The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History. First Edition. Robert Darnton. New York: Basic Books, 1999 XIII + 298.
The Great Cat Massacre with out a doubt has one of the most unusual titles ever created especially for a book about history. Now this unusual title perhaps fits this book better than any other straight - forward title Mr. Darnton could have conjured. You see the text contained in the book isn't just your standardized, boring, and redundant view of history. Most historical text looks at history from a political standpoint, of which king did what and what were the political effects of a war; then what were the politics like after the war, how were they changed and by which major political figures did the changing. Darnton instead of the old style of viewing history looks at it through the eyes of the people, and not the figures of history. Mr. Darnton's book The Great Cat Massacre, reexamines French culture during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteen century with the eyes of the peasant's. Robert Darnton looks at the writings of the peasant's, and traces them to their origins and compares them to other text of similar origins and text, to create credible accounts or views of particular topics of the people during the era. In this review your going to see a summarization of the book, describing the various subjects of this book. After that I will comment on Mr. Darnton's on some topics like his organization, writing style, and fairness to his subject material, then discuss the historical importance of the topics that Robert Darnton mentions in his book and give you my personal opinion of the book its self. Next I will discuss with you a battery of topics like why I choose the book, is the book controversial, what was the authors purpose for writing the book, what were some of the major theses, who or what Darnton's sources were? Lastly I will end this review with a compare and contrast of potentially different views of what Robert Darnton is telling us in his book.
Robert Darnton starts The Great Cat Massacre with a rather repulsive version of Little Red Riding Hood. Red Riding Hood unknowingly eats her grandmother and drinks her blood, to be stripped naked and then eaten by the wolf. Now this is one of the earliest versions of this story ever found in fact Little Red doesn't even have a name she's just the "little girl". (Darnton Pg. 9) Darnton later explains that this version was the first recorded from oral tradition passed from generation to generation. Darnton uses the text to shatter the previous conceptions of this story. Next Darnton goes to explain the standard mode of processing the text, which would be to hire some psychoanalysts to break down the hidden meaning and intentions of the story's creator and or creators. In the case of Little Red Riding Hood they did just that two of the best known psychoanalysts, Erich Fromm and Bruno Bettelheim. The two psychoanalysts decipher the children's tale stating that the story concerns an adolescent's confrontation with adult sexuality and that the red hood as a symbol of menstruation and the bottle of milk a sign of virginity. Darnton goes on to later explain that this is not an accurate depiction of peasants concerns, but more so of the middle to upper class. Fromm and Bettelheim, according to Darnton never mentions their source, but Darnton would later state that it was derived from the Brothers Grimm tales.
In the following chapter we find out where the book's title comes from an actual historical event called "The Great Cat Massacre". In the chapter Darnton examines the gruesome yet comical account of some apprentices and journeymen working in the printing shop of Jacques Vincent. (Darnton Pg. 75) Told from the accounts of Nicolas Contat and other collaborating sources to explain the thought process behind their actions of that day. The event itself was a massive killing of cats in a sense to pay back for the...
Cited: Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History. First Edition. New York: Basic Books, 1999
Dewald, Jonathan. Roger Chartier and the fate of cultural history. French Historical Studies, Baton Rouge, Spring 1998
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