Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Trixy, and the vivisection question.
Phelps had explored the topic of vivisection before Trixy, most notably in a sentimental short story, "Loveliness" (1889), in which a dog escapes the vivisector's laboratory and is reunited with its owner, an invalid child who languishes and nearly dies in its absence. She wrote several pamphlets on the topic, A Plea for the Helpless (1901), Vivisection and Legislation in Massachusetts (1902), and Vivisection Denounced (1902); was active in antivivisection campaigns; and had even addressed several committees of the Massachusetts Legislature, voicing her opposition to a practice she found to be intolerable (Kelly, Life 19). Trixy is a logical outgrowth of all of these threads. The title character of her novel, a little white dog, abducted and later sold to Galen Medical School, is the lens through which Phelps explores the animal perspective on vivisection. However, by weaving into this plot a story line illustrating how training in vivisection ultimately impacted patient care, Phelps expands the issue in a way that goes beyond the narrow parameters of a debate between scientists and animal lovers to include a much broader demographic--the consumer of medical services.
By incorporating the patient's perspective into her narrative, Phelps capitalizes on an anxiety she shared with many of her contemporaries about receiving treatment from a cold and indifferent laboratory-trained clinician, the end product of a shift in how physicians in the latter half of the nineteenth century were being trained. Illness and invalidism were aspects of life that Phelps knew intimately, and perhaps that is why characters who are consigned to the sickroom frequently appear in her work. In 1902, just before she published Trixy, for example, Phelps produced in quick succession two novels that specifically deal with this topic: Avery and Confessions of a Wife. In other of her works dealing with illness, Phelps had expanded that focus to include the physician. Dr. Zay, for instance, published in 1882, not only advocates for homeopathic treatment and for the entry of women into the medical profession, but also, in its extensive descriptions of the female doctor's practice, models standards for compassionate care. Trixy takes that process one step further by identifying a specific cause contributing to uncaring doctors: namely, desensitization to suffering caused by repeated exposure to vivisection. In effect, then, Phelps's involvement with the antivivisectionists actually enlarged her understanding of the factors that contributed to the formation of a doctor's behaviors in the sickroom. In Trixy, however, as in those earlier medical novels, Phelps's goal in exploring this relationship remains the same: to challenge and reform accepted medical practice with the ultimate goal of securing humane treatment for the patient.
Trixy has two narrative lines that intersect and ultimately complement one another. The abduction and escape from Galen Medical School of the title character carries over into a story line that involves the efforts of Olin Steele, the leading researcher there, to win the hand of Miriam Lauriat. Steele's reputation derives from a series of surgeries on the brain of a dog that, like Trixy, has been stolen and sold to Galen for use in experiments. That dog turns out to be Caro, Miriam's beloved spaniel. When Miriam discovers that Steele has been operating on Caro, she terminates their relationship. Steele returns to his laboratory where, ironically, he becomes infected with a disease contracted while injecting an animal for an experiment. Isolated and abandoned, Steele chooses as his physician his colleague in the vivisection laboratory, Charles Bernard. This treatment by a "scientist at the bedside" (Lederer xiv) makes him long for "a plain doctor," one who would "[extinguish himself] in the relief of human suffering" (222, 276). In a last desperate attempt to win Miriam's hand, Steele offers to renounce his ambitious research agenda and to undergo the necessary transformation to become such a "plain doctor."
The animal plot in Phelps's novel--in particular, the theme of abduction of animals and the painful practices inflicted on them in the name of science--situates it firmly within the body of antivivisection literature that was pervasive and popular reading in the period. Frances Power Cobbe's Illustrations of Vivisection; or, Experiments on Living Animals contains pictures of the devices used by vivisectors in their surgeries. A companion volume, coauthored with Benjamin Bryan and titled Vivisection in America, excruciatingly details the "agonies unto death of the helpless creatures" (Blair 15) and thus provides a model for the kind of graphic realism Phelps was to use in her own work. But in addition to situating her narrative inside a thriving political movement, Phelps also carefully positions Trixy within a broader cultural context: canine hagiography. Jennifer Mason has noted that the cultural consensus around the keeping of companion animals was a signifier not only "of good moral character" but also of "a person's ability to care well for others" (13). Mason quotes from a popular text in the period, Domesticated Animals: Their Relation to Man and to His Advancement in Civilization, which held that "contact with [companion] animals has been and is ever to be one of the most effective means whereby ... sympathetic, ... civilized motives may be broadened and affirmed" (18). The practice of caring for companion animals, a common practice in the latter half of the nineteenth century, became a reliable indicator of an individual's capacity to care for others. Mason argues that in this period, the growing popularity of keeping pets along with a daily interaction with them led to a shift in their ontological status. The result was that domestic pets in general, and dogs in particular, came to be viewed as possessing intellectual, emotional, and moral attributes. In some depictions, they even surpassed humans in the degree to which they manifested these qualities (19-20).
