Writers Write is a resource for writers. We’ve put together a post on the relationship between famous writers and their cats.
Writers and cats have always shared a special bond. Alison Nastasi has written a book about the behind-the-scenes stories of Writers and Their Cats, which reminded me of my thoughts on the subject.
There is a long recorded history of the love writers have for their cats. In fact, there are so many writers who have adored cats that it’s difficult to ignore.
Canadian novelist and playwright Robertson Davies once wrote, “Authors like cats because they are such quiet, loveable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.”
Cats are elegant, mysterious, and beautiful. They are also ruthless and selfish when they have to be. Many cats have inspired works of literature including Edgar Allan Poe’s Catterina, Cleveland Amory’s Polar Bear, and T.S. Eliot’s Jellylorum.
If you Google authors and pets you will find a multitude of entries about cats. I think that authors love cats because cats are complicated creatures. Writers are used to trying to understand, and make sense of difficult things, and cats fit the bill.
Cats & Dogs
Dogs are simple creatures who love everyone. Cats do not. It is interesting to note that psychopaths prefer the company of dogs, as written about by Jon Ronson in The Psychopath Test. Psychopaths prefer obedient animals. Adolf Hitler is known to have despised cats. Cats, like writers, are wilful creatures, who don’t like to be controlled.
Most authors are creative introverts and cats fit beautifully into an introvert’s world. As the American author, Andre Norton said, ‘Perhaps it is because cats do not live by human patterns, do not fit themselves into prescribed behaviour, that they are so united to creative people.’
Here is a list of famous authors who loved their cats:
- Aldous Huxley. Huxley was an English writer, best known for his dystopian novel, Brave New World. ‘If you want to be a psychological novelist and write about human beings, the best thing you can do is to keep a pair of cats.’
- Alexandre Dumas. Alexandre Dumas, the French author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, owned three cats: Mysouff I, Mysouff II, and Le Docteur. Mysouff I knew exactly when Dumas would finish work and accompanied his master on walks to and from the office. Dumas said, “The cat, an aristocrat, merits our esteem, while the dog is only a scurvy type who got his position by low flatteries.”
- Alice Walker. Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, says: “My cat lived a very rough life before she arrived in my home. She has one tooth that’s broken and another that’s kind of long on the other side. She’s snaggletoothed. A stranger might look at her and say, ‘Oh, she has imperfect teeth.’ But I look at her and see the absolute perfection — the charming perfection — of her imperfection. It gives me so much information about the kind of life she has had, and the kind of soul she has probably fashioned.” Walker wrote about her relationship with cats as an author who travels frequently in Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism.
- Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg wrote about cats: ‘I learned a world from each one whom I loved.
- Anatole France. Jocasta and The Famished Cat was the first work of fiction by Anatole France, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature. “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
- Andre Norton. Norton was an American writer of science fiction and fantasy, who also wrote works of historical fiction and contemporary fiction. She said: ‘Perhaps it is because cats do not live by human patterns, do not fit themselves into prescribed behavior, that they are so united to creative people.’
- Angela Carter. Cats featured prominently in Carter’s magical realist, picaresque tales. Comic and Curious Cats and Sea-Cat and Dragon King, her two children’s books, feature feline protagonists. Carter shared her pencil and crayon drawings of cats with friends.
- Beverly Cleary. The Newbery Medal–winning children’s author, cat-loving Cleary has owned several cats over the decades, including one who begged for attention while sitting on top of her typewriter keys. One of Cleary’s most beloved books is Socks about the misadventures of a tabby cat.
- Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire wrote that cats were ‘seraphic’, as subtle and harmonious as angels. He also once complained in a letter that it was impossible to live with his mistress, Jeanne, who drove away his cat and brought in dogs. Quelle horreur!
- Charles Bukowski. Charles Bukowski had a one-eared tomcat named Butch Van Gogh Artaud Bukowski. He said: ‘Having a bunch of cats around is good. If you’re feeling bad, you just look at the cats, you’ll feel better, because they know that everything is, just as it is. There’s nothing to get excited about. They just know.’
- Charles Dickens. After Charles Dickens’ cat, Bob, died in 1862, he had Bob’s paw stuffed and attached to a letter opener, upon which, he had inscribed, “C.D. In Memory of Bob 1862.” He wrote: ‘What greater gift than the love of a cat?’
- Charles Dudley Warner. Calvin, a cat originally belonging to Harriet Beecher Stowe, went to live with Warner when Stowe moved. Warner became devoted to him.
- Chester Himes. Considered the father of the black American crime novel, Himes loved his cats, especially his Siamese called Griot who was named after the magicians in the courts of West African kings.
- Christina Rossetti. According to a biographer, her family visited France, and Rossetti’s favourite part of the vacation was not Notre Dame, not the Seine — but meeting a Persian cat in a hotel in Normandy.
- Cleveland Amory. Known for writing a series of popular books poking fun at the pretensions and customs of society, starting with The Proper Bostonians, he said: “As anyone who has ever been around a cat for any length of time well knows, cats have enormous patience with the limitations of the human kind.”
