Friday Fun: Iconic Writers and Their Cats

Literary Hub recently had a feature on Four Iconic Writers and the Felines Who Loved Them. Needless to say, all four were male writers and Alessandra Asteriti responded to my RT of that article: ‘Is the assumption that all women love cats because you know ‘women’, or are there no iconic female writers, or what?’ So I decided to redress the balance with a few pictures of iconic women writers and their cats.

Colette favoured Chartreux cats and helped to revive interest in the decimated species after WW2, from
Barbara Pym, from The Awl.
Patricia Highsmith had cats throughout her life and her many house moves. Not just Siamese, if I understood correctly. From wwnorton on tumblr.
Ursula Le Guin with her friend, from Pinterest.
Tove Jansson favoured black cats and even took them on the island in summer, from
Muriel Spark, copyright Alan Riding for New York Times.

Incidentally, Muriel Spark has written one of the funniest and most accurate descriptions of the love between writers and cats in A Far Cry from Kensington. Thank you to Alessandra for reminding me of it:

…if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk-lamp… The cat will settle down and be serene with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will come to affect you… so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost…

Three years later the Brigadier sent me a copy of his war memoirs… On the jacket cover was a picture of himself at his desk with a large alley-cat sitting inscrutably beside the lamp. He had inscribed it ‘To Mrs Hawkins, without whose friendly advice these memoirs would never have been written – and thanks for introducing me to Grumpy.’ The book itself was exceedingly dull. But I had advised him only that a cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.’

Francoise Sagan never seemed to mind if her cat took a lively interest in her writing, from Le Narrateur.
Doris Lessing, from The Guardian.
PD James, yet another fan of black cats. From The Guardian.

Last but not least, although I failed to find a picture of her cats: Shirley Jackson always had six or more cats all of the same color—usually black, sometimes gray—and she happily allowed people to believe the cats were her familiars to enhance her witch-like reputation. The truth was at once funnier and sadder than that: her cats looked all the same so that her husband, who was short-sighted and not at all fond of cats, would not be able to tell exactly how many cats she had.

47 thoughts on “Friday Fun: Iconic Writers and Their Cats”

  1. ‘Like’ seems a mealy-mouthed option when presented with such a lovely gallery of famous cats and their scribbling skivvies. I particularly enjoyed Jackson’s explanation. I must take exception with the idea Spark espoused. When sitting as my PC it is absolutely true I will be interrupted by one or other sitting upright in front of the screen, proceeding to lie down across the keyboard, or place a sneaky paw across a couple of keys, writing themselves, or fiercely butting my mousing hand so that whatever mouse command I was trying to do gets nixed.

    1. Yep, I’ve got a bit of an editor too in my cat. Not sure I can trust her English skills, however, since she is French… Unfortunately, I cannot follow Shirley Jackson’s lead, as my cat is very jealous and would not put up with any competition!

    1. It took my Zoe nearly a year before she was confident enough to leap up on my desk, but now she is certainly quite the critic. Although she prefers the windowsill – cat TV is clearly more interesting than my WIP!

  2. What a lovely post! There’s just something about having a pet that makes an author more approachable for some reason – at least for me. Now I may have to into authors who have dogs…

    1. Well, nobody can be perfect, Margot… we’ll forgive you your dog preference… Actually, if I had a dog, I would love a St Bernard or a Labrador or something big like that!

  3. I just loved this post, Marina! Barbara Pym’s cat really made me laugh–he looks uncomfortable! I have four black and white cats that I just adore!

    1. What a lot of cat lovers I am discovering here! We have 3 black and white cats among the neighbours, and they look very elegant, although Zoe heartily disapproves of them. She has a French snobbish attitude to the cats she meets here.

  4. Needless to say I’m all for this post. 🙂
    There’s a whole website dedicated to cats and writers. Not sure what it’s called. I’ll have to go through my bookmarks.

    1. I thought you might be on my wavelength for this one! Is there really a website dedicated to cats and writers? That is one bookmark I need to have, clearly.

  5. Liked the Shirley Jackson story……
    I’m not a cat lover, don’t dislike them but just don’t go all gooey eyed about them. Now if you were to do a post about authors and their dogs…….

    1. I used to be scared of dogs. I’m better now, and even love some of my friend’s dogs, but I’m not sure that I am the right person to research that post…

  6. Two women writers I posted about recently had some fine feline factors: Lolly Willowes (ST Warner) is adopted by a skittish kitten who becomes her familiar (S Jackson was surely joking!); Rebecca West in her Aubrey trilogy has some lovely asides about the hauteur & aloofness of cats (one in particular that lives in a butchers’ shop, thus subverting the usual canine collocation). Bring on the writers & dogs post! V Woolf on E B Browning?

  7. Like Shirley Jackson, we have six of the little horrors, although they all look quite different (even the two pairs of sisters). Oddly, none of them are black (although two are black-and-white), even though we’re both black-cat fans.

    Feline editorial efforts are discouraged, alas.

      1. It’s not our fault! The last two were dumped on our property as a pair of very small kittens, in winter. The animal shelter told us they were completely unsocializable, so, if we didn’t take them back . . .

        They’re so unsocializable they wake us up in the mornings by walking all over our heads, then keep us awake by purring at us at about 60dB.

    1. My sons were a bit scared of cats before we got Zoe (even more afraid of dogs, so that was never an option). Now they try to pet every single cat they encounter on the street…

  8. I can see that Zoe likes her only-cat status and enjoys being the center of attention.
    I love these photos of women authors with their cats. (I saw a post a few years ago of male writers with cats and another with dogs.)
    Cats are wonderful, as are dogs, but they’re quite different.
    I had cats for years, then developed dratted allergies. Would love a
    cat to be sitting on my keyboard or my computer chair giving me

    1. Oh, I do hope I never develop an allergy to cats, but I know these things can strike you out of the blue. I developed a shellfish allergy late in life and now watch mournfully as other people enjoy their prawns, crabs and moules/frites…

  9. Lovely photos – well done for redressing the balance. I love my two cats, both abandoned more or less at birth and kept alive by wonderful people who passed them on to me when they were ready. They do like getting between me and the keyboard, though.

    1. I found the posts of ‘tough male guys showing their sensitive side with a cat’ vs. ‘mad old cat lady, what do you expect?’ a bit hard to take, and none of these writers strike me as mad old ladies.

  10. What a great idea for a post. Like so many others, I loved the Shirley Jackson anecdote! When I was a teenager I went through a somewhat addictive phase of reading Barbara Pym – how nice to be reminded of her! At one point we had six cats on the farm – although far from being working cats, they would appear at the kitchen-cum-living room window, scratch til it was opened (what a mess!), then arrange themselves around the warm Rayburn! Cats always figure out what side their bread’s buttered on!

    1. I love Barbara Pym! And I had to laugh about the ‘working cats’… although I do wish my cat was less eager to hunt birds and lizards. That’s why she wears a collar with a bell!

  11. If your cat was trained by her mother to be a hunter, she’ll hunt whatever is in the neighborhood.
    In a city apartment, a friend’s cat pulled in a dove who was prancing across the fire escape. The window opening was about 2″ but that cat succeeded in getting that poor bird. It was his chance after staring out the window at the birds for 15 years.

    1. Oh, dear! I don’t mind the lizards so much (plenty of them around, although they do have a tendency to escape under the sofa if the cat brings them inside the house), but I do hate it when birds suffer. The funny thing is, we are not sure that Zoe ever did get trained by her Mum. We think she was separated at an early age and left to die in a bag with her kitteny siblings… But she did live for a long time roaming the streets with a homeless man, so she probably had to learn to fend for herself.

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