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Teaching an old dog new tricks? Romance, ethics and Human-Dog relationships in a rural Australian novel

By L. O'Mahony


Rachael Treasure is Australia’s most popular author in the mainstream rural romance genre. Her novels combine bush or agricultural landscapes with gutsy heroines who are keen to transcend the context’s sexist pecking order. This article focuses on the representation of working dogs, romance and the ethics plot in Treasure’s first novel, Jillaroo (2002). Dogs, particularly the heroine’s well trained kelpies, progress and hinder the novel’s romance; they play a central role in some of the romantic elements yet are conspicuously absent in others. Relationships between humans and dogs unlock the novel’s ethics plot. This plot emphasises certain behaviours and attitudes between humans and non-humans and aligns readers’ sympathies with particular characters while encouraging disidentification with others. Jillaroo’s heroine Rebecca Saunders and her dogs undertake typical farm jobs efficiently and economically thereby securing her entry into spaces usually reserved for men. Rebecca shows herself to be equal, if not superior, in action and knowledge to the men who populate such contexts. Dogs therefore assist in constructing Rebecca as an example of Sherri Inness’s ‘tough woman’, heroines who use their “body, attitude, action, and authority” (Inness 24) to challenge the dominance of male heroes in popular culture and disrupt gender roles and stereotypes. Dogs also complicate Rebecca’s gender construction by undercutting and disturbing her feminine gender performances. For the novel’s male characters, interactions with dogs indicate their mental health and their “interspecies competence” (Fudge 11). A close reading of the relationships between Jillaroo’s main characters and dogs reveals that the narrative endorses and rejects particular human-human, human-animal and human-environment behaviours, ultimately positioning readers to value the ethical treatment of others (human and non-human) and the environment. Overall, Jillaroo’s romance narrative and representation of working dogs emphasises contemporary gender, environmental and animal rights issues in rural Australia, imparting a vital lesson to readers about the ethical treatment of others

Publisher: International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
Year: 2014
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Provided by: Research Repository
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