Nov 14, 2014

The Tiger in the House

A Cultural History of the Cat
by Carl Van Vechten

A wonderful compilation of all things relating to cats. In particular their history- how they have been treated by mankind throughout the ages in different cultures. The author is obviously very fond of cats and points out all their endearing traits throughout the book. Then mentions all the references he can think of from literature, art, poetry and even music that include cats. It is quite a jumble of observations and quotes, but very intriguing to read through. The chapter about ailurophobes, which describes how certain people loathed cats so much it was like a disease- they would physically suffer if one was in the room even unseen- made me wonder if this was simply a case of severe allergic reactions. The portion titled "Cats and the Occult" was rather horrific in describing all the ways cats have been tortured to death, thrown off towers, sacrificed for various reasons, their body parts ground up and skins used as cures, and one which I had never hear of and now wish I never had- the cat organ. Gah. Who ever thought such a thing was amusing? Then there are mentions of cats that lived in theaters and inspired (or hindered) the performers, cats that inspired musical compositions (some written to mimic the sound a cat makes walking across piano keys!) cats featured in poetry, and cats beloved by famed authors. There are a number of plates showing artwork and photographs of cats, but so many paintings were referenced in the book I wished to see more. And my only disappointment is that so very many quotes regarding cats were shared in French, with no translation provided. I could look up a few sayings and short poems, but entire passages nearly filling a page defeat me.

Rating: 3/5       425 pages, 1921


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

But didn't he not actually MAKE the cat organ? Wasn't the cat organ just a concept, never executed? That's my vague recollection of it, and I certainly hope it's the case. Either way, this book sounds great!

Jeane said...

I'm not sure. It seems scholars are uncertain whether one was ever actually made. There's a video of a guy playing one made with stuffed cat toys here!

Stefanie said...

I've heard of this book before and always thought I might look into and then it slipped from my mind. Thanks for the reminder!