Actually, as any cat owner knows, cats decide for themselves the day and minute you’re permitted to give them affection, but still we’re honouring them today. Just as witches have their familiars, cats have played an important role as authors’ companions and muses. Here are a few.
Mark Twain lost his beloved cat Bambino and offered a $5 reward for his return, describing him as “Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair across his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.” Immediately there was a stream of people showing up at his house, bearing cats of all colours and sizes, anxious to see the author of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Even when Twain placed another ad announcing the return of his cat, the fans kept coming by, carrying moggies.
Raymond Chandler, master of the hard-boiled detective genre, found himself dominated by his cat, Taki, who he described as “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.”
Even macho Ernest Hemingway, despite his fondness for shooting lions and tigers, was at one time proud owner of 23 of the smaller variety of felines, whom he called “purr factories” and “love sponges”. One of his favorites was a six-toed (polydactyl) cat named Snowball whose descendants still roam the grounds of his old home in Key West.
Charles Dickens was entranced by the cat companions who watched him write his literary masterpieces and it’s said that when they wanted attention, they’d snuff out the candle on his desk. He was so distraught by the death of Bob, his favorite, that he had his paw stuffed and mounted to an ivory letter opener. He’s also quoted as saying “What greater gift than the love of a cat?”
And there’s more, lots more. The apparently misanthropic Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, vastly preferred the society of her many cats to that of people, allowing them to eat with her, sleep with her and keep her company while she wrote. That famous man of letters, Samuel Johnson used to go out personally to buy oysters for his beloved pussycat, Hodge. And of course T.S. Elliott’s book of light verse, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, was a peon to the infinite variety and vagaries of feline personalities, forming the inspiration for the Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical ‘Cats’.
As for Ellie Campbell…
Lorraine has five cats, including two black barn cats, who love to jump on her lap, purring, if she attempts to sit outside, working on her Macbook. She’s learned to type one-handed while giving them the caresses they demand. Meanwhile her shy indoor tabby Minou has replaced the alarm clock by regularly smacking her awake with a persistent paw some time around dawn. And black and white Kitty-Billie (named after a childhood pet) assists by napping in the filing basket and pretending not to understand if asked to move.
Pam’s ginger cat, Parker, now sadly deceased, spent many a day curled up on her office chair or draped all over her keyboard, whacking her hard with his claws if she tried to get onto it. Boy, was he vicious! Pam was at a rescue centre, finishing the paperwork on a beautiful long-haired black kitten when she spotted the label on his cage. “I have been here the longest out of all the cats and if I am not found a home soon, I will have to be put to sleep.” Aaah! She worried about having two cats in her small flat, but Parker solved that problem. He quickly managed to bully the other one off, never to be seen again, despite numerous ‘lost cat‘ notices.
We used an incident involving Parker in our novel To Catch a Creeper. One memorable day, he began choking and making funny motions with his paws. Pam grabbed, him, tried to look in his mouth but could see nothing. He wasn’t breathing, even though his mouth was open, so she scooped him up, ran with him under her arm out of the house, threw him in the back seat of car, and raced to the veterinary clinic.
“Emergency!” she called out as she ran in with her dying cat. They rushed him to the vet’s table where Parker began nonchalantly licking himself. Back home Pam discovered a bit of gristle on the kitchen floor, which Parker had obviously spat out as she grabbed him up. In her haste she’d accidentally performed the Heimlich Maneuver. Parker continued to rule the household and dominate Pam’s two large dogs, a German Shepherd and a Lurcher, for the rest of his autocratic life.
Now excuse us, we have to stop here and give our furry friends a cuddle.