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Animality, compassion and otherness in Restif de La Bretonne. A cross-reading of the «Lettre d’un singe» and the «Découverte australe»

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Through a cross-reading of the fictional epistle Lettre d’un singe aux êtres de son espèce, and the utopia La Découverte australe par un homme volant, this article aims to highlight the originality of the conception of animality expressed by the polygraph Nicolas-Edme Restif de La Bretonne (1734-1806). Indeed, Restif is able in these writings, thanks to an imaginative representation of animality, to go beyond the simple criticism of anthropocentrism, to insert animal literature at the centre of the process of «invention» of the rights of man and woman typical of the Enlightenment. Restif’s work is indeed focused – from a philosophical point of view – on the imaginative and projective dimension of compassion, mobilised by fiction, which allows the subject to go beyond his usual picture of life, until authentically sympathising with all possible forms of otherness, embodied by the non-human animal – the monkey protagonist of the Lettre d’un singe – and by the half-breed, i.e. the beastmen described in the utopian novel La Découverte australe.


  • Restif de La Bretonne
  • Animality
  • Monkey
  • Compassion
  • Human rights


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