a negative attitude about this?

Graphic, 31 Oct 1891

12. Wild Birds

What seems a little odd is that then, as now, people could often have quite contradictory ideas about animals. For example, this text called 'Bird Freedom' is about protecting wild birds but it is hardly surprising that children would steal birds' eggs as there were lots of adventure tales at the time that made hunting seem brave and heroic.

Q

The language in this text is a bit more complicated, so don't worry if some of the words are unfamiliar and just try to focus on the last two sentences of the article.

- How does the writer's use of language convey a negative attitude towards egg-stealing?

Graphic, 2 May 1891

13. Performing Animals

Remember all those wild animals being shipped over from across the globe? Well, many of them ended up being made to do tricks and entertain circus crowds, as you can see from this picture in the Graphic.

Q

According to this article on the right:

  • what sort of experience do performing animals seem to have?
  • what sort of attitude does this show?

Graphic, 23 May 1891

14. Section Break

Take a break and watch these polar bears in the wild. Far more entertaining than any circus trick!

Section 3: Hardy and Friends

16. Context

The writer and poet Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and lived almost three decades into the twentieth century. This last section features some letters from his later life. Hardy was very concerned about questions of animal welfare. He and his first wife, Emma Hardy, his second wife, Florence Hardy, and his good friend Florence Henniker, were united in their wish to bring about changes in attitudes to animal welfare, including the treatment of horses in war.

What are my books but one plea against "man's inhumanity to man" - to woman - and to the lower animals?

Hardy to William Archer (1901)

17. Hardy and His Pets

Hardy shared his life with many pets, mainly cats, but also dogs, at Max Gate (the house he had built in Dorchester in 1886). He named his last dog Wessex, the name he used for the Southwest region that he wrote about in his fiction and poetry.

Read this letter from one of Hardy's friends, Berkeley C. Williams, written just after the death of Wessex. As it was written in the 1920s, it is an example of an early twentieth-century text.

Q

- How does the writer’s choice of language show that pets were typically thought of as part of the family?

  • Think about the words used to describe Wessex the dog
  • Can you spot an example of the rule of three in this letter?

Thomas and Florence Hardy with Wessex

18. Hardy's Protest

Thomas Hardy disagreed with any animal being forced to perform tricks, as you can see from this letter to his friend Florence Henniker. He used his position as a famous writer to make a public protest in The Times newspaper.

Q

- What examples of emotive language can you find in this letter?

- How does emotive language convey Hardy's views on performing animals?

Read the transcript

21 Dec 1913

19. Murderous Millinery

During the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, it became very fashionable to have exotic feathers – or whole birds – as decoration on ladies' hats. This endangered some species of birds and as a result a growing number of men and women decided to fight against what they called 'murderous millinery'.

Hardy's friend, Florence Henniker, wrote to Hardy about this in a letter.

Q

- What examples of Henniker's language can you find that show her opinion of how animals are treated?

- How persuasive is she in getting her opinions across?

Read the transcript

17 Jan 1914

20. Animal Charities

As a famous writer Hardy supported the work of various animal charities which were set up in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. These included the RSPCA (which was set up in 1824!), the Council of Justice to Animals and the local group the Wessex Saddleback Pig Society.

Want to find out more?

Graphic, 21 March 1891

21. Feedback Form

1. Introduction
2. Section 1
3. Context
4. A Dog's Life
5. Pet Dog Clubs
6. Section Break
7. Section 2
8. Context
9. Hunting Exotic Animals
10. Victorian Zoos
11. Victorian Naturalists
12. Wild Birds
13. Performing Animals
14. Section Break
15. Section 3
16. Context
17. Hardy and His Pets
18. Hardy's Protest
19. Murderous Millinery
20. Animal Charities
21. Feedback Form

The use of the affectionate term 'darlings' suggests that the women's pet dogs were cherished almost as children. The article shows how certain breeds of dogs were popular with different genders.

The writer uses emotive language, such as 'astonishment' and 'dismay' to show that he was both excited and fearful at the same time. The description of the lions as 'great yellow objects' shows they are a physical threat and the phrase 'alive with lions' makes it seem as though the man was in great danger because he was surrounded by the animals. (However, the illustration places the men in a position of power as they are on horseback and have guns.)