This capacity of animals to manifest, even surpass, traits valued by their human counterparts is certainly evident in Trixy. Despite her "subject condition," Trixy consistently operates with a remarkable degree of "alert intelligence" (72-73, 72). In the vivisection laboratory to which she is confined with Caro, Trixy's canine identity is obscured under imagery that functions to position her securely within a human context. Unlike some animal heroes in the period--Black Beauty, published in 1877, comes to mind--Trixy does not speak, but her body and actions correlate so consistently with human intellection and behaviors that the elision between canine and human becomes complete and seamless. In the vivisection laboratory, for example, a composed Trixy does not struggle helplessly to extricate herself from her collar. Instead, she carefully and deliberately removes it by "put [ting] her paws up to her neck, and with a wriggle or two, deftly drew [it] over her ears[,] ... picked it up[,] and tossed it away" (163). Trixy also displays a highly evolved moral sensibility. She is both empathetic and unselfish, "generously sharing [the] misery" of Caro when they are consigned to the same basement area in Galen Medical School (166). Imperiling her own escape to freedom, Trixy displays patience in instructing Caro how to push open the door to his cage. She never abandons the spaniel and is as intent on facilitating his escape as she is her own. Even though she can leap the net enclosure blocking the door to the outside, she refuses to abandon Caro. As Phelps describes it, "Hers was the saving mission, and it had, as all salvation, whether of the higher or the lower being, must have, its element of potential sacrifice" (174).
Phelps, an experienced and successful writer, knew her readers well, and she does not hesitate to appeal to them in her novel. As Mason points out, "Because of the connection between pet keeping and successful adult living, companion animals also came to assume an important place in the discourse of child development" and thus assumed a key role in the construction of a middle-class family's identity (14). Images and stories in popular magazines, lithographs, and advertisements, as well as texts on child rearing, showed children and families interacting with domestic pets, and the iteration of this concept elevated protecting the welfare of domestic animals into a best practice for teaching empathy, self-discipline, and other virtues.
Given the cultural context within which Phelps operates, it is no surprise that animals and their defenders appear as saints and martyrs while medical researchers emerge as monstrous predators. In Trixy, fixed boundaries separating human researchers from their animal subjects become fluid. The result is a kind of category crisis. As the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison noted of researchers, "[O]ne rises from a perusal of their records with a doubt as to which is the human and which is the brute animal" (13). This is most apparent in Phelps's descriptions of the vivisectors' treatment of animals in the laboratory. Researchers, like the ones depicted in Trixy, regularly sought to reassure the public that laboratory animals "were treated with great consideration during their imprisonment, previous to their sacrifice; and with even more consideration and greater tenderness after their wounds had been inflicted" (169). Phelps, however, challenges that claim by loading her text with imagery calculated to elicit howls of outrage from a society for whom caring for companion animals was a key component of cultural identity. The extensive reliance on sound imagery--a howling dog, the "broken moans of pain" of creatures "incarcerated" in a "den of anguish" (160, 158, 160), "a long, piercing, piteous cry ... the cry of a sentient being in mortal agony" (88)--functions as a kind of auditory synecdoche, exploding the claim of medical researchers, Keen among them, that animals sacrificed to alleviate human suffering did not endure pain. Beyond the suggestive value of auditory imagery are carefully calculated visual impressions of lab animals that play up their helplessness and subordination--a tiny gray kitten strapped onto an operating board by a gleeful researcher (11), Caro's "scarred forehead" and dulled expression from two years of surgeries (98), the description of a dog who "raised itself with difficulty, and, reaching up, put both arms around the experimenter's neck ... entreat[ing]," but failing to move, him to abandon his work (99). (3) These carefully rehearsed patterns of imagery not only elevate the animals involved in experiments into the pantheon of martyrs; they also simultaneously reinscribe the antivivisectionist claim that repeated exposure to this practice desensitized the participant, normalized rather than stigmatized the practice of inflicting pain on living beings.
Had Phelps's singular focus in Trixy been on animal suffering and a denial of any benefits accruing to animal experiments, she would have contributed nothing new to the vivisection debate. Abolitionist and newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison, physician Albert J. Leffingwell, as well as the British antivivisection activist Frances Powers Cobbe, all publicly voiced their doubts about the medical advances attributed to vivisection. Indeed, Cobbe and Bryan even pointed out that instead of contributing to medical progress, researchers more typically used animal experiments either to demonstrate already proven theories or to discredit the research claims of their rivals in order to enhance their own professional standing (5-6). (4) However, Phelps's other plot in the novel--the exploration of the impact that repeated exposure to vivisection had on physicians--is truly innovative. In exploring this theme, Phelps picks up and dramatically expands a thread in the conversation about vivisection that had first appeared in Cobbe and Bryan's Vivisection in America, namely, what William R. D. Blackwood described as "the brutalizing effect of vivisection on those who prosecute it and the witnesses alike" (11), or, as Henry W. Blair phrased it, the fear that "no human being can practise these torments habitually without developing the latent savagery of his own nature" (15). If, as Mason argues, the Victorian practice of pet keeping became a semiotic for a "commitment to the affective priorities," as well as a reliable indicator of an individual's ability to care for others (14, 13), then the cruelty to animals attributed to the vivisectionists made a clear case for the contrary. Phelps's engagement with this topic--surely one of the most powerful in her arsenal of arguments opposing vivisection--emerges in the way she deploys two of the characters in her story, Olin Steele and Charles Bernard. With Steele, Phelps explores the impact that long hours spent vivisectioning animals have on a young medical student's "moral nature" (275); with Bernard, she unleashes a nightmare vision of the kind of physician who is the end product of this kind of training.
