Mr Benjamin Westwood

My current research considers how we might come to terms with Victorian literature's incorporation of animals -- as named characters, allegorical figures, idiomatic epithets, dismembered body parts, urban cohabitants, methods of transportation -- in ways that are sensitive both to rhetorical and stylistic nuance, and to animals as figures 'Of texture midway between life and books​' (as Wordsworth put it). Arguing for an analogous diversity of animal presence in both Victorian literature and Victorian culture at large, my DPhil thesis, Novel Beasts: Reading Animals in Victorian Literature​, shows how the complexity and variety of animal figures in Victorian Britain compelled writers to find new ways of ordering and arranging this multiplicity. I show how existing critical models (of the Darwinian revolution, the hunting and exhibition of exotic big game as part of the colonial machinery, or the discourse of Victorian domesticity) miss the simple fact that what most characterises Victorian engagements with other animals is this bewildering heterogeneity; and that across the novel, lyric and dramatic poetry, nonsense, fairy tales, and comic verse, writers used the formal resources of literature to create messy, singular, and provisional orderings of humans and other animals. I remain sceptical over recent calls to move beyond seeing animals as 'blank screens' for the projection of human concerns, beasts of figurative burden, and to create accounts which respect the material 'reality' of other animals; arguing that in order to work out how literary studies might incorporate a more critical analysis of other animals, we need to remain alert to the ways in which our apprehension of the 'reality' of their existence will always be conditioned -- unevenly -- by language.

I also have an interest in queer theory, especially the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and have contributed to the first ever collection of essays on Sedgwick's poetry (forthcoming from Punctum Books in 2017). This follows giving an invited paper at an international symposium on the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Sedgwick's groundbreaking ​Between Men​, held at the Graduate Centre at CUNY in 2015. Further research projects include the representation and experience of pleasure in poetry after Wordsworth; and the new field of 'vegan studies', as part of which I am co-editing a collection of essays on the implications of the current 'vegan moment' for work in the humanities (forthcoming from Palgrave).

I have recently written review articles for the TLS, Tennyson Research Bulletin, and Victorian Network​ on various aspects of Victorian poetry, and am currently preparing essays on the complicated nature of refusal as a speech act (as it relates to contemporary accounts of veganism); the poetry and art of Edward Lear; and mimicry and animal form in Blake, Lear, and Marianne Moore.

  • ​Prelims Papers 1b, 3, 4
  • FHS Papers 5, 6, 7
  • Dissertation supervision: Dickens, Victorian nonsense, the Brontës, animal studies, queer theory

I read for a BA in English Language and Literature at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, before taking an MA in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture at the University of York. Following a year working in a secondary school in Birmingham, I came back to Oxford to read for a DPhil in English at Wadham College.

 

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