In a brilliant, original rendition, Monsters of the Gévaudan revisits a spellbinding French tale that has captivated imaginations for over two hundred years, and offers the definitive explanation of the strange events that underlie this timeless story.
In 1764 a peasant girl was killed and partially eaten while tending a flock of sheep. Eventually, over a hundred victims fell prey to a mysterious creature, or creatures, whose cunning and deadly efficiency terrorized the region and mesmerized Europe. The fearsome aggressor quickly took on mythic status, and the beast of the Gévaudan passed into French folklore
What species was this killer, why did it decapitate so many of its victims, and why did it prefer the flesh of women and children? Why did contemporaries assume that the beast was anything but a wolf, or a pack of wolves, as authorities eventually claimed, and why is the tale so often ignored in histories of the ancien régime? Smith finds the answer to these last two questions in an accident of timing. The beast was bound to be perceived as strange and anomalous because its ravages coincided with the emergence of modernity itself
Expertly situated within the social, intellectual, cultural, and political currents of French life in the 1760s, Monsters of the Gévaudan will engage a wide range of readers with both its recasting of the beast narrative and its compelling insights into the allure of the monstrous in historical memory.
Year of publication of the presented edition : 2011 (March,15) (392 pages)
Reissued in 2021
Editor : Harvard University Press
The author :
Jay M. Smith is a specialist of early-modern France, especially in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most of his work traces the negotiation of change over time, and he often uses the history of language to gain access to processes of change. Smith has written about the development of royal absolutism, the emergence of patriotic habits of thought under the old regime, the origins of the French Revolution, the history of the nobility, and the fascinating legend surrounding the beast of the Gévaudan. He also wrote, with Mary Willingham, an exposé of the UNC athletic-academic scandal. He is now working on a comparative study of the emergent concept of political accountability in the eighteenth-century North Atlantic.