Sunday, 30 August 2015
Cats in Fiction: Some Musings
Is it just me, or is a house not a home without a pet?
OK, I admit to being biased because I’m a bit bonkers when it comes to cats, but for me animals give a place soul – and the same is so for animals in books – their presence gives an extra dimension and by seeing how characters react to felines, give extra clues to their character. References to cats in particular can be found in classic literature from Charles Dickens to Henry James, Rudyard Kipling to Emile Zola.
Indeed, I suspect the Victorian novelist George Moore thinks much the same as me as he bemoaned the absence of pets from those most august of novels ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Vanity Fair’. His reasoning went like this:
“Both books lack intimacy of thought and feeling. No one sits by the fire and thinks…and welcomes the approach of a familiar bird or animal.”
To my view, Charles Dickens was on the right track. He knew that animals are important in making a book come to life. Take for example ‘Bleak House’ which features several cats. There is Krook’s cat Lady Jane who follows her master or perches hissing on his shoulder. Then there is Mr Jellyby’s cat who finishes his morning milk, and finally, Mrs Pipchin’s old cat who likes to purr... “While the contracting pupils of his eyes looked like two notes of admiration.”
Come to think of it, Dickens has quite an association with cats because he made several references to cat pies…but that’s another story.
Perhaps the master of feline literature is Rudyard Kipling in his “Just So” stories. He wrote a story titled “The cat that walked by himself”. In this tale the cat makes a bargain with the woman that he will accept milk and a place by the hearth, and in return will do only what he wants to do– which deliciously sums up the independent nature of the cats.
In one of my favorite novels, ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel, there is a delicious evocative passage that describing an interaction with Cromwell’s cat, Marlinspike.
“A cat may look at a king,” he [Cromwell] says. He is cradling Marlinspike in his arms, and talking to Thomas Avery, the boy he’s teaching his trade…
…He puts the cat down, opens the bag. He fishes up on a finger a string of rosary beads; for show says Avery, and he says, good boy. Marlinspike leaps on to his desk; he peers into the bag, dabbing with a paw. “The only mice in there are sugar ones.” The boy [Avery] pulls the cat’s ears, tussles with him. “We don’t have any little pets in Master Vaughan’s house.”