The novel opens with Steele's first day in a physiology laboratory where, as a student with a nature both "gentle and tender," he rushes from the room in horror when he witnesses his first animal experiment (2). Ten years later, time has trained away that "reflex action of unsullied natures" (12). Steele is a leading light in work on animal brains and a professor of physiology at his alma mater. Indeed, his training in and repeated exposure to vivisection validate the claims made by Cobbe that such training ineluctably transforms the participant. Vivisection frames the terms of Steele's interactions with others: Interrupted by visitors to his lab when he is involved in courting his romantic interest in the novel, Miriam Lauriat, he admits he "could have cheerfully chloroformed Mrs. Jeffries, or experimented (without anaesthesia) upon Surbridge" (115). Vivisection likewise colors his rhetoric. Conflating his own identity with that of the animals he experiments on, he complains that Miriam's ultimate rejection of him was "more cruel to me than I was to that dog. You vivisect me" (223). Perhaps most disturbing, the practice of regularly subjugating research animals has accustomed Steele to employing similar tactics in his interactions with human beings. Even with Miriam, "[r]ather than lose her, he felt as if he could have slain her ... tortured her into loving him" (213).
When, through a working out of circumstances, Miriam learns that Steele has been experimenting on Caro, the beloved dog she had lost two years earlier, she rejects him, unable to "take a vivisector's hand" (274). The dialogue in the scene in which they end their relationship underscores the vast chasm between partisans on both sides of the vivisection debate just as it reiterates the issues that were nonnegotiable for each side. Miriam accuses Olin of having "tormented many dogs" and expresses doubt of his having "ever saved the life of one baby." She diminishes the grandeur of his claims that he is "on the eve of great discoveries" by contrasting them with what she has frequently witnessed in the neighborhoods where she does her charity work, concrete evidence of "good plain doctors--kind men, giving their lives for sick children" (219). Olin, for his part, characterizes Miriam's privileging animal lives over the advancement of scientific knowledge as "distorted" judgment, "sentimental and unscientific" (219, 212). In what was a contentious issue for a reading public devoted to its companion animals, he also rejects her claim that, as the researcher of note in the laboratory, he is in any way responsible for "know[ing] where [his] subjects come from" (218). Moreover, he is unapologetic about the pursuits to which he has dedicated his life, and as evidence of his insatiable appetite to stop at nothing, he argues, "These experiments have to go on. We must have subjects--if not animal, then human" (217).
Had Steele at that point left pure research behind and embarked on a career as a physician, it is likely he would resemble Dr. Charles Bernard. With his short muscular frame, low mouth, prominent ears, and hands whose long, cold fingers "betrayed enormous power, and suggested an ability to clutch and hold [much] like a marvelously developed vise" (51), Charles Bernard is almost certainly modeled after Claude Bernard, the foremost French vivisector of his day and the chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Paris. If the story involving Olin Steele traces the process by which exposure to vivisection transforms the researcher, then the plot line involving Charles Bernard shows the result of this process--the kind of doctor such training creates.
In Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research, Richard Dudley Ryder quotes Claude Bernard as saying, "The physiologist is not an ordinary man; he is a scientist, possessed and absorbed by the scientific idea that he pursues" (173). While the physician must begin his work in the hospital interacting with patients, in Bernard's opinion, the doctor who "wishes to deserve that name in the scientific sense should on leaving the hospital, proceed to his laboratory. ... It is there that he will carry out real medical science" (173,172). As the living embodiment of the research-centered clinician, his namesake in Phelps's novel shares not only his French counterpart's hubris but also his absolute indifference to both human and animal suffering in pursuit of research goals. Ryder quotes Claude Bernard as saying that the physician who is worth his salt "doesn't hear the cries of the animals; he does not see their flowing blood" because he "sees nothing but his idea, and is aware of nothing but organisms which conceal from him the problems he is wishing to resolve" (173). This construction of laboratory animals as "organisms ... conceal[ing] ... problems" and as "material for experimental physiology" (Ryder 158) explains why, for Charles Bernard and the vivisectionists, a dog like Caro is "lost material," while for Miriam and the middle-class readership of the novel, Caro is a "gentle fellow-creature" (191, 202). The chasm that separates the antivivisectionists and their opponents is most evident in the way Charles Bernard frames the abduction of Caro. He expresses no regret for--nor reflects any comprehension of--what the separation of pet from owner entails for either the animal or its caregiver. (5) Instead, his singular concern is that the dog's removal from the laboratory will mean an inconclusive end to the series of experiments conducted on it, and to that end, he even urges Olin to ask Miriam to return the dog for one more round of clinical trials.
Charles Bernard's hubris and indifference to animal suffering reach their climax in the scene where he is arraigned on charges of receiving a stolen animal. Bernard arrives at his trial both unrepentant and disdainful of the court because he had "for so long a time regarded laymen with contempt that he had no fears about the possible outcome" (244). As he sees it, "Set against a scientific creed, set against a scientific fact, what were the claims of any other profession?" (244-45). In the courtroom, he is a consummate performer, displaying a "perfunctory show of sympathy" for the suffering of his research animals, a behavior that belies the actions undertaken in the privacy of his laboratory (246). By characterizing Bernard's claims that animals did not suffer as "the catchwords of his profession, [which] 'came easily'" (212, 213), Phelps is clearly loading the text in ways that undermine his credibility--and, by extension, the claims of the larger pro-vivisection community in which he claims membership--about the level of pain animals endured in vivisection laboratories.
