Speaking Animals: Literature and Interspecies Relations (EAS3411)

StaffProfessor Jane Spencer - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module invites you to consider the ways the linguistic art of literature makes non-human animals speak, and to think about the purposes and effect of such speech. It will encourage you to analyse a wide range of texts --  fable, drama, poetry and novels – to investigate their representation of the relation between animal and human, and to consider what it is that non-human animal  figures allow writers to express. It will introduce you to the rich cultural histories of particular animal species. You will develop an understanding of how the debate about non-human animals’ status, capacities, significance, and rights has developed in different historical periods, and will consider the ethics of our relationship with non-human animals. You will engage critically with the emergent field of animal studies and the related field of ecocriticism, and consider the challenges they  poses to traditional understandings of human—animal relations.

The two-hour seminar will be devoted to detailed discussion of that week’s text(s).The third hour each week will be devoted to a workshop, and will feature the tutor’s introduction to key materials and debates, followed by discussion.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the literary uses made of animals in selected ancient texts and in Anglophone literature from the 16th century to the present day
  • 2. demonstrate an informed understanding of the major ways in which animals and human-animal relationships are conceptualized within Western thought;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the literature of different periods and relate its concerns and modes of expression to its cultural, historical and philosophical contexts
  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts specific to your own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. through seminar work and group presentations, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work critically and imaginatively both individually and in groups;
  • 6. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose;
  • 7. through research for seminars, presentations and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis;
  • 8. through research, seminar discussion, preparation for presentations and essay writing demonstrate a capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to reflect critically on their own learning process

Syllabus plan

We will begin our study by considering how, when and why animals speak, using selected philosophy and theory as well as Aesop’s Fables. During the early weeks of the module we will consider animal transformations in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Moving from donkeys to horses, we will consider the rise of the animal welfare movement in relation to Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. The relation between ape and human will be considered with reference to Kafka’s short story A Report for an Academy, and a response to Kafka in Ceridwen Dovey’s recent collection, Only the Animals; Dovey’s other stories will also be used to focus our discussions of animal narrators. We will consider the ethics of human treatment of animals through Dovey and through J.M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello. We will consider the relationship between poetry, poetic voice and animality through a reading of selected poems concerning the nightingale.

Our later seminars will focus on both on the wildness of animals, from the tiger in Martel’s Life of Pi to the wild call of wolf-nature heard by the dog in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and on human relationships with companion animals, exemplified in the dog-love differently represented in Call of the Wild, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems to her pet dog, and Virginia Woolf’s playful animal biography, Flush. Throughout, we will weave discussion of relevant works of animal philosophy and theory together with our close reading of literary animals.During the module there will be a field trip to the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, where we will learn about the charity’s work and have the chance to enjoy some hands-on interspecies communication with one of the module’s central animals.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Guided independent70Seminar preparation (group)
Guided independent197Reading, research and assessment preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group Presentation2520 Minutes1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8Oral feedback by tutor in seminar supplemented by feedback sheet.
Essay251500 words1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay503000 words1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Group PresentationEssay (1500 words)1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8Refer/Defer period
EssayEssay1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8Refer/Defer period
EssayEssay1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8Refer/Defer period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary Texts

Aesop, Fables (World’s Classics)

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Apuleius, The Golden Ass (World’s Classics)

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Franz Kafka, A Report for an Academy

Ceridwen Dovey, Only the Animals

Jack London, The Call of the Wild

Virginia Woolf, Flush

J. M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello

Yann Martel, Life of Pi


Selected Secondary Texts


Armstrong, Philip, What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity (Routledge 2008)


Brown, Laura, Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes (Cornell 2010)


Haraway, Donna J When Species Meet (Minnesota 2007)


McHugh, Susan, Animal Stories: Narrating Across Species Lines (Minnesota 2011)


Payne, Mark, The Animal Part: Human and Other Animals in the Poetic Imagination (OUP 2010)

Rohman, Carrie, Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal (Columbia 2009)


Ryan, Derek, Animal Theory: A Critical Introduction (Edinburgh 2015)

Wolfe, Cary, ed, Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minnesota 2003)

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources



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