“Sheep Stories”: Representations of Human and Animal Emigration and Settlement in the Nineteenth Century

in International Migrations in the Victorian Era
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In his landmark 1986 study, Ecological Imperialism, historian Alfred W. Crosby asserts that whilst man may have been the powerful director in the projects of Victorian expansion, he was partnered by an unstoppable animal force: “a grunting, lowing, neighing, crowing, chirping, snarling, buzzing, self-replicating and world-altering avalanche.” Since the publication of Ecological Imperialism, a growing number of historians have demonstrated the material impact that nonhuman creatures have had in the real-world colonisation of continents, revealing the diverse ways that animals have shaped these histories. Yet animals were also inextricably bound up with the imaginative work of nineteenth-century settler emigration. In particular, I advocate a reappraisal of the vital roles of sheep in Victorian emigration literature. Although they have been endlessly categorised as mindless, absent creatures in contemporary literature and culture, sheep are also tied to a powerful religious genealogy that connects the species to complex notions of pastorship, submission, and sacrifice. Sheep farming in Victorian settler stories is thus part of an emigrant narrative of belonging and attachment to the land. Reorienting the focus from the hearth to the pasture, this chapter interrogates the relationships between emigrant shepherds and their sheep in novels of emigration and settlement by three Victorian writers, Anthony Trollope, Samuel Butler, and Charles Reade.

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