Although pets existed in Europe long before the eighteenth century, the dominant belief was that pet keeping was at best frivolous and at worst downright dangerous. In Animal Companions, Ingrid Tague explores the eighteenth-century conversation about the presence of pets in British society and the ways in which that conversation both reflected and shaped broader cultural debates. Tague argues that pets, as neither human nor fully part of the natural world, offered a unique way for Britons of the eighteenth century to articulate what it meant to be human and what their society ought to look like.
Having emerged from the Malthusian cycle of dearth and famine at the end of the seventeenth century, England became the wealthiest nation in Europe, with unprecedented access to consumer goods of all kinds. And closely connected with these material changes was the Enlightenment, with its implications for contemporary understanding of religion, science, and non-European cultures. All these transformations generated both excitement and anxiety, and they were reflected in debates over the rights and wrongs of human-animal relationships. Looking at a wide variety of texts, Tague shows how pets became both increasingly visible indicators of spreading prosperity and catalysts for debates about the morality of the radically different society emerging in this period.
"Ingrid Tague's Animal Companions helps us understand the extraordinary innovation entailed in the rise of pet keeping in eighteenth-century England. Tague shows how, rather suddenly, the widespread acceptance of relationships of intimacy between human and nonhuman animals shaped political, social, and intellectual views and debates. The rise of pet keeping brought abstract Enlightenment questions into the realm of concrete debate – around the nature of the human, the concepts of ownership and slavery, relationships of affection and alterity, and the exercise of humanitarianism and the ideal of harmony. Tague's book gives us new insights into the role of human-animal relationships in defining key questions about the human."
– Laura Brown, Cornell University
"It would surprise many in our pet-centered world to know that keeping pets was once considered a highly suspect practice, a wasteful, sinful overvaluing of animals that threatened individual and national character. Ingrid Tague's history of pet keeping in eighteenth-century England illustrates how it evolved, by century's end, into a broadly accepted, even "natural" part of everyday human life. Populated by memorable characters, both human and animal, and characterized by admirable scholarship and insightful analysis, this wide-ranging and densely detailed historical study investigates how pets functioned as important vehicles in some of the most vexed debates of the day concerning consumption, fashion, morality, sensibility, slavery, gender, and social class."
– Karen Raber, University of Mississippi
"Ingrid Tague's study contributes to the animalizing of social history since the Enlightenment. During the eighteenth century, global commerce, slavery, and empire made pet keeping newly possible for many people on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time, Enlightenment ideas and the rise of commercial and consumer society fuelled new desires for the companionship of domestic animals. Pets ceased to be marginal and became central. Analyzing the entanglements of pets with class, gender, and slavery, but also fashion, frivolity, and property, Tague illuminates how eighteenth-century Britons and their colonial counterparts had recourse to animals for thinking through the most searching questions of their time."
– Donna Landry, University of Kent
"Ingrid Tague's well-documented and clearly written Animal Companions: Pets and Social Change in Eighteenth-Century Britain, the first systematic treatment of pet keeping in Enlightenment Britain, traces the evolution of affection toward domestic animals from the beginning of the century, when pet keeping was stigmatized as a waste of human resources and feelings, to the end of the period, when compassion for animals was seen as a necessary sign of genuine humanness. The discussion of the relation between pet keeping and racial theory during the Enlightenment is of particular interest."
– Matthew Senior, Oberlin College
List of Illustrations
1. The Material Conditions of Pet Keeping
2. Domesticating the Exotic
3. Fashioning the Pet
4. A Privilege or a Right?
5. Pets and Their People
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Ingrid H. Tague is Associate Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and Associate Professor of History at the University of Denver.