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Insects in Literature and the Arts

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Edited By Laurence Talairach-Vielmas and Marie Bouchet

This bilingual collection of essays (in English and French) looks at entomology and representations of insects from a scientific, historical, philosophical, literary and artistic viewpoint.
The contributions illustrate the various responses to the insect world that have developed over centuries, concentrating upon the alien qualities of insects – a radical otherness that has provoked admiration and fear, or contributed to the debates over humans’ superiority over animals, especially during the evolutionary theory controversy, or in today’s ecological debates. Insects not only helped shape new discourses on nature and on the natural world, but their literary and artistic representations also reveal how humans relate to their environment.
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A Way of Seeing. From Eleanor Ormerod’s Injurious Insects to Virginia Woolf’s Butterflies (Catherine Lanone)

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From Eleanor Ormerod’s Injurious Insects to Virginia Woolf’s Butterflies

Catherine LANONE

Recent cross-disciplinary or ecocritical readings such as J.F.M. Clark’s, Bonnie Kime Scott’s or Christina Alt’s have drawn attention to the overlooked essay Woolf devoted to the Victorian entomologist Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901).1 In turn, this essay may cast light on the recurrent image of insects in Woolf’s fiction. Traditionally perceived by critics as mere motifs or symbols highlighting the passing of time, the butterflies and moths which flutter in Woolf’s novels begin to stand out as a more personal theme, revealing the genuine attention her texts pay to insects, an attention which is clearly expressed in ‘The Death of the Moth’ or ‘Reading’. Connecting those essays with Woolf’s reading of the life of Victorian entomologist Eleanor Ormerod, may reveal how Woolf articulates social and gendered issues with scientific interest, in a characteristically hybrid text which casts light on her own practice as a writer.

Woolf was fond of essay-writing, perhaps because essays are traditionally deemed characteristic of men rather than of women, and therefore offered her a fitting shape to reflect on reading, writing, and the construction of gender. A far cry from A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, which may be seen as feminist manifestoes, essays like the aptly named ‘Reading’ cast a significant light on Woolf’s conception of reading and writing, but also on her vision of nature: if ‘Reading’ deals with the formation of a writer’s mind and...

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