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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