Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Laura Runge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Emily Jones, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christine Probes, Ph.D.


literary criticism, philosophy, Enlightenment, zoosemiotics


While scholars have studied talking animals in British children’s literature of the long eighteenth century, little attention has been given to cross-species conversations. Thus, my research starts with the following questions: what does it mean when humans talk to animals in literary texts? What do representations of interspecific communication in eighteenth-century British literature accomplish? Interspecific communication in the literary works of this study may be understood in the context of the philosophy of sensibility’s debt to French Renaissance humanist Michel de Montaigne, particularly his arguments about animal semiosis in An Apology for Raymond Sebond. I argue that interspecific conversations challenge Enlightenment arguments for the radical ontological separation of humans and animals.

I deploy a historicist methodology and the lens of post-linguistic semiotics, situating, and interpreting the literature next to concomitant philosophical discourses. Post-linguistic semiotics brings together zoosemiotics and cultural and literary criticism. My investigation expands our knowledge of how eighteenth-century British authors responded to the watershed philosophy of René Descartes, particularly the denial of language and reason to animals. Contrary to the longstanding view that the eighteenth-century had purely instrumental views towards animals, the authors of this study embrace a relational ontology in their attitudes towards animals, presenting a model for constructing the human and animal relationship based on an ethics of friendship, or, as in the case of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a repudiation of the animal.