‘Victorians and Animal Welfare: The Transnational Network in Literature, Culture and Intellectual Thought ’

deadline for submissions: 
January 10, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
St. Hugh's College, Oxford, United Kingdom
contact email: 

The Victorian era in general viewed animals not as mere property or utility, but as thinking, feeling subjects worthy of inclusion within a political community. It is increasingly in this light that the nineteenth-century British animal welfare movement and animal characters in Victorian literature are now being re-examined. Rather than regarding the literary sphere as a means of generating static influence over human attitudes towards animals, the deliberations at this colloquium shall seek to prove that it may be regarded as a repository of resources open to uses in the ongoing animal rights movement of the later nineteenth century in Britain and as the stepping stones to deeper ecological consciousness of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is this curiosity which generates the urge to probe deeper into the patterns of involvement which writers such as Thomas Hardy, social reformers such as Henry Salt and Edward Carpenter evinced in the burgeoning animal rights movement, which was not restricted to Britain at this time but spread to several of her the then colonies too. One cannot ignore the interconnected mesh of events that makes the Victorian period, especially the fin de siècle, a truly transnational phenomenon – facts like, that Mahatma Gandhi, present during this time in England, was influenced deeply by Salt, Carpenter and the Vegetarian movement in Late-Victorian England; or that Carpenter was intellectually compelled to visit India and imbibe eastern philosophical ideas which remained an important pillar of his entire life’s philosophy and activism and that the Calcutta Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in India, was formed at the behest of an Englishman, Colesworthey Grant around this time too, in 1861.

The rationale behind mapping the socio-intellectual milieu, in which the animal welfare movement was widening its influence, including within its ambit the ideas and practices of vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, re-evaluating the underpinnings of science vis a vis animals and examining the non-human animal in Victorian Britain, as well as acquiring its transnational character, is that it deserves a better and in-depth look by the present era of heightened ecological consciousness and planned developmental policies. While doing so it shall also attempt to examine the special affinity claimed by the animal welfare movement with the literary sphere, which shall include an inevitable and essential look at several major Victorian novelists and dramatists who were active supporters of the animal rights cause---as Charles Dickens, John Galsworthy, Lewis Carroll, Mona Caird, Sarah Grand—and the significance of the anti-vivisection campaigns in both Britain and India.

This Colloquium shall aim to consider a few of these things: Victorian writers, thinkers and influencers, with similar inclinations and deep commitment to and involvement in the animal welfare movement, legislation and scientific practices related to animal welfare in Britain and Colonial India during this time, as also the literary representations of the changing dynamics of the animal-human relationship, and to open up further vistas for research into the relevance of studying the Victorian times in the twenty-first century contexts. As the group called Victorianists, who call themselves ‘Presentists’, believe – the essential economic, geopolitical, and environmental problems of the present century have roots in the nineteenth century, so that century’s forms of cultural and literary expression have immense potential to convey to us much about the evolution of the problems and issues of the present times, as also ways to find solutions.  

In recent times there is increasing interest in reassessing the influence of non-western narratives in Victorian culture, and hence it will be interesting to consider the important part played by Eastern philosophy in discourses on animal welfare and vegetarianism which emerged at the Victorian fin-de-siècle, with special reference to important figures mentioned above and such  as author Thomas Hardy, Social reformers/activists Henry Salt, Edward Carpenter, political philosopher Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and several others writers, thinkers, scientists and activists.


Presentations may explore work or ideas of any of the writers or thinkers mentioned above or any of the following issues, but may not be restricted to these alone:


  • Animal welfare and anti-vivisection movements in late-Victorian Britain
  • Animals in Victorian thought and literature
  • Animals in Victorian Culture and Legislation
  • Late-Victorian India and animal welfare: Society and Legislation
  • Women and animal welfare in Victorian and Late-Victorian Eras
  • Vegetarianism in Victorian Britain
  • Matrix of Ideas about Animal Welfare in Late-Victorian India and Britain
  • Victorian writers and thinkers on animal welfare
  • Animal welfare and Science



Maximum twenty-minute presentations on the general theme and specific themes are encouraged. 300-word abstracts with titles may be mailed to Dr Oindrila Ghosh, Belcher Fellow for Victorian Studies, at oindrila.ghosh@st-hughs.ox.ac.uk by 10th January, 2023. Informal discussions before formal submission are welcome. Kindly Mention Belcher Colloquium in the Subject-line of e-mails. Work-in-progress presentations by postgraduates are especially welcome! The Colloquium shall tentatively be in blended mode, with speakers outside the UK being able to speak online.