BtC 14/22. Aside. The Genre Styles of Beware the Cat

We are two-thirds the way through!

But what kind of story is this?

The opening third of the story may have a sense of the horror story about it but the story overall is dominated by comedy. Even the story of the Irish brigand encountering Grimalkin has a sense of the ridiculousness about it.

Mr Streamer is always a figure of fun but there is little straight mockery of him (although many sardonic comments from Baldwin in the margins – which I haven’t included). In essays I’ve read on Beware the Cat, the assumption is that Mr Streamer is possibly fictitious and possibly a composite of other people. However, I wonder if Baldwin’s comments about Mr Streamer in the opening letter are more genuine than they appear:

I have written for your mastership’s pleasure one of the stories which Mr. Streamer told last Christmas – which you so would have heard reported by Mr Ferrers himself. Although I am unable to tell it as pleasantly as he could, I have nearly used both the order and words of him that spoke them. I doubt not that he and Mr. Willet shall in the reading think they hear Mr Streamer speak, and he himself shall doubt whether he speaks.

I wonder if Mr Streamer was an act rather than a composite character – somebody who tells tall tales in character? If so, whether the framing device is not so much a fiction as a description of when Baldwin played at being Mr Streamer for the entertainment of his room mates.

Amid the comedy there are darker themes. The apparent trial in the third part of the story of Mouseslayer the cat, is because she defended herself from a sexual assault. Early in part one, Mr Streamer expresses his disgust with the practice of displaying the bodies of executed people. The book only touches on these tangentially but they are at odds with the more comedic elements.

The book is known to be satire and the author makes use of allegory but there are no simple correspondences. There are devout but hypocritical Catholic women in part three but they aren’t straight parodies of the future Queen Mary. Allegory is not used systematically and any given character may move express Catholic sentiments or anti-Catholic ones, even Mr Streamer (e.g. comparing the superstitious hunters to papists).

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