The use of the fairy tale title 'Beauty and the Beast' in the caption reinforces the difference between the gentle, middle-class women, dressed in their best Sunday clothes, and the seemingly fierce hippo, which is behind bars and baring its sharp teeth. This makes a visit to the zoo seem exciting.

This rule of three 'stuffed, or skeletonised, or impaled upon a pin' highlights how wild animals' lives were not seen as being important; they were merely objects to be killed and displayed for human interest. However, studying animals did help people to learn more about them and, in some cases, to understand how to look after them.

The use of the phrase 'young imp', might make you think that the child is just mischievous but the use of the adjective 'evil' to describe egg-stealing suggests that the writer is very concerned about the protection of wild birds.

This article has quite a positive tone and the writer seems to be suggesting that the performance is harmless fun. The animals are said to 'ride tricycles' and 'play at see-saw', as if they were children in a playground. However, it's hard to imagine that a tiger, a bear and a dog could really live happily together in the same cage or perform such tricks voluntarily. The last sentence states that 'neither clubs nor red-hot irons have been used in their education' but it is unlikely that wild animals would perform such unnatural behaviours together without physical punishment during training.

The writer refers to Hardy's dog as 'your faithful old friend', which gives a human quality to the bond between human and animal through the use of the noun 'friend'. The writer also uses a rule of three to show how important the dog was in his friend's life: 'who occupied a very special niche in your home, world and your daily life'. As this is a letter of condolence, it shows that the dog was treated as part of the family and the writer wants to express sympathy for his friend's personal loss.

The phrase 'the wretched creature' uses the emotive adjective 'wretched' to create empathy for performing animals by showing how they suffer and this is reinforced by the superlative adjective 'greatest' in the phrase 'greatest misery'. Hardy also describes how the animals are 'tortured to death' and the verb 'tortured' has very strong negative connotations, which would make the reader have empathy for the animals.

Henniker shows her disgust by using the word 'rending', which means to tear or rip off. She uses this word to describe the act of tearing feathers from women's hats, which reminds the reader of how the birds would have lost their feathers.

Lord Randolph Churchill in South Africa – meeting with a troop of lions

"We were riding along through a small gate covered with high grass, Lee a few yards ahead of me, when I suddenly saw him turn around, cry out something to me, and point with his finger ahead. . . . . . . I saw to my astonishment, and rather to my dismay, that the glade appeared to be alive with lions. There they were trooping and trotting along ahead of us like a lot of enormous dogs, great yellow objects, offering such a sight as I had never dreamed of." – Extract from Lord R. Churchill's letter.

Dear Mr. Hardy

We met Mr Cockerell two nights ago at the Burlington House party & he told me of what I had not heard till then, the loss you have had in the death of your faithful old friend Wessex. I am so very sorry; as being as you know, as great a dog-lover as yourself, I can realise how much you miss him; and Wessex was very much of a personality who occupied a very special niche in your home, world and your daily life. The one great drawback from which dogs suffer is that they are not long lived enough but they make up for that by the wealth of loving kindness they give us during the years they are with us. Please accept my very real sympathy from us both to you & Mrs Hardy.

We have sent the 2 youngest boys back to school today but Alick who has had an operation on his knee, won't be able to return to Eton just yet. My wife asks me to send Mrs Hardy her love, & I hope we may both send you the same.

Yrs v. sincerely
Berkeley C W Williams

One thing more: did you see in The Times about performing animals? You may not have done so, & I send it on. But the words "Performing Animals" do not clearly indicate the matter: what I object to in most performances with animals – in which they are passive - e.g. bringing live canaries, rabbits, pigeons, etc. out of the sleeve or handkerchief. Every spectator can see that the wretched creature is in the greatest misery, & I believe that a great many are "used" in these tricks - that is, tortured to death.

I wonder when I shall see you. Not very soon I suppose: and you have many interests outside my life.

Your affectionate friend
Tho. H.

I am so glad you have written about performing animals. There may be a few cases in which a few they are kindly treated, & learn tricks easily - (such as Milner's) - but the whole thing is liable to awful abuses & cruelties.

There are a few things that have happened lately which cheer one. The passing of the Plumage Bill, & the rending of the feathers from the hats of callous women delights me. But I fear the inspection of the poor pit ponies is very unsatisfactory – & our Mr McKenna has behaved badly about it.