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New book: At Home and Astray – The Domestic Dog in Victorian Britain

2015 May 26
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Snapshot howell

I recently finished reading Philip Howell’s fascinating book on dogs in Victorian Britain. I had previously enjoyed his various articles around pet cemeteries, or Flush the dog stolen on several occasions from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This engaging book, however, is not a collection of disparate essays instead the earlier material has been refashioned into a lively and engaging read.

His provocative first page sets the tone of the book where Howell notes that despite the rhetoric of Britain supposedly being a “nation of animal lovers” the “humane” treatment of animals in Britain was seen as honoured more in the breach than the observance.

Howell’s discussion of the Battersea Dogs Home is fascinating. He analyses the different treatment of stray dogs depending upon their “value” and sees the institution as providing a service for the state by registering dogs practically for nothing. He concludes that by the late 1800s dogs had become politically countable and their owners similarly accountable to the state via mundane mechanisms such as the dog licence.

As a historical geographer Howell is particular engaged with idea of space, writing of the “entwined geographies of human and nonhuman worlds.” However, although the book is theoretically informed it is above all readable. This is not a mere monograph trotted out to comply with the constraints of the university funding regime. True I did stick post-it notes on various pages I wanted to remember but I did read it in bed. For me this is one of the highest praises I can give to a book. It currently is only available in hardback. I hope that the University of Virginia Press prints a paperback version soon since it deserves a wide readership: not only of dog lovers but of those interested in the broad cultural history of Britain.

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