Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cats in books

This is not really a bookish post.  I lost a cat this past weekend.  She was 17 years old, and in the first stages of kidney disease, but she'd just had a check-up and the tests showed that she was stable.  Then Saturday night she started having trouble breathing.  After hours at the emergency vet clinic, they told me it was probably a tumor in her chest, which was confirmed by tests the next day.  Apparently these often develop in older cats, which I never knew.  The tumor she had attached itself to her heart, and there was really nothing to do, except let them end her suffering.  It was so sudden that it has kind of left me in shock, reaching for comfort books (Georgette Heyer, P.G. Wodehouse) and comfort foods (malted milkshakes and chai latte).  My other cat refused to eat for a couple of days, but now she seems less stressed.

On that very long Sunday, waiting for the call about the second tests, I started thinking about cats in books. Making a list of my favorites proved a nice distraction, and later I went trolling through the bookshelves, looking for them.

The first literary cats I met might have been in the Little House books, Black Susan in the Big Woods and then Kitty in the Dakota territory, plus the barn cats in Farmer Boy that Almanzo feeds with warm new milk. These aren't really pets, they are working animals on the farms.  The Ingalls get Kitty after Pa wakes up in the middle of the night with a mouse chewing on his hair, and Susan is the best mouser in the Big Woods.  But the cats also help make their homes cozy, as in the Big Woods:
The sunshine came streaming through the windows into the house, and everything was so neat and pretty  . . .  The pantry door stood wide open, giving the sight and smell of goodies on the shelves, and Black Susan came purring down the stairs from the attic, where she had been taking a nap.

I think Elizabeth Peters has more cats in her books than any author I've read.  In the Amelia series, it begins with the matriarch Bastet, a large brindled Egyptian cat, who bonds with the young Ramses:
[John] followed Ramses' every step and scarcely took his eyes off the boy.  He attended to the needs of Bastet, such as they were; the cat required far less attendance than a human child. (Which is one of the reasons why spinster ladies prefer felines to babies.)  Ramses had not insisted on bringing the cat; he had simply taken it for granted that she would accompany him.  The few occasions on which they had been parted had proved so horrendous for all concerned that I gave in with scarcely a struggle.  (The Mummy Case)
When Bastet dies years later, the family keeps pushing kittens on Ramses, but it takes him a long time to connect with another cat.

There is also the cat-filled mansion of Aunt Kate, in Devil-May-Care, one of my favorite of her books:
       The room was enormous - thirty by fifty feet at the least  . . .  The furniture consisted mainly of chairs and tables; the flat surfaces of both types were covered with objects, many of them cats.
      Henry had never seen so many cats.  Fat cats and lean cats. Short-haired cats and cats that looked like animated mops.  Blue cats, White cats, tabby cats, grey cats. Siamese cats, Persian cats, and cats of no determinate species. Kittens. Cats with long tails, cats with no tails at all.
I bet nobody called Aunt Kate a crazy cat lady!  At least not more than once.

Rumer Godden's Benedictine abbey, in In This House of Brede, has cats as well as nuns.  The young postulant Sister Cecily wanted her convent to have box hedges.  Me, I'd pick mine based on the cats.  There is Wimple, "a Benedictine in her black and white, the white running under her chin, which explained her name."
Wimple too had the nuns on a string, as Sister Priscilla would say.  There was a custom in the community for the nuns, on their way to breakfast after Prime, to stop at the statue of our Lady with the Holy Child in the long cloister, to say three Hail Mary's there.  Wimple was impatient for her breakfast, and she would walk among the kneeling figures, giving them small pushings with her head; one hand after another would come out, not to push her away but to stroke her.  Wimple was perverse; she would come into the refectory through the ever-opening service door and walk through the room to the other, demanding to be let out.  Unlike Grock's, Wimple's miaow was piercing and could, at dinner and supper, interrupt the read, so that Sister Xaviera, who doted on Wimple, would get up and let her out.  In a moment or two the little cat would walk in the service door again.
Philippa Talbot says that in coming to the abbey, she gave up "a cat and a clock and some dear little sins."  The cat is a Siamese called Griffon, and after leaving him in his new home, as she prepares to enter the community, "It was better, Philippa found in the the train, not to let herself think about Griffon."

