The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History

Publication Year

Contains a famous essay first published in 1984 on “the great cat massacre” about a 1730s incident in which underfed and overworked apprentices at a print shop in Paris were ordered to murder every stray cat they could find as the cats were keeping the household up at night. They turned the order into an opportunity to insult their master and his wife, who gave the order, by also killing her prize gray cat, which she had specifically told them not to frighten. Explains many different popular tortures involving cats in the early modern period and different understandings of what cats and killing cats symbolized. While not taking on the perspective of the cats and remaining focused on the workers in a style of history known as l’histoire des mentalités (history of the mentalities) of ordinary people, this essay influenced those who do animal-human history like Hilda Kean, whose title The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War II’s Unknown Tragedy alludes to Darnton’s classic piece.