CTS logo
Hockliffe logo
Fables and Fairy Tales Stories Before 1850 Stories After 1850 Periodicals and Annuals Religious Books, Bibles, Hymns, etc Books of Instruction Nursery Rhymes and Alphabets
Movable and Toy Books; Myths and Heroes Poetry, Verse and Rhymes; Games Games and Pastimes Natural Science Geography and Travel History and Biography Mathematics
Previous Next

Fables and Fairy Tales. 0018: Anon., The History of Abou Casem, and His two remarkable Slippers [and] the History of the Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots

Author: Anon.
Title: The history of Abou Casem, and his two remarkable slippers; to which is added, the history of the Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots
Cat. Number: 0018
Date: No date but c.1825
1st Edition: 1790?
Pub. Place: Chelmsford
Publisher: I. Marsden
Price: 2d
Pages: 1 vol., 23pp.
Size: 13 x 7 cm
Illustrations: Five full page cuts including frontispiece, plus an illustrated outside back cover

Images of all pages of this book

Page 005 of item 0018

Introductory essay

The two tales which fit side by side into this volume seem unlikely companions. To start with, the History of Abou Casem is a largely unfamiliar piece, whilst 'Puss in Boots' has become one of the best known of all fairy tales. It first appeared, as Le Maistre Chat, ou le chat botté in 1697 as one of the tales in Charles Perrault's Histoires or Contes du Tempts Passé (often known as Contes de ma Mre L'Oye - the 'Tales of Mother Goose'). It was translated into English in 1729 and began to appear in collections of fairy tales, chapbooks and, later, on the stage. Abou Casem on the other hand apparently only appears in this edition.

Even more interesting is the contrast between the way in which social relations are treated by the two tales. Abou Casem is the story of a rich miser who learns from his misfortunes that his appearance and conduct ought to suit his elevated station in life. Though very rich, he continues to wear slippers which would only be fitting for a beggar, and it is these slippers which get him into trouble, eventually losing him his fortune. The man is made to fit the slippers, as it were, because Abou would not make the slippers fit the man. It is a point made, as the moral, by the Cadi at the end of the story:

those slippers would have been perfectly in character when worn by the pitiable object that solicits support from house to house; but when a man, whom I believe was once esteemed the richest in the city, debases himself so as to become the proprietor of such filthy articles, I do not wonder at the many misfortunes attending him. (pp.14-15)

The slippers stand as a symbol of his refusal to fulfil the proper duties of his station - to spend and thereby to distribute his fortune throughout society. Oriental tales, such as Abou Casem, frequently taught this lesson - that one should be content with one's station in life and seek to act consistently with it, whatever it might be. After all, the Orient was envisaged by writers of both children's and adult literature as the locus of opulence, wealth and easy social mobility, perhaps partly because of the increasing presence of 'nabobs' in Britain ('nabob' being a term applied, usually with disapproval, to Britons who had made fortunes in the East, especially India, and who returned to disrupt the old social order). The Orient was therefore regarded as the perfect setting for a narrative which proved the importance of a rigid social hierarchy and of everyone, rich as well as poor, knowing their place in it, sticking to it, and behaving accordingly.

If Abou Casem sought to teach social immobility, 'Puss in Boots' apparently endorsed the opposite lesson. Its hero starts as the son of a miller who has only the mill, a cow, and a cat to bequeath to his three sons. By the end of the tale, the third son, defying his humble origins and his status as youngest child, has become a marquis, the owner of vast estates, and the husband of the king's daughter. All this has been achieved through deceit, albeit on the part of the Master Cat (whose mastery over its 'master' provides a further example of the inversion of the normal hierarchies). It is unsurprising that in both earlier and later versions of 'Puss in Boots' this depiction of heroic social climbing by deceit came in for criticism. The most famous of the rather earnest Victorian reworkings of well-known fairy tales - George Cruikshank's Fairy Library (1870) - added a new ending which presented the ogre from whom Puss steals the castle for its master as a usurper, and the real owner of the castle to be none other than the miller, the father of our hero. The hero's rise to riches thus, in retrospect, becomes wholly legitimate. Another coda questioning the wisdom of the hero's sudden social advancement is attached to an earlier version of the tale that appears in the Pentamerone, a collection of fifty stories published in Naples in the 1630s (which contains several narratives that Perrault and others would later make famous). The cat elicits a promise from the enriched miller's son that, upon its death, it will be embalmed and set in a golden cage. The miller's son actually plans to do no such thing, as the cat discovers by feigning its own death. The cat departs with contemptuous words for all such jumped up, nouveau riche humans (Carpenter & Prichard 1984, 432-33).

See also Opie 1980.

Carpenter, Humphrey & Pritchard, Mari, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford: OUP, 1984

Opie, Peter and Iona, The Classic Fairy Tales, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, rpt. London, 1980