Weird creatures in the home
in The Victorian aquarium
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Aquarium manuals had a huge impact in shaping people’s perception of sea creatures, providing both conceptual frameworks and models for interaction. This chapter considers four kinds of activities performed by Victorian aquarists – watching tank residents, domesticating them, experimenting on them, and eating them – which correspond to alternative ways of construing sea creatures as ornaments, pets, specimens, and food. On the one hand, aquarium authors shared a tendency to humanise marine animals and discuss their behaviour through narratives that reflected current assumptions on gender and class; on the other hand, though, they encouraged readers to treat sea species as objects and perform experiments on them, under the assumption that they could not feel pain. At times, tank residents could also turn into food: while some aquarists adventurously tried to cook animals that were not usually considered edible (like actinias), the possibility to observe the life of species commonly seen as food (such as prawns) stimulated reflections on the distance between the live animal in the tank and the dead one on the plate.

The Victorian aquarium

Literary discussions on nature, culture and science

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