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81 3 Signifying Dogs Popularized Breeds in the Romances of Walter Scott Early in Walter Scott’s medieval romance Ivanhoe (1820), the swineherd, Gurth, curses “the ranger of the forest, that cuts the foreclaws off our dogs and makes them unfit for their trade.”1 Gurth’s dog, Fangs, who is large enough to kill deer, is legal under the Norman Forest Laws only because he has been “lawed.” Scott appends a historical note on the process of “lawing” dogs, which entails cutting off three toes from their front feet (or only from the right front foot, as Scott has it); and he exclaims of the Forest Laws, “These oppressive enactments were the produce of the Norman Conquest, for the Saxon laws of the chase were mild and humane; while those of William, enthusiastically attached to the exercise and its rights, were to the last degree tyrannical.”2 Similarly, in Scott’s first novel, Waverley (1814), the eponymous hero rides through “the straggling village, or rather hamlet, of Tully-­ Veolan,” and encounters “the incessant yelping of a score of idle useless curs, which followed, snarling, barking, howling, and snapping at the horse’s heels.” A note says this “nuisance” was common at the time the novel was set (1745) and still exists, “but this is remote from our present purpose, and is only thrown out for consideration of the collectors under Mr Dent’s dog-­ bill.”3 These two references show that Scott—­ a lawyer, as well as novelist and folklorist—­ was familiar with the long-­ term problematic legal status of dogs in Britain, and they suggest that he considered the restrictions either oppressive or ineffective. As both a dog lover and popularizer of regional and national history, Scott also understood that dogs could convey regional, class, and historical characters through a claimed originary connectivity to a place. Two dogs who appear as fully fledged characters in a pair of his late novels, The Talisman (1824) and Woodstock (1825), show that Scott also understood the discursive elements that made dogs legible—­ as ethical metonymies of a certain legal class of human. His letters and journals show that his affection for dogs entailed a desire to give them regional and historically based identities analogously affirming the corresponding identities among humans. These analogies work in the same direction as those of Buffon, to verify the naturalness and truth of human ethnic and racial categories. And they work within the aesthetic frame created by the necessary Foxhound, so that human-canine relationships appear as aesthetic events of bondedness occurring through the grammatical legibility of a dog. A dog becomes legible and is entered into a kinship relation with humans through a shared quality—­ a connectivity, or coagency—­ that transcends the categories of species and race, and in so doing affirms those same categories 82| Chapter Three as though they were divisions of nature. Such affirmation reinforces the justice and aesthetic unity of the landscape in which legibility confers place, function, legality. During the early decades of the nineteenth century when Scott lived and wrote, modern dog breeds were only just beginning to be created along the pattern established by the Foxhound. Scott’s construction of canine characters in his novels contributed to the modern reading of a canine ethos—­ and in one instance contributed directly to the creation of a modern breed. By presenting dogs that could be read as recognizable characters, Scott’s novels extended the modern discourse of human-­ canine relations, dependent on mutual recognition gained through codified legibility. Such recognition mostly depended not simply on imputing an inner life to dogs analogous to that of humans, but on pinpointing a particular—­ and necessarily nebulous—­ element bonding dogs and humans into a kinship based on their regional origins. This double bond of interiority and regional indigeneity created a lasting value for commodified dogs capable of being identified with breeds, as they then embodied the supposed authenticity, or essence, or power of a region or ethnicity. This value was also reflected in the function of the bond in overcoming the abyssal difference between species, so that the same gestures that establish and enforce difference then turn into accounts of connectivity; just as foxhunting works as a ritualistic reenactment of aesthetic unification, Scott’s narratives lay down the conventions allowing for recognition of sameness within difference. The associations between authenticity, purity, and regional identity also reenacted the discovery of the need for the Foxhound, and thus reinforced breed as a necessity in the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609175405
Related ISBN
9781611862584
MARC Record
OCLC
990618932
Pages
182
Launched on MUSE
2017-06-25
Language
English
Open Access
No
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