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ALAN BEWELL Hyena Trouble A n important critical focus for feminist romantic studies is the identification of “woman” with “nature”: woman as nature and nature as woman. In this account, woman figures body rather than mind, an agent of physical rather than cultural production. Man is defined against nature. In both cases, “nature” means “animal.” If, as Cary Wolfe reminds us, the animal is “always lying in wait at the very heart of the constitutive dis­ avowals and self-constructing narratives” that define “the human” (6), gen­ der sharpens the definitional project: animal distinguishes men from women; and for women, “proper ladies” from “women writers.”1 “Animal” had more work to do than this in the nineteenth century. As Harriet Ritvo argues in The Animal Estate, Britons asserted their superiority by characterizing the other (the colonial) as animal. In collecting, shooting, caging, or taming a “wild” or “dangerous” animal, the British were per­ forming imperialist power, masculinity, and technological superiority all at once. No surprise that big-game hunting became a collective social ritual and point of national pride.2 Meanwhile back at home, a domestic culture of animals was developing: the establishment of the RSPCA and other hu­ mane societies, the breeding of high-class domestic pets, and the creation of a literature of domesticated speaking animals (Beatrix Potter and Ken­ neth Grahame). Anne Mellor’s work has helped us read a counter-imperial domestic ideology, formed by values of maternal care and sympathy.3 Yet contrasts can be troubled by continuities. At home, Victorian women were dressing, like never before, in the fur and feathers of animals from across the globe. And just below the surfaces—of domestic fashion, of humane I would like to thank SusanJ. Wolfson who generously devoted time to substantially edit­ ing this essay. It has benefited not only from what she removed, but also from her creative, intellectual, and stylistic engagement with the essay. I. Wolfe, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 6. See Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). 2. See John M. MacKenzie, The Empire ofNature: Hunting, Conservation and British Imperi­ alism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988). 3. See Mothers of the Nation. SiR, 53 (Fall 2014) 369 370 ALAN BEWELL homes, of imperialist pride—are worries about the monstrous animal within everyone, within every culture.4 No scarier monster than the real animal named in the title of my essay: Hyena. What is Hyena trouble? Unlike the quasi-mythic Tyger, in whose “fearful symmetry” William Blake surmised a sublime Creator, the zoolog­ ically real hyena is an unsublime, queer animal that disturbs and unsettles fundamental categories of nature, politics, gender, and sexuality. With its huge head, massive bone-crushing jaws and teeth, and cold glaring eyes, with its bristling mane and front legs that seem too long for its hind legs, the hyena is frightening and ungainly, as if it were composed of mis­ matched parts, a kind ofanimal from Frankenstein’s laboratory. More trou­ bling than this ugliness is a definitional queasiness. Though a hyena looks canine, it figures a mockery, from its behavior and appearance, to the num­ ber of its toes to its strange mane and civet-like scent glands. The ancient Greeks called it a “huaina,” from hus, or swine. In 1614, Sir Walter Raleigh described hyenas as “beasts of mix’d natures” and denied them a place on the Ark. It was “not needful to preserve them,” he writes, guessing that “they might be generated again” after the Flood, when foxes once again mated with wolves.5 This mixed breed persisted in Enlightenment natural­ ism. M. J. Brisson thought a hyena a wolf, while Linnaeus classified it as a dog with erect hair on the neck. To William Buckland it fell into “an in­ termediate class between the cat and dog tribes.”6 Foreign to the British, linked to the orient and the tropics, the hyena courted orientalist stereotypes: cringing and cowardly and yet fierce, in­ tractable, sensual, and cruel. “Scorning all the taming arts of man, / The keen hyena, fellest ofthe fell,” is how...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 969-397
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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