In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Noble Brutes: How Eastern Horses Transformed English Culture
  • Richard Nash
Donna Landry , Noble Brutes: How Eastern Horses Transformed English Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Pp. 250. $50.00.

Noble Brutes is a timely and valuable contribution to the recently burgeoning field of animality and animal studies in the early modern period. I have some reservations about the confident assertion of that subtitle, as I think that this work opens a conversation rather than settles one; however, that reservation only underlines how important this work is in bringing to the academic discourse of cultural history a subject that has long been exiled to the margins of a kind of avocational, special-interest variety of history. In this respect, Landry's project pursues a trajectory mapped originally by Peter Edwards and Joan Thirsk, but her focus is on a particular kind of horse, designated as both the property of an English gentleman and the embodiment of an Eastern identity. Over the course of five chapters, she weaves around the central figure of the Bloody-Shouldered Arabian a double argument, in which the formation of British identity as decidedly English is structured by confrontations, negotiations, and traffic between East and West, particularly between the developing British empire and the established Ottoman empire. Horse power in the eighteenth century was a living thing. I share with Landry (and anthropologist Garry Marvin) the desire to reimagine history in ways that more fully attend to the role of nonhuman animals in human history: "might it not be possible to pursue another line of enquiry regarding animal agency: have animals caused changes within human culture?" (13). Or, at least, have they facilitated changes? As her argument unfolds, Landry's response proposes that Eastern bloodstock enabled a transformation in English culture: one that simultaneously embodied an idealized self-image of the English as natural caretakers of progress and liberty, and one that catered to the particular ideological formation that predates the Orientalism of Edward Said, and that Gerald McLean has identified as "imperial envy" (72). [End Page 405]

In her opening chapters, Landry identifies a transformation in English riding practice that corresponds to an ideological privileging of the "free forward movement" accomplished by a riding style less rigid than other European seats and associated with "riding like a Turk" with shortened stirrups. This is an intriguing argument, particularly for someone like me, coming to the topic with a somewhat contrary expectation. In the history of thoroughbred horseracing, there is a general perception that they rode long in England until the end of the nineteenth century, when Tod Sloan arrived from America and his success caused what the British press of the day termed the "monkey on a stick" crouch to be widely emulated. But Landry shows a very gradual progression taking place from the Renaissance into the nineteenth century, during which riding protocols changed in England even prior to Sloan's arrival. Yet it is unclear, even from Landry's account, how pronounced the change would have been during the eighteenth century: as she notes, apart from a reference in Blundeville to "riding like a Turk," "there appears to be silence" (63) on the topic until George III's Gentleman of the Horse describes the practice "dismissively" in 1771. Although Landry seems particularly inclined to note what she detects as Turkish influence on English riding practice, the evidence she presents seems to me to underwrite a somewhat more conflicted process of change, in which "free forward movement" is—until the late eighteenth century—tacitly, but not openly, encouraged, with an increasingly open expression emerging from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century.

This alteration in practice, however it is accomplished, fits with the larger narrative Landry tells of the roles played by the horse and by horsemanship practices as expressions of imperial envy, as England's nascent imperial identity constructs itself in part through appropriation from Ottoman sources: "from the 1650s onward, the East increasingly became for the English upper classes a source of absolutely essential ingredients with which to concoct an identity that would advertize their cultural superiority at home as well as abroad" (85). That narrative has, I believe, its finest moment...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 405-407
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.