Can the hunter love the hunted? An exploration of our relationship with animals through the writings of Henry Williamson author of Tarka the otter.

Authors: Beer, S.

Conference: 11th International Critical Management Studies Conference

Dates: 27-29 June 2019


In this paper, I focus on the connections between the hunter and the hunted within the works of Henry Williamson, in order to explore the ethical relationships between animals and humans and also between humans and humans. Lefebvre (2004) maintains that the increasing dominance and in effect ‘industrialization’ of our relationship with animals laid the foundations for the dominance and ‘industrialization’ of our relationships with each other. It can be considered that this process of animal domination by humans starts with hunter gatherers and finishes(?) with the industrial farming of today, where sheds of 30,000 chickens are ready for slaughter in six weeks. Whether this then gives rise to inhumanity, or whether the inhumanities that humans have vented on each other over thousands of years arose from a common source -a ‘truly’ selfish gene perhaps (Dawkins 1976)- and developed in parallel, is open to debate

Henry Williamson (1895-1977) was a British author, who is principally famous for his nature writing, in particular the novel Tarka the otter (Williamson 1927) which won the Hawthornden Prize in 1928. The book, is set in in North Devon in the south-west of England. It tells the story of the life of Tarka and Tarka’s relationship with the otter hunters and their hounds, particularly a hound called Deadlock. Williamson also wrote books, in which he reflected on village life in North Devon between the first and Second World Wars (Williamson 1933, 1934). Much of this writing explored the dynamics of power in these rural communities. Williamson comes across as a complicated individual, on the one hand very unconventional, but from another perspective he had a feeling for the ‘established order’ (Lamplugh1990; Williamson 1995). There is romanticism in his writing in terms of nature as it appears; whether this is of the natural world or the ‘nature’ of the human communities. At the same time there is a raw edge. Nature can be seen ‘red in tooth and claw’. Humans can be seen to be domineering and spiteful.

What can also be seen in Williamson’s writing is connection. There is a strong connection between Tarka, the hunters and the natural environment. The people in the villages are strongly connected to each other and the countryside in which they live. This connection or belonging can be seen as a counterpoint to increasingly disconnected and disembodied modern lives. There is a view that the hunter kills to eat or to protect resources. In the modern world many hunt for ‘pleasure’, but maybe pleasure was always involved. At the same time most of those that eat meat kill by proxy, food arriving on a polystyrene tray covered in cling film. People are made redundant by text and enemies killed by drone. It may well be in more ‘primitive’ situations that we find true connection, a bodily understanding. Why should the hunter not love the hunted?

Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Lamplugh, L. (1990). Shadowed man: Henry Williamson, 1895-1977. Dulverton, UK: The Exmoor Press Lefebvre, H. (2004). Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. New York: Continuum.

Williamson, A. (1995). Henry Williamson Tarka and the last romantic. Stroud, UK: Sutton publishing Ltd.

Williamson, H. (1927). Tarka the otter. London, UK: G. P. Putnam & Sons.

Williamson, H. (1933). The village book. London, UK: Jonathan Cape.

Williamson, H. (1944). Tales of the Devon village. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

Source: Manual