Cats and Writers Throughout History

Since the time before the written word, humans have been inspired by their fellow animals. In case of certain animals, the relationship has gone full circle from worship (ancient gods and goddesses with animal forms) to subordination (domestication) back around to worship. The dog, though certainly deserving of glorification due its tireless loyalty and affinity for humans, is in a way undeserving of worship due to those very traits. The cat, aloof and unknowable, is much more disposed to cultish devotion.

The cat influences a plethora of human works, especially literature. Aside from the obvious books which take cats as their subject, feline inspiration has spurred the creations of a wide variety a respected authors.

Edgar Allan Poe. Poe used cats as symbols of the sinister in several of his stories, although he himself owned and loved cats. His tortoiseshell cat, Catarina, was the inspiration for his story The Black Cat. In winter 1846, Catarina would curl up on the bed with Poe’s wife, who was dying of tuberculosis, and provide warmth.

The Brontë sisters, Anne, Emily and Charlotte, were nineteenth century poets and novelists, the daughters of a poor Irish clergyman. The three sisters were well-known as cat lovers. Their novels and poetry often included cats. Charlotte and Anne frequently referred to their cats in their diaries. “A cat is an animal that has more human feelings than almost any other being.” Emily Bronte

Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol) not only had a cat, Wilhelmina, but when she produced a litter of kittens, he kept one known as “Master’s Cat”. She stayed nearby as he wrote. Reports say that, when she wanted his attention, she would snuff out his reading candle.

Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist and poet best known as the author of the novel Little Women and its sequels. She once listed an “inordinate love of cats” among her faults, and her love of cats shone through her writing. In Little Women, the March sisters have a cat, and in the story Beth is seen playing with the cat and her kittens.

Raymond Chandler (Phillip Marlowe private eye novels) Chandler spoke to his black Persian, Taki, as if she were human (of course) and called her his secretary. She had a habit of sitting on his manuscripts as he tried to revise them. He once said, “A cat never behaves as if you were the only bright spot in an otherwise clouded existence…this is another way of saying that a cat is not a sentimentalist, which does not mean that it has no affection.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American abolitionist and author. She’s best known for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A Maltese cat allegedly walked into her house one day. She named it Calvin after her husband and it sat on her shoulder while she wrote.

An accurate list of writers and their cats would probably take up an entire book in itself. Here’s a further sampling:

“Everything human is alien to me.” Patricia Highsmith

So if you’re writing and you don’t have at least one cat, what are you waiting for?

Rosemary Stevens

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Cats and Writing

Would you believe that this cat lover grew up with a poodle named Napoleon? It’s true and rather ironic for someone who, as an adult, became fascinated with the Regency period of English history.

Through the years, cats usually chose me. Take the time I heard that a neighbor’s cat had given birth to orange tabby kittens. Coincidentally, I wanted an orange kitten, so I rushed over to pick one. I came home without a kitten, though. Why? A feisty gray kitten had upset my plans. He kept climbing all over me as if to say, “Take me! Take me!” I’d only been home a few hours when I made a decision and called the owners who wisely said, “We knew you’d be back for him.”

At one point, E, the little gray cat, was an only cat. This situation was unusual for me as I like to have a few cats around. I’d just finished reading all of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who mysteries and adored the adventures of KoKo and Yum Yum. It would be a year, though, before fate would lead me to two Siamese kittens of my own.

At the time I got King Rama, a gorgeous blue point Siamese, and General Chakkri, a classic seal point, I was enrolled in a creative writing course at the local community college. I’d known what kind of book I wanted to write for quite some time: a traditional (read: amusing) Regency romance. I’d done research and joined the local chapter of Romance Writers of America. A story brewed in my head but something was missing

.

Rama

One day, feeling down about other things in my life, I sat crying. Rama jumped in my lap and put a gentle paw on my face. I hugged him and said, “You’re my knight in shining armor, Rama.” And just like that, the Cats of Mayfair series was born. Each Regency romance in the series featured a cat that helped bring the hero and heroine together. I had no idea at the time if cats had been featured in romances, but my editor liked the idea.

In all four of my Regency romances, historical personage Beau Brummell had a cameo role. This wasn’t—and still isn’t—unusual as the Beau turns up regularly. But my fascination with him, and my frustration at his sometimes being portrayed in a less than favorable light, drew me to want to write about him. Surely this gentleman, who revolutionized men’s fashion, made the idea of bathing popular, was witty, and ran in aristocratic circles solved mysteries! And what’s more, he needed a Siamese cat.

Chakkri

My only problem was that there were no Siamese cats in England during the Regency period. But Beau needed a Siamese, I thought stubbornly. Why, Beau led fashion, always had the best, was the first to have the newest of anything. Aha! That was it! A gentleman from Siam traveling in London and picking up objects of beauty to take back to his king would be in competition with the Beau over a painting. Beau would lose, and the man would give him one of the cats from his homeland to compensate. Problem solved. Enter Beau’s Siamese cat, Chakkri, the bane of Brummell’s valet, Robinson’s, existence and surprisingly intuitive about crime.

So, you see, writing and cats have always gone together in my world.

I got to share twelve years with E, the little gray cat who stood in front of the oven every time I baked chicken hoping for a treat. My beloved Chakkri was taken away by cancer at only ten years old. Rama lived another two years before he succumbed as well.

Four years of grieving went by before I got Somdet Phra Narai (Narai) and Chao Fah (Cho), both of whom are classic seal points. I’ve not featured them in a story yet, although I have this idea for a story featuring Cho…

Cho
Narai

If you’d like to bring a Siamese cat into your life, please consider a rescue from Siamese Cat Rescue.

Rosemary Stevens

 

 

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