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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Your Affectionate Pussy": Hilarious and Charming 19th Century Animal Books

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 7:00 AM

FROM 1880'S "LETTERS FROM A CAT"
  • From 1880's "Letters From a Cat"
Your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from Golden State thrift stores, estate sales, and, in this case, online archives.

19th Century Animal-Related Kids' Books from the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive in San Francisco is justly heralded as an invaluable free research tool for scholars, writers, and anyone interested in the cultural life of a bygone age.

But, like the past itself, it is also an inexhaustible source of weirdness and hilarity, as the "Aff Pussy" to the right capably demonstrates.

Rooting through the Archive's thousands of fully scanned books this week, I discovered Letters From a Cat, an 1879 wonder of gentle absurdity and accidental dirtiness. Here's the best of that book, and then some quick highlights from others I hit upon while digging deeper. Enjoy!

archive_letters_from_a_cat_intro.jpg

That's from the introduction, in which a little girl named Helen tells the story of the cat who became her penpal. Like all good children's stories, this one opens with a scene of primal horror:

click to enlarge archive_letters_from_a_cat_intro_20.jpg

Two pages later, the young girl's cat has been taken to the mill by a cousin and drowned. "'You will never see your Pussy anymore,'" the mother says, so upsetting the daughter that, at the end of the introduction, she makes this vow of chastity:

archive_letters_from_a_cat_25.jpg

Then come the letters, a hundred pages worth, all signed "Your Affectionate Pussy" and all sent before the time of the drowning. In fact, from a narrative standpoint, there's no need to have included the drowning at all.

click to enlarge lettersfromcatpu00jackiala_0069.jpg

The letters are written with a greater vocabulary, and adult wistfulness, and a tasteful lack of fuss. They sound less like the letters of a cat than they do the letters of longtime New Yorker editor William Shawn:

"I hope you find the horse-chestnuts I put in the bottom of the carriage for you. I could not think of anything else to put in, which would remind you of me: but I am afraid you will never think that it was I who put them there, and it will be too bad if you don't, for I had a dreadful time climbing up over the dasher with them, and both my jaws are quite lame from stretching them so, to carry the biggest ones I could find."

Here's what that chestnut operation looked like:

letters_from_a_cat_carriage.jpg

Just goes to show you, back then or today: The back seat is a dangerous place for . . . well, you know.

Next: Other books, other craziness

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Alan Scherstuhl

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