A Man in the Zoo & Lady into Fox by David Garnett
Until I encountered the blogosphere, I had only ever encountered David Garnett (1892-1981) as the author of a novel that Andrew Lloyd-Webber based his musical Aspects of Love on. Garnett was part of the Bloomsbury Group. He was lover of Duncan Grant, and his second wife was Angelica Bell.
His place in the literary pantheon was assured when his 1922 novella Lady Into Fox was a success; it was followed in 1924 by A Man in the Zoo. These two novellas have, in recent years, been frequently paired, both being about ‘animals’. Interestingly, Garnett’s Wikipedia biography says: “As a child, he had a cloak made of rabbit skin and thus received the nickname “Bunny”, by which he was known to friends and intimates all his life.” so maybe it’s not so surprising that amongst his first works were these novellas which are all about ‘animals’.
Both novellas do ‘exactly what they say on the tin’. A Man in the Zoo, features a man who becomes an exhibit in the zoo, and in Lady into Fox, a lady turns into a fox. However, they couldn’t be more different in their approaches to animals…
A Man in the Zoo is the story of John Cromartie and Josephine Lackett, and as it opens, they are visiting London Zoo in Regents Park; John is trying to persuade his posh girlfriend to marry him, but it turns into an argument:
‘No! You silly savage!’ said Josephine. ‘No, you wild beast. Can’t you understand that one doesn’t treat people like that? It is simply wasting my breath to talk. I’ve explained a hundred times I am not going to make father miserable. I am not going to be cut off without a shilling and become dependent on you when you haven’t enough money to live on yourself, to satisfy your vanity. My vanity, do you think having your in love with me pleases my vanity? I might as well have a baboon or a bear. You are Tarzan of the Apes; you ought to be shut up in the Zoo. The collection here is incomplete without you. You are a survival – atavism at its worst. Don’t ask me why I fell in love with you – I did, but I cannot marry Tarzan of the Apes, I’m not romantic enough. I see, too, that you do believe what you have been saying. You do think mankind is your enemy. I can assure you that if mankind thinks of you, it thinks you are the missing link. You ought to be shut up and exhibited here in the Zoo – I’ve told you once and now I tell you again – with the gorilla on one side and the chimpanzee on the other. Science would gain a lot.’ (page 7)
So John, maybe to spite Josephine’s rejection, does exactly what she suggests. The zoo jumps at the chance to exhibit a human alongside the other great apes, and ere long, John, installed in his cage becomes the new star attraction.
He uses his time to read and meditate on his new situation, finding himself quite at home and able to ignore the gawpers outside. The only thing that scares him is that Josephine might come to view him; likewise, she is scared of what she might find too. I can’t say more for there are many developments in this tale before it reaches a definitive ending.
In Lady into Fox, Richard and Sylvia Tebrick, a few months married are out walking in the countryside when they hear the hunt. Sylvia is scared, and cries out. A moment later:
Where his wife had been the moment before was a small fox, of a very bright red. It looked at him very beseechingly, advanced towards him a pace or two, and he saw at once that his wife was looking at him from the animal’s eyes. (page 4).
Richard saves Sylvia from the hounds and takes her home where he dismisses the servants, shoots his dogs, and they continue to live a semblance of normal life, she dressed in a little jacket. However, as the weeks go on, she starts to lose what keeps her human, and begins to become more feral, leaving Richard in anguish. As to what happens, again, I can’t say more.
The two stories may have opposite approaches towards animals, but they share a lot about what it is to be human rather than an animal. In one a human sees what is like to be treated as an animal, in the other a human actually becomes an animal and we’re shown that anthropomorphism is merely fantasy. Both require a leap in the imagination for the story to deliver, and both have difficult characters – the initially ghastly Josephine, and Richard in the other who can’t believe what is happening. I preferred A Man in the Zoo which is lighter than the other, but they were a fascinating counterpoint to each other. I’ll happily read more Garnett. I nearly forgot to mention the charming woodcuts that populate this edition. They’re by RA Garnett – a relative?
I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
A Man in the Zoo & Lady into Fox by David Garnett, Vintage paperback, 137 pages.