Taxidermy’s Literary Biographies

  • Susan McHugh
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)


A key problem with animal biographies—their inability to represent a single historical subject—emerges through the representation of taxidermy in literary history. Fiction writers from Charles Dickens to H.G. Wells to Ernest Hemingway sow a seediness into taxidermists that blossoms in recent bestsellers by Téa Obreht and Kate Mosse, where practitioners draw taxidermy more explicitly into stories of murder, sex crimes, and revenge among humans. But taxidermists’ literary biographies are shadowed by those of taxidermy itself, and its associations with exterminationist politics across species lines. Through fictions by Gustav Flaubert, Julian Barnes, and Gergely Péterfy, I sketch a parallel tradition of attempting to recover the lives more directly represented by the objects, and its consequences for human, animal, and human-animal relationships. Museum specimens and a performance-art reconstruction by Brett Bailey bookend the discussion to underscore the biological and cultural catastrophes at stake in these recovery efforts.


Taxidermy Fiction Art Colonialism Racism Angelo Soliman 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan McHugh
    • 1
  1. 1.University of New EnglandBiddefordUSA

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