In addition to depicting Bernard as being convinced of the inherent Tightness of his position, Phelps also portrays him as participating in a culture that views opposition to animal experimentation as "a very feminine view of the circumstances" (218). This characterization of the antivivisectionists is typical of the condescension and misogyny that advocates of vivisection displayed toward their critics, most of them women. As a political entity, the antivivisection movement had an overwhelming majority of women members. Richard D. French notes that the prospectuses of antivivisection societies show a leadership that was forty to sixty percent female, with levels of female participation in the antivivisection movement "among the very highest for movements without overtly feminist objectives" (239-40 ). (6)
Disturbing as this portrait of the vivisectionist is, it is nothing compared to what emerges when Bernard becomes Steele's physician. The doctor/patient relationship was one that Phelps, who described herself as a "'professional invalid' in 'good and regular standing' for almost half my life" knew first hand (85). As someone who had for years received treatment from a variety of practitioners--male as well as female physicians, allopaths as well as homeopaths--Phelps had a wealth of experience upon which to draw in creating the portrait of a helpless patient and an indifferent physician for her novel. As a patient, Steele loses the status of one "whose value science had rated so highly ... whose name was pushed to the front in medical journals." He becomes an invalid--abandoned, "desolate," and "neglected" (263). Ironically, his only friend is his dog Barry, who, as is consistent with the canine hagiography of both sentimental and antivivisection fiction, never leaves his side. In the throes of his illness, Steele hallucinates and sees passing before him a panorama of the animals on which he had experimented. Each "turned its eyes and looked at him ... [with] neither threat nor accusation" (265). The dream produces an insight: "It now recurred to the physiologist that he was bearing in his own body, nerve by nerve, a reduplication of the sensations which he had inflicted in some of his recent experiments" (267-68). As a result of his experiences as a patient, Steele undergoes a dramatic conversion. Like the antivivisectionists, he becomes critical of the value of the kind of research he has been doing and, more particularly, comes to share their view that the research-trained physician ultimately made for an uncaring doctor. Indeed, Phelps's novel makes this quite explicit. As a patient, Steele expresses a longing for a doctor trained in an "earlier day, before modern physiology had begun to control the curriculum," a physician "too busy in healing the sick to inflict the ingenuities of a decadent science upon small, speechless creatures" (156). Susan Sperling has noted that the early-nineteenth-century physician, the kind Steele longs for, had been "strictly a clinician," with a role "closer to that of a spiritual comforter, adviser, and family friend" (53). The laboratory-based scientist/physician that Charles Bernard models is a very different kind of physician, a byproduct of a dramatic change in medical education dating back to the 1870s. Instead of a "sympathetic, intuitive healer" who spent long hours at the bedside of his patients getting to know them, Steele has to deal with a "coldly clinical man of science" (Sperling 36). This dramatic reversal in the nature of medical care was, for Phelps's male character, as for many consumers of medical services in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a source of much cultural anxiety because it was "unsettling to many accustomed to the old ways" (Sperling 53).
The culmination of the vivisector-now-patient insight comes when Charles Bernard visits Steele. Bernard "pushed into the sick-room obstinately. His patients were not people, and he did not know how to treat the human sick" (268). For Bernard, trained for years in vivisection laboratories and therefore, as the antivivisectionists argued, desensitized to suffering in any form, Steele is objectified as "a beautiful case," mere "material" for the researcher's experiment (269, 91). His identity now conflated with that of the animals brought into the vivisectors' laboratories, Steele makes a painful realization: Bernard "would sacrifice me, if he could ... would experiment heartily" (269).
The fear of humans becoming subjects for experimentation was rampant in antivivisection materials, and Phelps certainly plays upon that here. (7) The Seventeenth Annual Report of the American Antivivisection Society from 1900 contained an editorial on experiments that were conducted on women and children patients in hospitals on the continent without their consent (this is the same organization Phelps would address in 1902). Caroline Earle White, the corresponding secretary of the organization, wrote a letter to the Evening Telegraph, commenting upon the fact that the vivisection of human beings
was the legitimate outcome of the vivisection of animals; that the intense desire for learning or discovering something new soon becomes in its investigation, a species of mania, which will not allow its possessor to be content with the lower animals, but impels him to make use ... of human beings, as much more valuable and as returning results which can be depended upon as reliable, unlike those drawn from experiments upon animals. (6)
More than a speculation, White's report was a full-blown accusation that scientists were indeed using vulnerable populations of human beings in their research. White records the hostile reception her disclosures received from representatives of the medical establishment. However, she adds that the reports were later verified by another physician, complete with the names of the doctors engaging in the practices, along with the books and volumes and pages of journals in which the results were published (6-7). In Trixy, this theme finds voice in Bernard. Passing by a hospital where an operation is to take place "upon the brain of an underwitted house-maid," he observes, "No experiment is absolutely satisfactory unless it has been tried on a human being" (271).
Trixy went into a second edition in 1905. It received favorable reviews in both the New York Times ("New Novels") and the Washington Post ("Reviews"). In the New York Times for 10 December 1904, the book was one of several singled out for inclusion in an article titled "Books That Sell Well." A review of Trixy in Education characterized Phelps as a writer whose work "whatever she writes ... is sure to be read by many people" ("Review"). Yet despite these glowing reviews, sales of the book were poor. (8) Five thousand copies--an entire run of the novel--ended up on remainder tables (Houghton). As these numbers suggest, Phelps was not successful in her effort to reinvigorate the vivisection question by focusing on its implications for patient care. Despite positive reviews and a reissue of the book, Trixy never garnered the public support needed to mount an effective challenge to the vivisectionists. Instead of redirecting the terms of the debate, Trixy became little more than a footnote to the vivisection controversy. Perhaps this is why the book has been largely ignored by scholars of Phelps's work. While these critics have made much of the author's lifelong engagement in the debates that surrounded delivery of medical services in the period, such as her championing of women doctors and her advocacy of homeopathy, they have failed to recognize that, as Trixy clearly illustrates, Phelps's involvement in the antivivisection movement was, in fact, on a continuum with that larger body of cultural work.
