Tiny Creatures and the Boundaries of Being in the Nineteenth-Century British Imagination


ACLS Fellowship Program




“Tiny Creatures” zeroes in on moments when nineteenth-century writers interested in the evolution of sentience contemplate the world as it appears to beings radically different from humans, such as snails or worms. Focusing on Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy, Edwin Abbott, George Eliot, Margaret Gatty, and Charles Dickens, “Tiny Creatures” identifies a fascinating set of literary techniques used by scientists, philosophers, and literary writers to challenge models of mind that are hierarchical and centered on the human. These tools include suspending the reader’s visual imagination by bathing the world in darkness, invoking human blindness, or describing the gestures of creatures without eyes. With chapters on stones, shells, skin, stomachs, edges, and space, the project returns throughout to the paradoxical idea that all living beings must be simultaneously intact and porous in order to be considered alive.