Theme: Madness & Revolt
Talk Time: 20 Minutes
Title: The Dog Days: Canine Class Contagions and Political Parodies in Victorian Visual Culture
“The pattern of public response to rabies outbreaks demonstrated the extent to which the disease existed in the realm of rhetoric. The first alert was ordinarily sounded by the press, rather than by medical authorities or government officials, and it was often couched in terms that seemed calculated to inspire and exasperate fear”
–Ritvo, Harriet, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age, Cambridge, U.K.; Harvard University Press, 1987, Pg. 171.
In Victorian Britain rabies and hydrophobia, its then human counterpart, provoked a myriad of reactions in both academic fields and the public sphere.
Amidst these reactions grew a sense of magnitude to the disease which vastly surpassed the objective realities- a growth constructed and propagated through representations of dogs parodied in the popular media of the time, as highlighted in the above quote.
This paper aims to explore this sensation of Victorian visual parodies of canine madness through an exploration of the press’s representations of mad dogs- Proposing that the conceptual construction of the rabid dog became used as a conduit for social and political commentary.
This shall include a heavy focus on class anxieties; exploring middle class fears that rabies had the ability to infect and corrupt, not only the body, but also the integrity and class of society, demonstrating representations of this in visual media.
The paper shall then progress to look at the mad dog’s representation, and prompting of, criticisms of the legal system- through the visual analysis of encounters between dogs and mockingly inept and overwhelmed Police Officers turned Dog Catchers.
The paper will end on the exploration of why rabies and the madness of dogs prompted such swift interaction and embellishment from the Press, and such a public unrest, proposing media parody as a form of revolt.