It is difficult to know with certainty why the public did not find Trixy appealing. One likely factor was the timing of the novel's publication. By 1904, the year in which Trixy was published, the debate between the pro-vivisection physicians and their opponents had begun to shift dramatically in favor of the doctors. Since the 1890s, physicians had been organizing nationally to make their case and to win over the public through a concerted effort in the media, and there were some clear indications that their strategy was working. First, by 1900, the heated debate that had raged in medical schools in the 1860s and 1870s over using vivisection in training medical students was largely over. The public had aligned itself with the medical establishment in accepting the idea that currency in medical care required training in research laboratories. Indeed, Susan E. Lederer has noted that in the years between 1870 and 1910 "the laboratory grew increasingly essential to the definition of medical education and the image of medical practice" (54). Additionally, by the 1880s, the newly developed disciplines of bacteriology and immunology put a growing demand on the use of animals as "clinical procedures became based increasingly on research subjects" (Sperling 38). These findings are consistent with contemporary accounts from the period. Writing in 1907, Leffingwell, the leading American opponent of vivisection, noted that vivisection in the training of medical students was accepted practice in medical schools, a marked departure from the way it was viewed a generation earlier ("Vivisection" 217-18). This view was echoed in a popular book on the topic, The Shambles of Science: Extracts from the Diary of Two Students of Physiology. The authors, Lizzy Lind-af-Hageby and Leisa Katherina Schartau, were two medical students studying at the London School of Medicine when they wrote their book to describe what they experienced in the physiology labs there. Yet they, too, were resigned to the fact that since physiology was inseparable from experiments on animals and was required for matriculation through medical school "nobody objecting ... could have any chance of obtaining a degree" (xi).
Second, despite Phelps's effort in the book to downplay the claims of advances in medical science, the achievements specifically attributed to vivisection were undeniable and added substantially to the vivisectors' cultural authority. Increased understanding of how parts of the brain functioned, Lister's Germ Theory, and the creation of vaccines against smallpox and cholera were all attributed by medical researchers to their freedom to conduct experiments on live animals. Thus, opposition to a practice in which a concern for animals was privileged over improving the quality of human lives put the antivivisectionists in a category of "enemies of mankind" and, in what was to become an emerging characterization of the movement, as "a little insane" ("Chamber" 538).
Third, according to Diane L. Beers, as early as the 1890s, scientific societies across the nation had begun to organize into coalitions to protect scientific inquiry from the kinds of "externally imposed restrictions" and oversight advocated by the antivivisectionists (134). In 1896, several of these organizations, among them the American Society of Physicians and the American Surgical Society, produced "A Statement in Behalf of Science" that was signed by over forty physicians. In the journal Science, where the statement appeared, the authors insisted, "Common sense requires ... that investigations in biology and medicine shall proceed, at the expense, when necessary, of the death and suffering of animals" (Eliot, Walker, and Paddock 425). The statement was also overt in what it characterized as the "ill-informed" attacks of the antivivisectionists, of their "garbled" and inaccurate representations of experiments in the laboratories, and of a level of invective in their arguments that sometimes "rises to a shrillness little short of frantic" (426, 422). One byproduct of this effort to protect the researcher from the kind of external oversight advocated by the antivivisectionists was the creation of a Council on Defense of Medical Research (CDMR). From the moment of its inception, the CDMR began to formulate specific action plans designed "to neutralize many of the more serious allegations raised by critics" (Beers 135). During its first year, the CDMR conducted reviews of animal care in labs across the nation and wrote a formal set of guidelines to regulate it. These guidelines, adopted and prominently displayed in medical labs throughout the nation, functioned as a clear signifier that the medical establishment had not only heard the public outcry generated by the antivivisectionists' pleas to protect animals from unnecessary suffering, but also had a specific plan in place to ensure that animals did not suffer. The guidelines promoted by the CDMR ensured that animals in labs would have clean cages and that anesthesia would be given at the start of experiments with humane euthanasia provided at their conclusion. Perhaps most compelling was the implementation of a specific procedure for acquiring animals for labs--a contentious issue for pet owners, many of whom, like the owners of Trixy and Caro, feared losing animals to vivisection labs for use in experiments.
Still another factor that contributed to an erosion of the antivivisectionist cause was the successful effort of physicians to mobilize popular support for vivisection by expanding the debate from the pages of scientific journals to publications such as Popular Science Monthly, Harper's Magazine, and the Ladies' Home Journal. Keen, in particular, used this popular medium as a vehicle not only to educate the public about medical breakthroughs attributed to vivisection, but also to reassure them that animals used in experiments did not suffer. In the October 1889 issue of Harper's Magazine, for example, Keen attributed the progress of surgery to two things: "the introduction of antiseptic methods, and ... what we have learned from laboratory work and experiments upon animals" ("Recent Progress" 703). In 1893, he espoused the same position in an essay, "Vivisection and Brain-Surgery," published in the same magazine. Here he claimed that "without the exact knowledge of the functions of the brain, derived almost wholly from experimentation upon animals, it would be simply impossible to do what has been accomplished" (128).