Kerry Greenwood's mysteries featuring Corinna Chapman are also full of cats.  Corinna herself has three: "Horatio, a tabby and white gentleman with impeccable manners and grooming," and the two in the Mouse Police who keep her bakery rodent-free at night.  Her friend Meroe the witch has the night-black Belladona. When a litter of kittens turns up on the doorstep, their neighbors in the building adopt them all, and the mother as well too. One of the kittens was lost for days and discovered shut into an apartment.  When the door is opened,
       [A] very small, very thin black kitten tottered out, climbed the Professor as if every movement hurt, and nestled in his bosom as though she had been looking for him all her short life.  He cradled her in his beautiful long hands.
       'Hello,' he said to the kitten. She put out a little pink tongue and licked his thumb. Then she closed her eyes and gave a short purr.
       From that point on, of course, the Professor was lost.  He was one of the Chosen Ones.  (Heavenly Pleasures)
And then there is J.K. Rowling, who gives us the evil Mrs Norris, prowling the corridors of Hogwarts at night, just looking for students she can squeal on.  But there is also Crookshanks, Hermione's big ginger cat, on whom she dotes.  He's the only one to sense danger in Scabbers the rat.  But my favorite cat in J.K. Rowling's world is the first one we meet, the tabby cat on the corner of Privet Drive, whom Mr Dursley sees reading a map.  How perfect that Professor McGonagall's Animagus form is a cat, when "This animal form is not chosen by the wizard, but determined by their personality and inner traits."

I actually have a few more fictional cats on my list, but I think I'll stop here, and go sit with my real-life furball for a while, and just be grateful for the wonderful cats who've shared my life, especially my Cassie.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about your cat. They never live long enough.
    We have four now (all related) and none under 15 so we enjoy their company while we may.
    A favourite author who wrote about her cats was Doreen Tovey ..I really recommend her books.

  2. I'm so sorry and sad that you lost her, Lisa. They occupy such a larger space in our lives than their beautiful graceful compact independence ever suggests. I don't recommend reading this at this time as [spoiler - but, then, animal books by their subject and nature perhaps all betray this to some extent] it is terribly sad, but Paul Gallico's Jennie is a beautiful cat book. I also have May Sarton's The Fur Person on my TBR (and have made my mother read it first in case it too is too sad for me). More happy in tone, there is a wonderfully funny Crazy Cat Lady in Patricia Wentworth's The Watersplash.

  3. I am sorry! It is so heartbreaking when we lose our beloved pets.

    Your post is a lovely tribute. I have just finished In This House of Brede and loved all the cats in it.

  4. Val (et al :), thanks for stopping by. I haven't heard of Doreen Tovey before, thanks also for the recommendation.

    vicki, I have never read May Sarton, but The Fur Person is a wonderful title. And I am collecting Wentworth's books, so I'll add that one to the list.

    Cat, Brede is far and away my favorite of Godden's books, though not just because of the cats. Of course, those cats did cause problems later!

  5. Oh my heart hurts for you Lisa! I'm terribly sorry for your loss. I've wondered if everything was okay since seeing your tweet. Cats are the best little creatures and it is sad to see them suffer. I'm glad you're finding some comfort in reading and milkshakes and in your other cat.
    I always like reading about the cats in Barbara Pym novels, especially Faustina, a naughty little cat in An Unsuitable Attachment.
    Take care!

  6. I'm so sorry to hear about your cat, Lisa. It's always very sad when we lose a special pet.
    I'm hoping to read The Mummy Case soon and will look forward to meeting Bastet!

  7. So sorry to hear of your cat. It is always so hard to lose a beloved pet. We lost our cat this year too (to a snake bite) and such a shock. Now we have a kitten and he is making us crack up laughing. The Cat Who mysteries had us sucked into cat mysteries for years by Lilian Jackson Braun. The cats were Koko and Yum Yum, siamese mystery solvers. Thinking of you and your kitty.

  8. So sorry to hear you lost a feline friend. I love cats too, and have always had one.

    Loved this post--I'm a big fan of the cats in LH too (especially Kitty who is so tiny and grows up to be so fierce).

