Welcome to Catland: Where Feline Fantasy Meets Victorian Reality

Gray cat posing next to the book Catland

What spurred cat mania in the early twentieth century? Kathryn Hughes' enchanting book Catland: Louis Wain and the Great Cat Mania invites readers on a topsy-turvy journey through the transformation of cats from humble pest controllers to beloved household icons. Hughes traces the evolution of our feline friends and their cultural impact from the Victorian era to the early twentieth century through the life of Louis Wain, whose 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.

Book Catland, featuring a blue cover and a drawing of a psychedelic cat

Wain's whimsical illustrations of anthropomorphic cats captured the imagination of people worldwide. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Wain’s playful depictions of cats engaging in human activities like golfing, dining, and even attending the theater made him a household name. His work not only brought joy to countless families but also played a crucial role in reshaping public perceptions of cats.

Interior pages of the book Catland featuring illustrations

Catland also chronicles the rise of the modern cat show. These events were a far cry from today’s exhibitions; they were grand affairs where cats were judged on their appearance, their lineage, and their temperament. Hughes explores the eccentric world of cat fanciers who meticulously bred cats to create new, exotic breeds that became the stars of these shows while weaving in broader cultural shifts. The Victorian era was a time of immense social change, and the transformation of cats from street wanderers to prized pets reflected this. Cats began to appear in literature, advertisements, and even political cartoons, symbolizing various societal themes from domesticity to rebellion. 

Interior of the book Catland shows a picture of a cat

Readers will be delighted by the myriad feline characters that populate Catland. From the Duchess of Bedford’s croquet-playing cats to the extraordinary tale of Arthur Young, the original "cat burglar," each story is a testament to the unique bond between humans and cats. Hughes also explores how notable historical figures, such as Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale, interacted with their feline companions, offering a personal glimpse into their lives. While Catland predominantly focuses on Britain, it also explores the global reach of cat mania. Cats became cultural icons in America, France, Germany, and Japan. This international perspective enriches the narrative and illustrates how cats became a universal symbol of both comfort and curiosity. 

A quote about Catland from Elaine Showalter

This enchanting tale celebrates the whimsical world of cats and their profound impact on human culture. Whether you’re a seasoned cat aficionado or simply curious about the cultural history of these beloved pets, this book promises a delightful journey into a world where cats reign supreme. Welcome to Catland!

A gray cat posing next to the book Catland
Written by: Kris Lykke
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