Reading Holocaust Literature as a Creaturely Poetics

Natalie Woodward

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis offers creaturely readings of Holocaust literature, where a creature as defined by Anat Pick is ‘first and foremost a living body – material, temporal, and vulnerable’. I also use the concept of creatureliness to approach animal suffering: a question which many authors have compared to the Holocaust. In Chapter One, I analyse moments in Holocaust testimonies where survivors compare themselves, their situation or their perpetrators to animals. In Chapter Two, I analyse Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel. This novel gestures towards a creaturely poetics as Foer compares human victims of atrocity during the Holocaust with animal suffering and vice-versa. I read it through two models of creatureliness offered by Anat Pick and Eric Santner in order to gauge which model best suits my thesis. In Chapter Three, I move forward using Pick’s model of creatureliness to analyse two novels by J. M. Coetzee: in Disgrace, Coetzee traces a shared sense of vulnerability and affliction between humans and animals in Post-Apartheid South Africa, and in Elizabeth Costello the protagonist directly compares animal cruelty to the Holocaust. In my final chapter, I analyse Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson and ‘The Letter Writer’ by Isaac Bashevis Singer as two, contrasting ways by which authors compare our treatment of animals to the Holocaust, and see how well both forms fit with Michael Rothberg’s multidirectional model of memory. This allows me to question whether it is desirable or even possible to apply a multidirectional ethics to all creatures. Overall, this thesis questions how and why creatures are depicted in literatures of atrocity (particularly the Holocaust), and how and why we might choose to read literature through a creaturely prism.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Eaglestone, Robert, Supervisor
  • Roberts, Adam, Advisor
Award date1 Jun 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Holocaust
  • Creatureliness
  • Animal Studies
  • Literature
  • Multidirectional Memory

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