    You've reminded me that I want to read more in the Amelia Peabody series--so fitting to have cats in that series!

    I love Crookshanks and loathe Mrs. Norris. My son and I just listened to book 3 on a long road trip and had a good discussion as to whether Crookshanks had magical powers beyond that of a normal cat. We agreed that all cats have some powers. :)

    Now, I'll be ever alert to cats in lit!

  9. Our pets never seem to live long enough. So sorry about your beloved cat... hugs.

  10. Oh. Lisa, I am so very sorry. Our pets take such a large part of our hearts and losing them is so very painful. I hope your heart heals as quickly as it can. Hugs.

  11. I'm so sorry! I love your roundup of fictional cats. My favorites will always be the hornpipe-dancing Jenny Linsky and her Cat Club friends.

  12. Thank you all so much for the lovely warm sympathy, and the virtual hugs. I hesitated a bit about posting this, when so many people lately have lost so much more than a small elderly cat - but I knew that pet people would understand.

    Anbolyn, I can't remember any cats in the Pyms I've read so far. Clearly I need to add An Unsuitable Attachment to the reading list!

    Helen, you will almost need a character list just for the cats :)

    Pam, I'm glad that your kitten is bringing such joy. It's been ages since I've had a young one. I haven't read The Cat Who series yet, though I've seen them at the library.

    Jane, I can't imagine not having a cat. I have a lovely picture of me in my playpen, with a cat sitting just out of reach, watching me. I love the LH cats too - though the mouse episode always makes me a bit queasy. And I agree with you both about the feline powers - especially of disappearing :)

    JoAnn, that's so true. It's hard to remember they're not meant to live as long as us - when we get so used to having them around.

    Debbie, a friend said that pets "embed themselves in our hearts," and I think that's very true too. And making the decision to let them go is such an awful thing, even when it's the right one.

    elizabeth, I have to confess I don't know Jenny Linsky - and now I'm off to google her! Thanks for adding to my list.

  13. So sorry to hear about your loss, Lisa. Hope you and your other cat are coping well with the grief. I always feel that it is tougher on the animals to deal with the loss of a companion, since they may not be able to fully comprehend what has really happened except that they will never see the other again. Animals are so much more than just pets. They are friends and family, really. Take care...

  14. Michelle, thank you. It's hard for people who don't have pets to understand how they really do become part of the family, like you say - and how hard it is to lose them.

  15. I'm so sorry to hear about your cat, Lisa. I know from experience that it can be just as difficult as the loss of a family member--indeed it is the loss of a family member.

    That description of Wimple cracked me up. She must be related to my Sophie, piercing meow and all. I've had that book on my list to read for years--now I've got even more of a reason to get to it.

  16. Teresa, what a coincidence, I have a Sophie too! She is named for Heyer's book The Grand Sophie. She has quite the piercing meow as well, especially late at night. Thank you for the tweet!

  17. Lisa, my Sophie already had the name when I got her, but I kept the name because I was studying Greek at the time and Sophia was one of my vocabulary words the week I adopted her. It seemed like it was meant to be.

  18. Teresa, mine was originally Lovey - and she really is a love of a cat, but I didn't care for the name.

  19. I'm so sorry about your kitty, Lisa. I know you will have lovely memories of her but that's little consolation at the time of loss.

    Susan F

  20. Oh, I am so sorry to hear about your cat. That's a miserable thing to happen suddenly, even if the cat was old -- an awful surprise. I'm sending hugs.

    Glad you highlighted Elizabeth Peters! I love the cats all over her books. The cat Bastet is an excellent minor character in the early Amelia Peabody books, although I was also quite fond of Seshat (I like the name, plus she was so helpful).

  21. Susan, thank you! I don't think you ever got to meet her, she was shy with company - and cat-sitters as well.

    Jenny, thank you too. I do love the Peters cats, but I confess I get a little confused with the later generations - after Bastet and the awful Horus.

  22. Did you see this quiz?

    I got 4 out of 10 - all were guesses!

  23. Jane, I only got ONE right - I didn't even recognize some of the writers' names! But thanks for the link to such a fun quiz :)


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!