- Colette has also been described as ‘the original Cat Woman’, and had a lifelong love affair with cats. As she said: “There are no ordinary cats.” The French novelist, most famous for her novel Gigi, said “My cat does not talk as respectfully to me as I do to her.” One of her most beautiful quotes about cats is this: ‘I went to collect the few personal belongings which…I held to be invaluable: my cat, my resolve to travel, and my solitude.’
- Doris Lessing. Lessing became fascinated by cats at a young age, when she came across the semi-feral felines on the African farm where she grew up. As an adult, she had many cats, notably the awkwardly majestic El Magnifico. “If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.” Other Lessing cat-centric books include Particularly Cats and Particularly Cats and Rufus the Survivor.
- Dorothy L. Sayers. The English crime writer, poet, playwright, and essayist wrote poems for her cat Timothy. There is a statue of the writer her cat in Witham, Essex, where she lived for many years.
- Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was a cat lover and he and his wife, Virginia had a cat named Catterina. One of his scariest stories is The Black Cat. He said: “I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.”
- Edith Södergran. The Finnish-Swedish poetess adored her cat, Tottie. ‘Of all our sunny world/I wish only for a garden sofa/where a cat is sunning itself./ There I should sit/with a letter at my breast,/a single small letter. That is what my dream looks like.’
- Edward Gorey. Edward Gorey, known for his macabre, Gothic, illustrated books including The Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Doubtful Guest, as well as for illustrating for others’ books such as T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. “It would be wrong to say that cats weren’t his first love,” said Ken Morton, Gorey’s cousin. “[Edward] said a few times that he liked cats more than people. He considered them his family.” “Books. Cats. Life is good.”
- Edward Lear. The nonsense poet, illustrator and prose writer, immortalised his cat, Foss, in verse and in sketches.
- Elizabeth Bishop. She wrote a lullaby for her American cat, Minnow, and wrote another poem about her Brazilian cat, Tobias, panicking during lightning storms.
- Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s first cat, Snowball, was six-toed, and the author’s former home in Key West houses dozens of Snowball’s descendants – about half of which are also six-toed. Some people even refer to polydactyl (six-toed) cats as ‘Hemingway cats’. He wrote: ‘A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.’
- Frank O’Hara. Frank O’Hara was one of the most distinguished members of the New York School of poets. He wrote the poem ‘Cantanta‘ expressing his love for his cat, Boris.
- George Bernard Shaw. Bernard Shaw loved his cat Pygmalion. Henry S. Salt said of George Bernard Shaw: “He was a great lover of cats; and when he came to see us never failed to ask after “Cosy”. Were there more kittens? Then he would add in a contemplative tone: “She is a cat of fearful passions.” At his rooms in Fitzroy Square there used often to be a neighbouring cat, or a stray, in his company.”
- George Plimpton co-founded the Paris Review. His favourite car was named Mr. Puss. George’s son Taylor recalled that “my father enjoyed nothing more than holding the beast high in the air and making strange, affectionate sounds in that distinguished voice.”
- George Sand. Sand reportedly ate her breakfast from the same bowl as her cat Minou.
- Gillian Flynn. Flynn, author of Gone Girl, keeps a black cat as her feline familiar. She says: “I have been a big believer that black cats are the best: affectionate, laid-back, and sweet. Roy [her current black cat] has ‘helped’ me with my last two books and all my screenplays. He prefers to sit on the keyboard, so he can type things like GY*T^&$$^R^&h&&G!!! Now that I work on a tread desk he sits by me, watching. He’s a very sweet sentinel.”
- Gloria Steinem. The internationally renowned journalist and author said that cats are “a writer’s most logical and agreeable companion”.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe became a cat owner after a stray showed up on her doorstep. She called him Calvin after her husband, Calvin E. Stowe. When he wasn’t bossing around his caregivers, he loved to sit on Stowe’s shoulders while she wrote.
- Haruki Murakami. Best-selling Japanese author Haruki Murkami’s love for cats is evident in his fiction. All his books contain cats as a precursor to a certain event none more so than in Kafka on the Shore. When a cat disappears something strange is likely to happen. “‘Hey, do you smell something Human? one of the cats says. “Now that you mention it, I thought there was a funny smell the past few days” another chimes in twitching his nose’.
- Herman Hesse is shown with his love for cats obvious to anyone who looks at photographs of him with the animals. The novelist, poet, and painter received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.
- H.G. Wells. His cat, Mr. Peter Wells, had the habit, if a guest talked too long or too loudly, of getting up from its chair, protesting loudly and stalking out of the room. He wrote: ‘The cat, which is a solitary beast, is single minded and goes its way alone, but the dog, like his master, is confused in his mind.’
- Isaac Newton. Sir Isaac Newton, the writer and scientist who first described the principle of gravity, also invented the swinging cat door for the convenience of his many cats.
- Jack Kerouac. Jack also loved cats, especially his cat Tyke, whose unfortunate passing he wrote about in loving detail in his memoir Big Sur.
