Louis Wain and the Great Cat Mania
How cat mania exploded in the early twentieth century, transforming cats from pests into beloved pets.
In 1900, Britain and America were in the grip of a cat craze. An animal that had for centuries been seen as a household servant or urban nuisance had now become an object of pride and deep affection. From presidential and royal families who imported exotic breeds to working-class men competing for cash prizes for the fattest tabby, people became enthralled to the once-humble cat. Multiple industries sprung up to feed this new obsession, selling everything from veterinary services to leather bootees via dedicated cat magazines. Cats themselves were now traded for increasingly large sums of money, bolstered by elaborate pedigrees that claimed noble ancestry and promised aesthetic distinction.
In Catland, Kathryn Hughes chronicles the cat craze of the early twentieth century through the life and career of Louis Wain. Wain's anthropomorphic drawings of cats in top hats falling in love, sipping champagne, golfing, driving cars, and piloting planes are some of the most instantly recognizable images from the era. His round-faced fluffy characters established the prototype for the modern cat, which cat "fanciers" were busily trying to achieve using their newfound knowledge of the latest scientific breeding techniques. Despite being a household name, Wain endured multiple bankruptcies and mental breakdowns, spending his last fifteen years in an asylum, drawing abstract and multicolored felines. But it was his ubiquitous anthropomorphic cats that helped usher the formerly reviled creatures into homes across Europe.
Beautifully illustrated and based on new archival findings about Wain's life, the wider cat fancy, and the media frenzy it created, Catland chronicles the fascinating history of how the modern cat emerged.
About the Author
Kathryn Hughes is emerita professor of life writing at the University of East Anglia and a literary critic for The Guardian. She is the author of Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum and George Eliot: The Last Victorian.
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