In these articles, written for nonprofessionals, Keen attempted to educate his readers by describing exactly what went on in some of his experiments. In the Harper's article in 1893, for example, Keen explained how the application of electric current to the brains of etherized monkeys, clearly a less contentious animal than was the domestic pet, contributed to an understanding of the motor area of the brain and helped physicians locate tumors and abscesses more accurately within the brains of their human patients. Instead of being the "work of 'inhuman devils,'" the practical knowledge of anatomy and physiology secured by vivisection was, Keen argued, "the work of humane men of science anxious to mitigate human suffering and prolong human life" (130). In 1905, Keen published a collection of his experimental work, and as testimony to the impact publication of his research in popular magazines had had, Keen's reviewer in the New York Times noted the "sensation" that "Vivisection and Brain-Surgery" "made ... when it was published in Harper's" ("Orationes" 484).
Cumulatively, these efforts of the vivisectionists contributed to a growing acceptance of research conducted on live animals as essential to medical progress. However, implicit in the public's acceptance of vivisection was a shift in the way it viewed its companion animals. Beyond being companions, these animals now had an essential and valuable role as scientific commodities in the research laboratory and, by extension, in improving the quality of human lives. All that was left for the vivisectionists to do to consolidate their victory was to find a mechanism that would damage irreparably the credibility of those individuals who did not accept this viewpoint. That mechanism turned out to be the creation of a clinical condition, the zoophil-psychosis. Although privately physicians and medical researchers had long voiced their annoyance with the continued efforts of the antivivisectionists to abolish a practice that many of them saw as essential to medical progress, the view that the antivivisectionists were unstable, even mentally deficient, did not become publically voiced as a criticism until 1909. In that year, Charles L. Dana, President of the American Neurological Society and author of the standard textbook in medical schools on the topic, Textbook of Nervous Diseases, wrote an article, "The Zoophil-Psychosis," in which he created a term to characterize individuals who possessed inordinate sensitivity to the plight of suffering animals, thereby giving medical authority to the vivisectionists' charge that any criticism of medical science was a product of mental disorder (381). (9)
Dana's article provided both medical authority and a language with which to label the antivivisectionists. Two of his case studies were drawn from real life: a man who was unable to travel because of a pathological fear of seeing horses mistreated and a woman who ignored the needs of her family in order to care for scores of homeless cats. The third case study was drawn from fiction--the developmentally disabled character Stevie from Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent. (10) His loss of control at seeing a horse whipped on a cab ride through town ultimately was, as I have demonstrated in another study, appropriated by the vivisectionists and deployed so as to equate zoophiles with mental defectives ("Secret Agent" 100-02). Indeed, once Dana coined the term, the concept of the zoophile was used to refer to any individual who was concerned in any way with the welfare of animals. More important, the term became a fixture in all subsequent coverage of the antivivisectionists in the popular press.
The New York Times of 8 March 1909, for example, published coverage of Dana's article under the headline "Passion for Animals Really a Disease," characterizing those who possessed such a passion as having a "new mental malady." The next day, a Times story described the zoophiles' compassion for animals as "fine feelings and noble sentiments gone utterly wrong" and faulted them for "a peculiar callousness to the sufferings of human beings" ("Anti-Vivisectionists"). By 1914, according to Craig Buettinger, the charge of zoophil-psychosis had been repeated so often in coverage of the antivivisectionists that the "physiologist Frederic S. Lee could matter-of-factly testify before the New York legislature that 'the antivivisection mania [is] recognized as a well-developed form of mental disease'" (285). This diagnosis, combined with the undeniable benefits accruing to humankind from work attributed to experiments conducted on live animals, effectually sealed the case against the antivivisectionists.
Whereas the fight for animals' rights had provided, as James Turner characterizes it, a "cathartic outlet" for reformist impulses that entailed little social risk (54), with the undeniable evidence of remarkable advances in medical science, such a position was no longer tenable. Advances in medical research by the 1890s and into the early decades of the twentieth century radically redefined the landscape around the question of protecting the rights of creatures who earlier had been viewed as possessing traits that made them equal, even superior, to human beings in the moral hierarchy. As the value that middle-class readers found in caring for companion animals became pathologized by the medical establishment, Phelps and her fellow members in the antivivisection movement were repositioned in the debate. Concern for animal suffering became dismissed as an activity "largely [of] people without children or serious occupation in life" (Morris). Some writers of the period even included in their coverage of the antivivisectionists a speculation for why their energies were diverted into caring for animals: "[A]nimals [make] a small and strictly limited demand for affection and care, and therefore were the favored objects of both for those who had little of either to bestow and yet had a strong desire to bestow that, little at their own convenience" ("Anti-Vivisectionists").
In 1908, Phelps published a second novel with a subplot involving vivisection, Though Life Us Do Part. She continued to speak out against vivisection until her death in 1911. Indeed, so connected was Phelps in the public mind with her involvement in the antivivisection movement that the lead paragraph of her obituary in the New York Times gave as much attention to her work as a "leader in the movement against vivisection" as it did to her career as an "authoress" of some fifty-nine volumes ("Mrs. E. S. P. Ward Dies"). Yet despite her effort, the historical context within which Phelps struggled to articulate her opposition to vivisection had changed dramatically by the time she published Trixy. At century's end, training in experimental medicine, which required surgery on living animals, had become the source of professional legitimacy for American physicians.
