Mason, Jennifer 1972-

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Mason, Jennifer 1972-

PERSONAL:

Born 1972.

CAREER:

Writer. Taught English at Southern Methodist University and Skidmore College.

WRITINGS:

Civilized Creatures: Urban Animals, Sentimental Culture, and American Literature, 1850-1900, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

Born in 1972, Jennifer Mason has taught English at Southern Methodist University and Skidmore College. In her first book, CivilizedCreatures: Urban Animals, Sentimental Culture, and American Literature, 1850-1900, Mason examines the role of domesticated animals in the literature of the last half of the 1800s. Mason suggests that, historically, literary criticism focusing on animals in the works of that period tends to concentrate on depictions of animals in wilderness and pastoral settings, such as Herman Melville's white whale Moby Dick and the forest creatures encountered by Henry David Thoreau. This concentration excludes consideration of depictions of domesticated animals, which Mason believes is an important omission. Her focus is on the animals with which Americans were involved in their daily lives, as pets and farm animals. Using a range of authors that includes Susan Warner, Nathanial Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Charles Chesnutt, Mason discusses how these writers used "civilized" animals in their works both to symbolize the human condition and to delineate characters by their relationships with the domesticated animals in their environments. She demonstrates the need for literary critics to consider how the authors used these animals in cultural and historical context in their writings.

In pursuit of this idea, Mason examines contemporaneous work about animal care, including tracts discussing evolutionary theory, the literature of the new animal welfare movement, and instruction manuals on pet care and the training and breeding of horses. She considers these elements as she analyzes specific writings of her chosen authors and their use of animals as characters and symbols, pointing out the importance of relationships between animals and people, both in the ways people behave toward their animals and the ways they are changed by them.

Mason contends that it is important to understand these relationships in order to understand the authors' attitudes toward gender, race, and other powerful cultural issues that are endorsed in their writings. She shows that Americans from different cultural realms had intimate relationships with the animals that shared their lives, and that tending to their needs and depending on them served an important function of domesticity.

According to Lara Langer Cohen, in her review of Civilized Creatures for Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, Mason "aims to restore animals to their place in the lived experiences and literary imaginations of Americans." Her review concluded, "The complex relays she discovers between human and animal discourses during this period suggest that human relations are not only mediated by animals but are inevitably transformed by these interactions."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, January, 2006, J.J. Benardete, review of Civilized Creatures: Urban Animals, Sentimental Culture, and American Literature, 1850-1900, p. 854.

Journal of American History, December, 2006, Glenn Hendler, review of Civilized Creatures, p. 882.

Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, June, 2006, Lara Langer Cohen, review of Civilized Creatures, p. 209.

New England Quarterly, March, 2006, Nina Baym, review of Civilized Creatures, p. 142.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2005, review of Civilized Creatures.

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