Friday, August 28, 2015

The Georgian Menagerie by Christopher Plumb

book cover
The Georgian Menagerie:
Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century London
by Christopher Plumb

ISBN-13: 9781784530846
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: I.B.Tauris
Released: June 30, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
As the British Empire expanded and seaborne trade flooded into London's ports, the menagerists gained access to animals from the most far-flung corners of the globe, and these strange creatures became the objects of fascination and wonder. Many aristocratic families sought to create their own private menageries with which to entertain their guests, while for the less well-heeled, touring exhibitions of exotic creatures both alive and dead satisfied their curiosity for the animal world.

While many exotic creatures were treasured as a form of spectacle, others fared less well: turtles went into soups and civet cats were sought after for ingredients for perfume.

In The Georgian Menagerie, Christopher Plumb brings us face to face with these exotic animals. Scandals were caused by ‘erotic electric eels’ and decades of jokes spawned by the rudely named ‘Queen’s Ass’, the resident zebra at Buckingham Palace. An enlightening and entertaining series of tales reveal how the exotic creatures of the menagerie that was Georgian London captured the imagination of the age, and influenced society in a surprising number of ways.

My Review:
The Georgian Menagerie is a history of exotic animals in England, mainly from 1700 to 1832. The author used diaries, letters, ads and handbills, court cases, wills, insurance policies, and poems to get a first hand account of exotic animals in England, especially those in London. This provided a wonderful sense of what life was like at the time and people's attitudes towards exotic animals. He followed the trade from the importers and sellers to the private owners and menageries.

He covered exotic animals like canaries, parrots, cranes, tigers, leopards, lions, bears, monkeys, snakes, seals, llamas, zebras, hyenas, camels, and rhinoceros. He talked about how they were feed, their living conditions (and how that changed), how much it cost to see them, traveling exhibits, what happened to the animals after they died (which usually meant being studied then stuffed and displayed), how people treated and interacted with the animals, and what associations were made with various animals (especially electric eels, the Queen's zebra, and parrots). He also talked about uses of exotic animal parts, like bear grease for hair styling, civet in perfume, and turtle meat for soup.

The information was presented in an interesting way using the stories of those involved with exotic animals in some way. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in 18th century London or in how zoos developed from private and commercial menageries.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

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