Where Have All The Bunnies Gone?

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’.

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By Angela Macmillan

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5 thoughts on “Where Have All The Bunnies Gone?”

  1. Hmm, you’re right.

    There are some rabbit-like creatures in Cowper’s poems for his pet hares, and there’s Norman Nicholson’s poem about them too, ‘Cowper’s Tame Hare’. The only outright rabbit poem that springs to mind isn’t exactly about a bunny. It’s John Kinsella’s bleak and forceful ‘Essay on Myxomatosis’. The rabbit probably turns up in literature more in a cookery context or in hunting scenes than as a creature one could know.

    I didn’t know it was rabbit week. Do we have to wear a ribbon of some kind? I vote orange with a tattered green fringe for the whole carrotiness of it.

  2. I like your design, but isn’t orange and green a little inflammatory in an Irish context? Unless the ribbon was recognisably in the shape of a carrot of course.

    As for cookery I can confirm that Hannah Glasse’s “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” (1747), sometimes known as “First Catch Your Hare” has some excellent rabbit recipes, some of which don’t contain sheep’s brains and are thus compatible with modern abbatoir regulations.

    I feel a recommendation coming on.

  3. Come on, chaps! You can’t have forgotten the rabbit, the great, the powerful, the overwhelmingly male rabbit of D.H. Lawrence? I can’t find my copy of The Rainbow – I can’t find much in my study, it’s disgusting hutch of a place – but Lawrence’s rabbit ( is it Gerald, holding it?) has great powerful back legs, and Gudrun is disgusted or fascinated – I want to say it is a white rabbit but I’m not sure that’s true. It has a wild eye, it looks dangerous, more like a beast, and it’s legs are scrabbling and kicking. Oh come on, one of you ordered folks whose books are not disordered – quote it for me.

  4. Are you thinking of Bismarck, Winifred’s black and white rabbit, Jane? If so, he’s in Chapter 18 of Women in Love and he’s treated very brutally by Gerald! (Is Gerald in The Rainbow?)

    You’re right Angie, ‘books are bereft of bunnies’ but if we put two bunny books together, we might get lots!

  5. @NOGGIN “if we put two bunny books together, we might get lots!”

    So that’s what’s been going on around here. Like Benjamin Bunny, who married his cousin Flopsy and had a large family, they are “improvident and cheerful”.

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