Animal and Environmental Agency in American Literary Naturalism

The project studies how non-human characters, animals and nature, and their behaviours are represented in literature, and to what extent they have the ability to influence events in the text, and even have power over the story, a certain degree of agency.

Although the American naturalists, here represented by Crane, Norris, Glasgow and London, wanted to be scientific in representing the environment, and took great care in describing animals and nature, the presence and impact of these characters have gone largely unnoticed in traditional literary scholarship.  Literary elements like these have been seen as mere background to an anthropocentric narrative, and in most cases, have not been recognized as characters at all.

The behaviour and agency of non-human characters in a representative selection of American naturalist texts will be analyzed  using a combination of theoretical tools from ecocriticism, animal theory, ethology and narrative theory, which will enable an investigation, not only of the literary treatment of non-human behaviour,  cognitive processes and agency, but also into the relationship between  naturalistic animal behaviour (verified as such by ethological studies) and non-human narrative agency  in a segment of American literature.

The significance of this project is twofold: it will deliver new insights into an under-researched aspect of American literature, and contribute to the development of literary theory in the intersection of narrative theory, ecocriticism and animal studies.