- James Franco. “I was raised as a cat person,” he said. “I had cats when I was a kid and that’s what I’m used to. I don’t really know how to take care of a dog, but I think I’m pretty good with cats … All my recent cats have been named after characters from books or the literary world. Sammy’s named after Sammy Glick from What Makes Sammy Run, and Zelda is named after Zelda Fitzgerald.
- Jean Cocteau. Cocteau was a cat devotee who helped to found a club in Paris called the “Cat Friends Club”. As he said: “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
- Jean Paul Sartre. Although Sartre’s relationship with cats isn’t well-documented, he is seen in photographs holding a very handsome feline while at work. Sartre was also one of the obvious inspirations for Henri, the existential cat, and it is thought possible that all cats are, by nature, existentialists.
- Jorge Luis Borges. The Argentine poet, essayist, and short story writer who helped popularise Latin American literature shared his humble life with several cats, including a large white feline called Beppo, named after a character in a Lord Byron poem about a man who is lost at sea. He writes: “You belong to another time. You are lord of a place bounded like a dream.” (from “To a Cat”)
- Joyce Carol Oates. Oates has edited the collection The Sophisticated Cat: A Gathering of Stories, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings About Cats. She said “I write so much because my cat sits on my lap. She purrs so I don’t want to get up. She’s so much more calming than my husband.”
- Judy Blume. The author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, has always loved animals. “We had a wonderful Calico cat who lived to be 16,” Blume writes on her website.
- Jules Reynard. Reynard wrote: “The ideal of calm exists in a sitting cat.”
- Julio Cortázar. Cortázar was a cat lover who owned a cat named Theodor W. Adorno who he wrote about extensively in the book Around the Day in Eighty Worlds. “I sometimes longed for someone who, like me, had not adjusted perfectly with his age, and such a person was hard to find; but I soon discovered cats, in which I could imagine a condition like mine, and books, where I found it quite often.”
- Lord Byron. Byron had several cats, including one called Beppo who drank milk from a skull.
- L. M. Montgomery. Lucky, or “Luck” as she often called him, was her favourite pet. A year after Luck’s death, she wrote in her journal, ‘There is rarely a night that, waking, the tears do not rush to my eyes when I cannot put out my hand and feel his silken flank in the darkness.’
- Margaret Atwood. Atwood created ‘Angel Catbird’ to deal with her relationship with cats and bird conservation. She says: “I had become more and more immersed in the world of bird conservation. I now had a burden of guilt from my many years of cat companionship, for my cats had gone in and out of the house, busying themselves with their cat affairs, which included the killing of small animals and birds. These would turn up as gifts, placed thoughtfully either on my pillow instead of a chocolate, or on the front doormat, where I would slip on them.”
- Mark Twain. ‘I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.’ Twain kept eleven cats at his farm in Connecticut. When his beloved black cat Bambino went missing, Twain took out an advertisement in the New York American offering a $5 reward to return the missing cat. “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.”
- Marlon James. Jamaica-born author, Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings. He writes in coffee shops and gets to know bookstore and coffee shop cats around the world.
- Michel de Montaigne pondered the presumed indebtedness in the dynamic between him and his cat: “When I play with my cat who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me? We mutually divert one another with our play. If I have my hour to begin or to refuse, she also has hers.”
- Neil Gaiman. The author of American Gods and The Sandman blogged regularly about his cats Hermione, Pod, Zoe, Princess, and Coconut. And cat people will identify with this quotation from The Gaveyard Book: “Name the different kinds of people,’ said Miss Lupescu. ‘Now.’ Bod thought for a moment. ‘The living,’ he said. ‘Er. The dead.’ He stopped. Then, ‘… Cats?’ he offered, uncertainly.”
- Patricia Highsmith. The Talented Mr. Ripley author did virtually everything with her cats. She kept them by her side throughout her life until her death at her home in Locarno, Switzerland in 1995. Urich Weber, the curator of Highsmith’s archive, once explained that “she was very happy among cats. They gave her a closeness that she could not bear in the long-term from people. She needed cats for her psychological balance.”
- Philip K. Dick. The science-fiction writer’s cat was called Magnificat.
- Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury compared parts of the writer’s creative process to cat ownership, saying that ideas, like cats, “come silently in the hour of trying to wake up and remember my name.” His advice for writers? “Treat ideas like cats … make them follow you.” In his short story, The Cat’s Pajamas, two cat lovers fight over who will keep a stray cat they find in the middle of a California highway.
- Raymond Chandler. The writer loved cats. His agent H.N. Swanson, said that Chandler’s cat “‘knew more about him than anybody else.” Here’s a passage from a letter Chandler wrote to a friend about his cat, Taki: “Our cat is growing positively tyrannical. If she finds herself alone anywhere she emits blood curdling yells until somebody comes running. She sleeps on a table in the service porch and now demands to be lifted up and down from it. She gets warm milk about eight o’clock at night and starts yelling for it about 7.30.”https://www.writerswrite.co.za/the-relationship-between-writers-their-cats/