The Great Cat Massacre
|Original title||The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History|
|Subject||Early modern France|
|Genre||Histoire des mentalités, Cultural History|
The Great Cat Massacre is the title of a scholarly work on the cultural history of France by American historian Robert Darnton. The book, a series of essays, takes its name from its most famous chapter which describes and interprets an unusual source detailing the murder or "massacre" of cats during the late 1730s by apprentice printers living and working on Rue Saint-Séverin in Paris. Other chapters look at fairy tales, the writing of the Encyclopédie and other aspects of French early modern history.
Darnton, influenced by his colleague, anthropologist Clifford Geertz, aimed to gain greater insight into the period and social groups involved by studying what he perceived to be something which appeared alien to the modern mind – the fact that killing cats might be funny. He has been criticised for this, however, as some people throughout history have doubtless found such cruelty amusing.
The book containing this account, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, has become one of Darnton's most popular writings; it has been published in eighteen languages.
Darnton describes how, as the apprentices suffered hard conditions, they came to resent the favours which their masters gave to their cats, and contrived to deal with the nuisance cats by slaughtering them so as to distress their masters. Darnton interprets this as an early form of workers' protest. (As may the wife in the story, who says she believes that "they were threatened by a more serious kind of insubordination" beyond the simple stoppage of work.)
The cats were a favourite of the printer's wife and were fed much better than the apprentices, who were in turn served 'catfood' (rotting meat scraps). Aside from this, they were mistreated, beaten and exposed to cold and horrible weather. One of the apprentices imitated a cat by screaming like one for several nights, making the printer and his wife despair. Finally, the printer ordered the cats rounded up and dispatched. The apprentices did this, rounded up all the cats they could find, beat them half to death and held a 'trial'. They found the cats guilty of witchcraft and sentenced them to death by hanging.
- Faculty, Harvard University Department of History, 2015. Accessed 2015-12-10.
- Robert Darnton (1985). The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. ISBN 0-394-72927-7.
- Mark Levene, Penny Roberts (1999). The Massacre in History. Berghahn Books. ISBN 1-57181-934-7.
- Robert Darnton (1989). "The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History".
- Mah, Harold (Spring 1991). "Suppressing the Text: The Metaphysics of Ethnographic History in Darnton's Great Cat Massacre". History Workshop. 31: 1–20. JSTOR 4289048. doi:10.1093/hwj/31.1.1.
- Palmer, William (November 1986). "The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History by Robert Darnton". Theory and Society. 15 (6): 918–21. JSTOR 657413.
- Stewart, Philip (Winter 1985–1986). "The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. by Robert Darnton". Eighteenth-Century Studies. 19 (2): 260–264. JSTOR 2738646.