Ostreophile, Traveling Companion, Whiskey Lover, Con-Artist and…Mews?

Posted on August 24, 2020

by Hannah Dennison

It’s a well-known fact that cats and writers share a special bond. 

As the American author, Andre Norton (1912-2005) 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.”

The great lexicographer, Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1885) described the word “Cat” in his famous dictionary as, “A domestick animal that catches mice, commonly reckoned by naturalists the lowest order of the leonine species.”

Dr. Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge.

So it may come as a bit of a surprise that Dr. Johnson’s cat Hodge lived on a daily diet of oysters (purchased by Dr. Johnson himself) and was held in such high regard that a bronze statue, sculpted by Jon Buckley, stands outside 17 Gough Square in London. The statue shows Hodge sitting on a dictionary with two oyster shells at his feet. 

Mark Twain (1835-1910) was more open in his admiration for the feline species. He once wrote, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”

Twain’s love of cats—he owned up to nineteen at one time—was such that when he had to travel he would rent cats to take the place of his left-behind companions. Twain’s cats all bore extraordinary names, that included Apollinaris, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sin, Sour Mash, Tammany, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence and Beelzebub.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) believed that, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”

He often referred to one of his favorite cats Friendless as his drinking companion since Friendless enjoyed a nip of whiskey in his daily milk.  

But perhaps it’s T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and his 1939 work, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats that is known to cat lovers everywhere and specifically to the mystery writing community. 

As a fan of Sherlock Holmes, Eliot wrote: 

“Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw, 

For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law. 

He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair: 

For when they reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!”

Regarded as a “cat man” Eliot owned many cats throughout his life with delectable names like Jellylorum, Pettipaws, Wiscus, and George Pushdragon. 

And finally…let’s not forget the fictional grinning Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s (1832-1898) iconic fantasy tale, Alice in Wonderland.

Rumor has it that Carroll (born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was inspired by the cheesemakers in the county of Cheshire who molded their cheese with a cat’s grinning face. By slicing from the back of the cheese, the cat would slowly disappear leaving the last part to be consumed as the head.

Ironically, Lewis Carroll never owned a cat.

Hannah Dennison was born and raised in Hampshire but spent more than two decades living in California. She has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. For many years Hannah taught mystery writing workshops at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in Los Angeles. In addition to the Island Sisters series, Hannah writes the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries and the Vicky Hill Mysteries both set in the wilds of the Devonshire countryside where she now lives with her two high-spirited Hungarian Vizslas.

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