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Precarious Partners

Horses and Their Humans in Nineteenth-Century France

Precarious Partners

Horses and Their Humans in Nineteenth-Century France

From the recent spate of equine deaths on racetracks to protests demanding the removal of mounted Confederate soldier statues to the success and appeal of War Horse, there is no question that horses still play a role in our lives—though fewer and fewer of us actually interact with them. In Precarious Partners, Kari Weil takes readers back to a time in France when horses were an inescapable part of daily life. This was a time when horse ownership became an attainable dream not just for soldiers but also for middle-class children; when natural historians argued about animal intelligence; when the prevalence of horse beatings led to the first animal protection laws; and when the combined magnificence and abuse of these animals inspired artists, writers, and riders alike.
Weil traces the evolving partnerships established between French citizens and their horses through this era. She considers the newly designed “races” of workhorses who carried men from the battlefield to the hippodrome, lugged heavy loads through the boulevards, or paraded women riders, amazones, in the parks or circus halls—as well as those unfortunate horses who found their fate on a dinner plate. Moving between literature, painting, natural philosophy, popular cartoons, sports manuals, and tracts of public hygiene, Precarious Partners traces the changing social, political, and emotional relations with these charismatic creatures who straddled conceptions of pet and livestock in nineteenth-century France.

240 pages | 4 color plates, 28 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Animal Lives

Culture Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory, Romance Languages


"A rich and sophisticated analysis that uses materials from literary fiction to fine art, ephemera and philosophy.”

History Today

Precarious Partners offers an insightful and illuminating exploration of horse-human relations in nineteenth-century France… Weil’s command of written and visual sources is outstanding throughout the book.”

H-France Review

Precarious Partners brilliantly ties horse-human relations to questions of race, gender, class, and species in nineteenth-century France. From ‘women on horseback’ to pity for horses to the consumption of horsemeat; and from natural history to art history, philosophy, literature, and politics, Weil’s wide-ranging and interdisciplinary study makes an outstanding contribution to French studies, cultural history, and animal studies.”

Peter Sahlins, author of 1668: The Year of the Animal in France

“Weil’s gentle prose effortlessly unfolds the most complex overlapping of human and equine histories. Her finely detailed research holds our most alert attention in that she demonstrates how equestrian worlds produce intricate formations of race, gender, sexuality, and species within and beyond their ostensible domain. Precarious Partners is intensely readable and leaves the reader wanting to follow its every thread.”

Lynn Turner, coeditor of The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies

Table of Contents


Introduction: The Most Beautiful Conquest of Man?

1. Heads or Tails? Painting History with a Horse
2. Putting the Horse before Descartes: Sensibility and the War on Pity
3. Making Horsework Visible: Domestication and Labor from Buffon to Bonheur
4. Let Them Eat Horse
5. Purebreds and Amazons: Race, Gender, and Species from the Second Empire to the Third Republic
6. “The Man on Horseback”: From Military Might to Circus Sports
7. Animal Magnetism, Affective Influence, and Moral Dressage



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