Angela Macmillan ponders the under-representation of rabbits in grown-up literature.
Eight thirty this morning found me at the vet’s with a frantic dog who was desperately trying to be somewhere else. During a brief lull in between his barking and tugging I saw a notice on the wall announcing that next week is, believe it or not, National Rabbit Week. Later, after the dog and I had had our shots–he of anti inflammatory stuff and me espresso–I started to think about rabbits in literature.
Rabbits have done what rabbits do best all over children’s literature. There are dozens of them: Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Rabbit ( plus friends and relations), Miffy, Velveteen Rabbit, Brer Rabbit and so on. They appear fairly frequently in crossover literature too: Bigwig, Hazel and of course the White Rabbit. But apart from an excellent, if grim, short story called ‘The Little Pet’ by Dan Jacobson, I just can’t think of an adult book featuring rabbits. Dogs, cats, horses by the score but adult literature, as far as I know, is a rabbit free zone. Surely there is at least one rabbit reference somewhere in Shakespeare?
There is John Updike’s Rabbit of course, but that is cheating. So what about poetical rabbits? I am drawing a bunny blank here as well. I can only come up with Alan Brownjohn’s ‘Going to See the Rabbit’ which is really a poem for children but has an adult theme. And I think there is something by D.H. Lawrence, but it is not in any of my anthologies.
The dog is much better and fast asleep beside me dreaming, no doubt, of racing up Watership Down so I leave you to ponder with this quotation from John Steinbeck no less:
‘Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen’.
By Angela Macmillan
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