Precarious PartnersHorses and Their Humans in Nineteenth-Century France

Precarious PartnersHorses and Their Humans in Nineteenth-Century France

Kari Weil

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226686233

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Horses became an inescapable part of daily life in nineteenth-century France, a time when natural historians debated the purpose of domestication, when artists judged animal emotions from equine eyes, and when the prevalence of horse beatings inspired the first animal protection laws. The combined and contradictory beauty and abuse of horses inspired artists, writers and riders alike. Moving between literature, art, natural philosophy, popular cartoons, sport manuals and tracts of public hygiene, this book traces changes in human-horse relations from the psychological intimacies painted by Théodore Géricault to manifestations of willed cooperation in paintings of Rosa Bonheur. It charts the rise and fall of the “man on horseback” from Napoleon to the fin-de siècle circus and the increasing visibility (and distrust) of the woman rider or “amazone” from Gautier to Maupassant. Addressing Jacques Derrida’s “war on pity” in regard to animal suffering it considers the contest of human and animal labor practices as seen in widely publicized essay contests and in works of Eugène Sue, Charles Baudelaire and Émile Zola. As the book illustrates how the democratization of riding brought with it an equestrian rhetoric inflected by sex, class and race, it also shows how horse breeding overlapped with national concerns over the degeneration of the French race, and how notions of dressage offered a new model for training the “brutish” masses. At its center the book questions how and why such partnerships between human and horse could also end with horsemeat on the dinner plate.