Subscribe The Great Cat Massacre In Paris in the s, a group of printing apprentices tortured and ritually killed all the cats they could find. What does this macabre story tell us about the culture and society of eighteenth-century France? Robert Darnton Published in History Today Volume 34 Issue 8 August The funniest thing that ever happened in the printing shop of Jacques Vincent, according to a worker who witnessed it, was a riotous massacre of cats. The worker, Nicolas Contat, told the story in an account of his apprenticeship in the shop, rue Saint-Severin, Paris, during the late s. Life as an apprentice was hard, he explained. There were two of them: Jerome, the somewhat fictionalised version of Contat himself, and Leveille, They slept in a filthy freezing room, rose before dawn, ran errands all day while dodging insults from the journeymen and abuse from the master, and received nothing but slops to eat.
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Jul 05, David rated it really liked it Given the peculiarities of the Irish educational system, at the end of 10th grade there was a forced choice between physics and history, so my formal study of history ended when I was I was happy to be rid of it at the time - my brain did fine with analytical stuff like science and languages, but history was just too unruly to get a handle on and it always brought down my grade average.
And, of course, at age 14 it was completely impossible to think of it as anything but useless. Naturally, Given the peculiarities of the Irish educational system, at the end of 10th grade there was a forced choice between physics and history, so my formal study of history ended when I was The Great Cat Massacre was one of the books that helped me overcome my aversion to reading about history I Claudius was another.
It also planted a strong suspicion that my previous difficulties with the subject were most likely due to the abysmal way in which it was taught. It seems silly now, but when I first read it in ? So I had fond memories of the book when I undertook a re-reading this past weekend. After 25 years, would it be as good as I remembered, or would it crumble to little more than that inspired title which is pure genius, by any standards?
It comprises six essays, each of which considers a very specific aspect of life in France during the first half of the 18th century, using a particular incident or set of documents as a point of departure. An extensive description of the town of Montpellier in by an anonymous but solidly bourgeois citizens provides a remarkable glimpse of the power structure, relationships between the different classes and prevailing attitudes.
Darnton is very readable, though I found some of his inferences less persuasive on this second reading. The best essays are the title piece and the analysis of folktales; the glimpse into 18th century reading habits is also pretty irresistible.
Overall, the flaws are still pretty minor. Darnton is an intelligent and engaging writer, and the three standout essays in the collection are more than worth the price of admission.
The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History
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