Dr. Dolittle, I Presume

A Reflection on the Reputation of Richard Lynch Garner

in Journeys
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  • 1 University of Notre Dame felipe.fernandez-armesto@nd.edu
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Richard Lynch Garner’s is a curious case in the history of the fragility of fame. Born in 1848, the explorer, zoologist, specimen hunter, and pioneer in linguistics, animal ethics, and primatology inspired at least one fictional character: the mysterious, offstage Dr. Johausen, the ape fancier who disappears from his jungle hide in Jules Verne’s missing-link fantasy Le Village aérien (Radick 2007: 124). If, as I presume for reasons that will become clear, Garner may also have contributed to the making of Hugh Lofting’s imperishable hero, Dr. Dolittle, it is perhaps surprising that no literary researcher, as far as I know, has ever undertaken to study him. For a brief spell in the early 1890s, around the time of a then-renowned (and soon to be notorious) expedition that he undertook to Fernan Vaz in French Gabon, Garner was one of the most celebrated men in the world—such that satirists had only to allude to him in the certainty that readers would know whom they meant (Radick 2007: 84–85, 123, 136–137). Yet he died in poverty in 1920 (at about the time of the publication of the first Dolittle book).

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