Beware the Cat

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Beware the Cat (1561) is a short English novel written by the printer's assistant and poet William Baldwin (sometimes called Gulielmus Baldwin), in early 1553.

Beware the Cat is notable as the first horror fiction text longer than a short story, and it has been claimed by academics as the first novel ever published in English.[1]

Publication history[edit]

The work languished unpublished after 1553, due to the change in the political climate under Mary Tudor, but it was eventually published – perhaps with some revision – in 1561 (suppressed by the state, and now lost) and again in 1570 (now only known via a Victorian era transcript, other than four pages that still exist) and finally in 1584. The work was dedicated to the actor John Young. In the 1570 quarto edition it is titled: A MARVELOVS hystory intitulede, Beware the Cat. Conteynyng diuerse wounderfull and incredible matters. Uery pleasant and mery to read. On publication in its 1570 edition it was subject to an anonymous poetic riposte of 56 lines, "A shorte Answere to the boke called: Beware the Cat", which rebukes the author for making fun of the narrator Master Gregory Streamer (who is not otherwise known to have really existed). The novel survived the centuries, and was published in Typographical Antiquities (1786) as a fine example of black-letter printing. It was also known in mid-Victorian times, since it was published by the Chetham Society in their volume Remains, Historical & Literary (1860). It received almost no attention from literary scholars, although William P. Holden produced an obscure edition in the original archaic English, issued from Connecticut College in 1963. A full scholarly edition only appeared in 1988 (Ringler and Flachmann), after which some further scholarly papers appeared.

The text of some versions is accompanied by paratextual notes allegedly by the author/narrator, which run down the page, and which at key plot points attempts to explicate the author's opinions on women's roles in society, the practice of magic, and cats.


There is an anti-Catholic undercurrent in the plot (with one later scholar claiming that the "cats" symbolised "Catholics")[2][better source needed], but many of the allusions are now lost and many such aspects of the book may not even be noticed by modern readers. The initial setting is in London in the reign of Edward VI. The story is framed by the oration of an embedded first-person narrator on a cold Christmas night, one Master Streamer, who recounts a complex cycle of interlinked stories to two of his friends as they share his bed. These stories feature a version of "The King of the Cats", an Irish werewolf, the Grimalkin, and an underworld society of talking cats, among several other horror and magical/supernatural elements such as an ancient book of forbidden lore and magic potions. The use of dialogue is highly advanced for the time, the characters are clearly drawn, and the description of the London streets is vivid (such as a unique account of a Tudor printing house and its yard at Aldersgate). The subtlety of the anti-Catholic sentiment also sets it apart as a knowing piece of effective propaganda. The first two sections are essentially horror stories, and the book is then lightened with a third and more comedic section.

In its structure the book resembles the ring composition method found in fairy tales and preliterate storytelling.

A later (1584) edition of the text included a poem entitled 'T.K To the Reader' which makes more overt the anti-Catholic sentiments. This possibly gave that particular version of the text a more political reading than Baldwin had originally intended.[3]


An abridged adaptation, put into modern English, was published in Tales of Lovecraftian Cats (2010).

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Ringler, William A. and Michael Flachmann eds. "Preface." Beware the Cat. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1988.
  2. ^ "Cats in Early Modern Period Literature - Beware the Cat 1570". The Great Cat. 2013-09-13. Retrieved 2017-11-28. 
  3. ^

External links[edit]