In 1902, Henry Childs Merwin wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly in which he posed a number of rhetorical questions about vivisection. After acknowledging the claim of the pro-vivisectionists that any amount of animal suffering was acceptable, "provided that it pays ... the human race," Merwin went on to ask, "Who has a warrant to pronounce that a given torture may rightly be inflicted upon [animals] for the sake of a given benefit which may result to mankind?" (323). Keen had already posed that question years earlier in a starker, more confrontational way. Convinced that advances in medicine were tied to experiments that "must be tried on living things," he offered his readers a choice: "Either an animal or you. Which shall it be ?" ("Our Recent Debts" 3). In the early decades of the twentieth century, weighing the arguments of a now-pathologized group of animal lovers like Phelps against the advances made in medical science and attributed to vivisection, the response to these questions had shifted--decidedly--in favor of vivisection and the scientists.
Situating Trixy within the context of the historical currents swirling around its publication is particularly appropriate for students of Phelps's work. On the one hand, this critical approach illuminates her practice as a writer who frequently used societal dissatisfaction with existing institutions as material for her fiction. At the same time, it also explains the extent to which Phelps's commercial success was contingent upon her readers' synchronicity with her efforts to reform these institutions. The book with which she launched her career, The Gates Ajar, for example, a runaway bestseller that featured an afterlife replete with porches, gardens, and reunions with beloved companion animals, succeeded in large part because it gave comfort to a generation of readers who found no solace in the theology of mainline Protestant churches in the period following the Civil War. Trixy, on the other hand, was published at the end of a long period, roughly 1870--1900, when medicine had discovered ways to eliminate diseases and injuries that theretofore had been fatal. Physicians, who used vivisection at every stage of their research, leveraged these advances not only to expand their opportunity to conduct additional experiments in their laboratories but also radically to transform public perception around animal research. Gradually, even patients who preferred a more personalized style of medical care came to accept the research-trained clinician as providing a better service, even as they grew indifferent or resigned to the sacrifice of the animals required to train those practitioners.
Despite Phelps's inability to redirect the vivisection debate to engage the question of patient care, Trixy still warrants examination as a significant and valuable addition to the study of her work. With its unique perspective on vivisection, the novel demonstrates the author's lifelong willingness to engage in debate over one of the most contentious issues of her day. Although the closing decade of her life was marked by increasing debility, Phelps functioned at the end of her career much as she had throughout it, that is, as a writer less concerned with commercial success than with a clear desire to effect changes in powerful institutions and practices she found intolerable. In the case of vivisection, her goal was nothing short of an end to animal suffering and a transformation in the way doctors would be taught to care for their patients.
(1.) As part of their effort to secure the passage of legislation to regulate and ultimately abolish the practice of vivisection, antivivisectionists frequently reached out to distinguished members of the community and asked them to sign petitions or submit letters that could then be collected and published in pamphlet and book form. Keen was a highly desirable target for the antivivisectionists. Beyond his extensive publication record and positions as Professor of Surgery at both the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania and Jefferson Medical College, he was also a Fellow and later President of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and President of the International Society of Surgery. Because Keen's medical career spanned the periods before and after medical research employed vivisection, he was uniquely qualified to comment on the changes in the ways medical research was conducted. Perhaps more important, he was also eminently qualified to comment on how that training affected doctors' care of patients.
(2.) The letters exchanged between Phelps and Keen are used with permission of the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
(3.) It is evident that Phelps read vivisection literature carefully and incorporated it into Trixy. The image of a dog raising itself off the vivisector's table and putting its paws around the neck of the researcher is taken nearly wholesale from Albert J. Leffingwell's 1884 essay "Vivisection." Leffingwell describes an experiment conducted by the French physiologist Francois Magendie in which he exposed a dog's vertebral nerves to demonstrate their function. According to the author, "The dog, mutilated and bleeding, twice escaped from under the implacable knife, and threw its front paws around Magendie's neck, licking as if to soften his murderer and ask for mercy" (129). Similarly, Olin Steele's argument that researchers used animals to avoid having to use human beings in their experiments seems to be drawn, almost verbatim, from Keen's "Our Recent Debts to Vivisection," in which he offered his readers a similar choice between being the subject in medical experiments or assigning that role to animals.
(4.) Antivivisectionists had long expressed doubt about the reliability of claims of medical advances attributed to vivisection. Garrison observes, "The contention of the physicians that vivisection has yielded immensely to the knowledge of the human system is by no means made clear, and their claims for alleviating suffering in consequence are to be taken with many grains of allowance" (13). In "Does Vivisection Pay?" Leffingwell notes, "I venture to assert that, during the last quarter of a century, infliction of intense torture upon unknown myriads of sentient, living creatures, has not resulted in the discovery of a single remedy of acknowledged and generally accepted value in the cure of disease" (395). Leffingwell did not adopt the position that vivisection should be abolished. Indeed, he acknowledged that experiments on living animals had advanced understanding of the circulatory and nervous systems, but he doubted their value in "the discovery of improved methods for the amelioration of human suffering and for the cure of disease" (396). Moreover, he was in favor of legislation designed to preclude repeated demonstrations of already known facts and to minimize the suffering of animals involved in experiments. In "Certain Dangers of Vivisection," he presents a table of data culled from a British government census that shows a greater fatality from chronic disease in the period following the adoption of vivisection than in previous years. Leffingwell does not speculate about possible causes for the rise in these diseases; he simply notes that rates of cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, and heart disease all had higher incidences of mortality in the period 1875-1890, the period after the medical advances specifically attributed to vivisection (33).
