Beastly Possessions

Beastly Possessions book cover

In Beastly Possessions (University of Toronto Press, 2015), Sarah Amato chronicles the unusual ways in which Victorians of every social class brought animals into their daily lives. Captured, bred, exhibited, collected, and sold, ordinary pets and exotic creatures – as well as their representations – became commodities within Victorian Britain’s flourishing consumer culture.

As a pet, an animal could be a companion, a living parlour decoration, and proof of a household’s social and moral status. In the zoo, it could become a public pet, an object of curiosity, a symbol of empire, or even a consumer mascot. Either kind of animal might be painted, photographed, or stuffed as a taxidermic specimen.

Using evidence ranging from pet-keeping manuals and scientific treatises to novels, guidebooks, and ephemera, this fascinating, well-illustrated study opens a window on to everyday life in Victorian Britain.


"[T]his book is a great read and offers much insight to readers who want to know more about the connections between human and animals worlds." - Jane Hamlett, Journal of Modern History, vol. 89, no. 3, 2017, pp. 680-81.

The book “begins with a series of vignettes: a taxidermist in Hampshire examines the contents of his bird trap; a Londoner reads the notice of Jim, a missing cat, in the newspaper; a terrier naps on a chair 'upholstered with the skin of a baby giraffe' (p. 3); the keepers at the London Zoological Gardens prepare animals for transport to India; Marion in Market Deeping writes an advertisement bartering her dog Flo for a sewing machine; and lastly a suffragette receives a postcard illustrated with a cat.  This vivid opening not only announces the focus on animals as objects of exchange but also sets the tone of Sarah Amato's highly engaging book, filled with fascinating examples of animals and their representations in Victorian consumer culture." - Barbara K. Seeber, Journal of British Studies, vol. 56, no. 1, January 2017, pp. 180-81.

"Within minutes of opening it, I myself circulated the book throughout my department, encouraging my colleagues and students to look at the many images found within: some familiar, such as those of people with their pets, and some grotesque and foreign ... Amato's text impressively balances between this sense of Victorian human/animal relations as both recognizable and not, revealing those nineteenth-century pet-keeping practices that form the basis for our own, while also elucidating the specificities of animal ownership that are very different from assumptions we often make in western culture today." - Monica Flegel, University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 86, no. 3, summer 2017, pp. 234-35.