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The Great (food) Chain Of Being: Dietary anxieties and the Scala Naturae in three cases of nineteenth-century British fiction

Kathryn Brigger Kruger, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation examines fictional treatments of the food chain in nineteenth-century England vis-à-vis the larger conceptual history of the Great Chain of Being—a cosmological schema that stratifies animate and inanimate objects along a fixed hierarchical scale. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein challenges carnivorous assumptions of the Great (food) Chain of Being and its endorsement of human dominion over animals and thereby advocates a Romantic vegetarian ethic as a conduit to revolutionary equality. In Lewis Carroll's Alice tales the threat of extinction caused by the violent nature of the food chain mirrors the monarchical, social, religious, and evolutionary anxieties of the mid-Victorian milieu; as such, Carroll endorses a pescetarian abstemiousness as a response to the riddle of the food chain. And H. G. Wells's fin-de-siècle novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau, introduces morphologous beings that occupy the interstitial places along the Chain-of-Being hierarchy that complicate food-chain assumptions with their cannibalistic appetites and their hyper-relationality to the human species. This project begins to illustrate through these three case studies how the Great (food) Chain of Being (and the ontological questions that it supposes) serves as a phenomenological touchstone even as it dissolves, crumbles, or becomes upended in a post-Darwinian worldview of moral relativism, evolutionary debates, and dietetic anxieties.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Evolution and Development|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Kruger, Kathryn Brigger, "The Great (food) Chain Of Being: Dietary anxieties and the Scala Naturae in three cases of nineteenth-century British fiction" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3618575.