Phelps, of course, advocated the complete elimination of vivisection from medical training and research, preferring, as she expressed to the American Humane Society in 1901, to be "cured by remedies which were not indebted to vivisection" (Ward, "Voice" 53). This was a position she maintained until her death. Like her counterparts in the antivivisection movement, she was also dubious of the claims made by vivisectionists. In an article published in the New York Times of 29 November 1908, Phelps, described as "the distinguished authoress and champion of the rights of animals," takes issues with a comment made by John D. Rockefeller that justified the loss of animal lives in the name of saving human ones. Phelps is quoted as saying,
I do not deny that there may be an extremely rare case in which the results of vivisection have seemed to help a human being. But we who have studied this subject for many years know that such instances, if they exist at all, are too few to have any bearing upon a tremendous moral question like this. Ten thousand things learned, if this were possible, from vivisection would not justify the intolerable and unpardonable torture to which animals have been subjected by this brutal practice. ("Differs with Rockefeller")
(5.) Although Bernard is oblivious to the suffering endured by owners and their pets when they are separated from one another, Phelps certainly was not, and she addresses this in her novel. In addition to the canine perspective of a Trixy "bewildered by the agony of homesickness" and "numbed by despair," there is also a pet owner's perspective: "When fate separates master and dog, each undergoes the pang of the other. It has been well written that the dog is the only animal who has elected to give himself utterly to the worship of man; and man, to a certain extent, has returned this profound and pathetic attachment" (162, 137).
(6.) Lederer and Sperling both support this contention (36-37, 42-45).
(7.) The antivivisectionists were right to be concerned about the inevitability of human subjects being used for medical research. Lederer points out that in 1893 John S. Pyle, an Ohio physician, urged the Tri-State Medical Society to support the legalization of the vivisection of condemned criminals to "probe the secrets of the human brain and human consciousness" (45). Pyle was not successful in getting passage of his proposal through the Ohio legislature, which soundly rejected it in 1894. However, similar efforts were underway in Indiana, where William B. Fletcher of the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane actually contemplated purchasing research subjects in China but was deterred by, among other things, a "lack of knowledge of so-called heathen language" (46). Fletcher's contemplation of purchasing humans for laboratory experiments may seem far-fetched, except that "New York newspapers in the 1890s [regularly] carried advertisements offering compensation to individuals willing to become subjects of medical experiments" and southern physicians before the Civil War commonly sought out slaves with particular ailments or diseases as test subjects for their research (Pyle 46).
(8.) The publishing history of Trixy gives insight into a changed market for Phelps's novels. Business records of Houghton, Mifflin now at the Houghton Library at Harvard University reveal that Trixy had slow sales after its initial run in July 1904. By February 1905, seven months later, Houghton, Mifflin had sold the plates for Trixy to Hodder and Stoughton, a British publisher (E. P.). Unlike Houghton, Mifflin, Hodder and Stoughton were interested in reissuing an edition of Trixy for sale to British markets. However, on 4 May 1906, fifteen months later, Hodder and Stoughton wrote to Houghton, Mifflin that "not a single copy" of the English edition had been sold. The remaining books, which were then disposed of "by forced sales at nominal rates," led them to ask Phelps to forego any royalties resulting from these sales. She agreed. By 16 January 1908, Houghton, Mifflin had also disposed of a large edition--five thousand copies--of their remaining stock of Trixy to Grosset & Dunlap, a New York firm. In a letter to Phelps, the editors at Houghton, Mifflin urged her to agree to the terms of their deal with Grosset because the "return from the regular edition is no longer very appreciable" (16 January 1908). Phelps earned only $250 or five cents per volume from the Grosset & Dunlap transaction, but, as she told Houghton, Mifflin in a letter dated 16 January 1908, for her the issue was not payment; it was providing an opportunity "to circulate Trixy to the extent of five thousand even on these or any terms." Cited by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
(9.) Sperling notes that within the movement today, activists "hesitate to refer to them selves as antivivisectionists [because] the term is still too evocative of fringe fanatics in the minds of many people" (201), an indication of the persistence of the cultural linkages of animal rights activists to fanatical politics.
(10.) Dana deliberately misreads the character of Stevie in Conrad's novel. Dana's the sis was that zoophiles were indifferent to human suffering because they were so exclusively focused on animals. Yet there is abundant evidence in Conrad's novel to the contrary. Stevie's sister, for example, recounts seeing her brother collapsed in a heap upon overhearing a newspaper account of an injury to a German soldier: "He can't stand the notion of any cruelty" (61). Even in the scene Dana cites, Stevie is aware of the suffering not only of the horse but of the cabman who complains about being forced to make a living with whatever horses he is given because he has to support a "missus and four kids at 'ome" (142). To this Stevie replies, "Bad world for poor people" (146), hardly a display of indifference to human suffering as Dana had argued. For a fuller discussion of Dana's misrepresentation of Conrad's novel, see Kelly, "The Secret Agent and the Zoophil-Psychosis Diagnosis."
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LORI DUIN KELLY
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|Author:||Kelly, Lori Duin|
|Publication:||Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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