Petkeeping in Nineteenth-Century Paris


 Over the intense research and archival riches of what was a clever dissertation, Kete (History/Trinity College) raises some lofty theories about modernism, culture, gender, and class that displace and obscure an inherently interesting social history of pets, especially dogs, among 19th-century middle-class Parisians. In spite of the cozy title, Kete's concern is with ``paradigms,'' ``hegemonies,'' ``counter-icons,'' and ``constructions.'' After considering the way humans treat dogs--their abuse by the working class and by scientists, their need for protection in refuges created by women and in pounds invented by men--Kete explains their identification with fidelity as a substitute for human infidelity and their reputed heroism as a comment on the unheroic in 19th-century society. A chapter follows on the taxing of dogs and their classification into luxuries or working beasts, and then another on aquariums and dog-breeding, the controlled, ``denatured'' world of pets, the domestic panorama, the ``corrigible universes of little worlds'' they inhabited. The theme of interiorization, of domesticity, continues with a chapter on dog-care books, discipline, hygiene, and control followed by a chapter on rabies, a disease believed in the 19th century to be caused by sexual frustration in overdomesticated animals and thought to produce sexual excess in the human beings they infected. There is a final chapter on cats, the anti-pets, their reputation for sexuality, perfidy, and manipulation, and their association with marginal human types such as intellectuals. During this period the cat was ``rehabilitated'' to display loyalty. In the tradition of Foucault, Kete uses ordinary, obscure, and private experience to illuminate the public and official world. Ironically, her philosophical jargon excludes the very people and class she is studying. Insightful, though selective and structurally fragmented, the technique overwhelms the subject.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-520-07101-8
Page count: 204pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1994