Metamorphosis: Humans and Animals

Timothy C. Baker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In Shire, a brief collection combining fiction and memoir, Ali Smith offers several different combinations of the human, the natural, and the book. In ‘The Beholder’ the recently bereaved narrator notices a spot on her chest that she can only describe as ‘woody, dark browny greeny, sort-of circular, ridged a bit like bark’.1 This spot, which initially defies clear linguistic categorisation, soon develops into a rose bush, specifically the David Austin variety Young Lycidas, named after Milton’s elegy. Milton, the narrator explains, deserved to have a rose named after him because ‘he was a great maker-up of words’, notably ‘gloom’ and ‘lovelorn’ (27). The narrator’s partial metamorphosis allows her to express or even embody not only the emotions she has repressed after her bereavement, but the very language necessary for them. While she can only describe her myriad troubles as ‘the usual’, the very unusual growth in her chest ultimately allows her to engage with the world, as the rose petals are spread across the city by the wind (11). As in Smith’s earlier novel Girl Meets Boy and Luke Sutherland’s Venus as a Boy, both of which are couched in the language of myth and fairy tales, physical transformation is not only liberating, but allows for the revelation of the protagonists’ inner identities and ultimately a sharing of individual experience.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContemporary Scottish Gothic
Subtitle of host publicationMourning, Authenticity, and Tradition
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-45720-2
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-45719-6, 978-1-349-49861-1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NamePalgrave Gothic
ISSN (Print)2634-6214
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6222

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, Timothy C. Baker.


  • Binary Opposition
  • Fairy Tale
  • Human Form
  • Previous Chapter
  • Rose Petal


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