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Ordinary cats in Britain in the 1800s

2019 February 25

Cats – as well as as dogs – started to be included in the Battersea Dogs’ Home – as noted in The Strand Magazine of the 1890s.

A couple of years ago a one-off conference was held in Paris with mostly english presentations under the title of “Becoming animal with the Victorians” apparently explaining that “creatures comforted human beings in the nineteenth-century, and became them, not only in the sense of enhancing and suiting them but also by virtue of that human-animal ability to grow together in trust and tenderness.”

I gave a conference paper – though it was certainly not primarily based on the ability of humans to grow together with animals in trust and tenderness. Rather, I had been thinking instead about the way cats were treated at the time and in particular the way there were records of cats being skinned often stated , as The Times reported, in “ sausage-making, cat-skinning, knackers’ yards,bone-boilers”. I was not as convinced as some writers who have suggested that improvements had been fully made and that humans had led the way positively.

Writing in the conclusion of the article I thought there was not a comprehensive analysis of the changing feline – human relationship at that time .  This also started to encourage me to think more thoroughly about looking more broadly at the behaviour of cats themselves at this time – and who they related to.

Thus I am now writing a further book for the University of Chicago Press. The last one there in 2017 and 2018 was The Great Cat and Dog Massacre . The Real Story of Word War 11’s Unknown Tragedy. That was about the human killing of cats and dogs – but it was also about much of the behaviour of cats and dogs involved in their emotional support for humans . I am now going back in the past to the 1800s and exploring the ordinary cats including those who were home based or stray and also those who were skinned . I am  looking too at ordinary people including those campaigning against cruelty to cats.The position of stray cats and those spending time in the ordinary homes of ordinary people did exist. These animals were not just Siamese and Angora cats living with upper class women – as has been previously suggested.

This article alongside others of interest, including Silvia Granata’s work on Victorian marine animals, is in the journal Cahiers victoriens et edouardiens which is available for free online. It is written in English as well as being translated into French:

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