The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

April 26, 2017

April 26, 2017

Marie Howe, born in 1950 is an American poet whose work has appeared in periodicals like the New Yorker. She has received more than one Guggenheim fellowship. We excerpt from her volume titled What the Living Do, (1989) some lines from "Just Now,"

My brother opens his eyes when he hears the door click
open downstairs and Joe's steps walking up past the meowing cat
and the second click of the upstairs door, and then he lifts
his face so that Joe can kiss him. Joe has brought armfuls of broken magnolia branches 

in full blossom, ....

The link above has more poetry and biography, all in honor of National Poetry Month, our April.

April 25, 2017

April 25, 1944

George Herriman (August 22, 1880 to April 25, 1944) drew the famous Krazy Kat cartoons. According to a recent commentary:

Krazy Kat has been described as a parable of love, a metaphor for democracy, a “surrealistic” poem, unfolding over years and years. It is all of these, but so much more: it is a portrait of America, a self-portrait of Herriman, and, I believe, the first attempt to paint the full range  of human consciousness in the language of the comic strip.

There have been no successors.

April 24, 2017

April 24, 1900

Elizabeth Goudge (April 24, 1900 to April 1,1984) was a novelist and children's writer. J. K. Rowling has been quoted as saying Goudge's The Little White Horse was not just one of her own favorite books, but a book that had a direct effect on her fiction.

Here is how one reviewer presented Goudge's trilogy, The Eliots of Damerosehay:

.....And there are few books that bring me more pleasure and comfort than Elizabeth Goudge’s trilogy of novels about the Eliot family: The Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim’s Inn, and The Heart of the Family.

The Bird in the Tree, published in 1940, introduces the Eliot clan. Lucilla Eliot, the grandmother of the family, has created a home at Damerosehay, on the Hampshire coast, that is truly home for all the Eliots, no matter how far they wander or what problems they may have. She holds the strings of the family in her hands, and she is the bright center for all of them, including the grandchildren Ben, Tommy, and Caroline who are staying with her. But when her best-beloved grandchild, David, comes home to Damerosehay to visit her, she understands that all is not well with him. He explains, painfully, knowing how much it will hurt Lucilla but needing to tell her the truth, that he has fallen in love with Nadine Eliot, his uncle George’s wife and the children’s mother. Their love is beautiful and all-consuming: they plan to marry once Nadine has divorced George, despite the shattering blow this will deal to the family, to the stable home Lucilla has built, and to the children.

Lucilla hears David out. Quietly, she asks two things: that Nadine and David not make their decision public for two weeks, and that they spend those two weeks together with her at Damerosehay. She will talk to them once, but only once, about the step they propose to take. The couple can only agree, knowing that their love can withstand anything. During those two weeks, however, the history of the house of Damerosehay — always owned by people of extraordinary selflessness and fidelity — and Lucilla’s own history begin to affect David and Nadine. The unutterable beauty of the setting puts their striving minds and bodies at peace, and they begin to think of Nadine’s children, of George, and of the way it is sometimes possible to build something beautiful from the outside in. In the end, it is not only Lucilla who wrestles for dominion over their actions, but the entire history of Damerosehay.

Pilgrim’s Inn (also published under the title The Herb of Grace, in 1948) finds the Eliot family five years farther on. Nadine has remarried George and had two more children, but she is not content: there is a part of her that is always reserved for David, the great love of her life. David himself had a bad war and a nervous breakdown after it, and although he hates himself for always taking from the people he loves and never giving, he can’t stop himself. And he, too, still loves Nadine, though his self-discipline is better than hers and he tries hard to stay away.

Into this brittle and broken situation come two immense forces: Sally Adair, the daughter of a famous painter, who is as innocent and whole and transparent as anyone can well be, and is clearly made to be David’s wife; and a marvellous old pilgrim’s inn on the river, which welcomes Nadine and George and the children with open arms and shows them that goodwill and generosity can triumph if we are willing to exercise the necessary discipline. Rue — the herb of grace — is an astringent herb, the grace of single-mindedness, and it is this grace that Nadine and David need: the willingness to let go their dual allegiance so that they can give themselves wholly to the families and lovers who need them.

The Heart of the Family, published in 1953, moves the Eliot family farther forward in time. David and Sally are married, with two children, and living at Damerosehay (Lucilla has moved to nearby Lavender Cottage.) David, a famous actor, has brought a stranger into the family circle: Sebastian, nominally his secretary, but actually a man wracked with physical and spiritual pain and close to death. Neither David nor Sebastian seem to understand the bonds that link them — Sebastian dislikes David intensely, and David believes he’s worthy of the dislike — but they do seem to be bound together until they work out their emotional ties.

This book is more difficult and less active than the previous two. There are a good many set pieces, where characters move slowly into place in order to have long philosophical or metaphysical conversations. Two of the main characters (Lucilla and Sebastian) are very close to death, and are pondering this transition; several others (Ben, David, and Sally) are undergoing major life changes and upheavals in the way they understand the world. Still others (the small children) have only recently arrived in the world, and have insights to offer on that account. This book has to do with war, and the despair of war, and the legacy war leaves to our children, not only in the world, but in their very bodies and souls. It’s painful to read in places. Still, Elizabeth Goudge infuses all of her work with the deeply-held belief that pain, rightly offered, can be prayer; that good will always triumph when the chaff is cleared away. She never denies the reality of suffering. Instead, she shows the purpose of it.

These three novels are some of my favorites. They are absolutely wonderful — heartwarming in the very best way possible, the way that affirms life and love. I’ve read them over and over again, for their beauty, their tenderness, their humor, for the strength and compassion that flows through them, and perhaps most of all for their portrayal of goodness. It can be difficult to give a portrait of a really good person without becoming sentimental and oversimplifying matters. Goudge does this brilliantly. In this review, I haven’t even mentioned my favorite character in the books, Hilary, a priest, one of Lucilla’s children. In him, I recognize real, solid, tested goodness. It’s not an easy task for a novelist. I recommend these novels very highly, and I hope you will all fall in love with Elizabeth Goudge.

The Little White Horse, (1946) won a Carnegie medal. The characters, include Zachariah, a cat with magic powers, such as writing messages in the hearth ashes.

April 23, 2017

April 23

We are indebted to William Bell Scott (1811 – 1890) for noting the origin, of the phrase "A cat may look at a king." The story he tells is preserved in Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott: and Notices of His Artistic and Poetic Circle of Friends, 1830 to 1882, (1892) which was edited by William Minto.

The story revolves around Jerome Rosch. Rosch, whose name is spelled several ways, and whose dates seem quite forgotten, worked with Albrecht Durer. Bell is certain that Durer engraved the wood blocks for none of his prints, that Rosch did all the engraving. The Emperor (Maxmillian I, 1459 – 1519) patronized artists and scholars and visited Durer's studio, to praise and prod. The Holy Roman Emperor also visited Rosch's studio.

In Scott's account:

These visits of the Kaiser to the artist are distinguished by another anecdote. Rosch was fond of cats, and these cats, sitting on all the seats or tables, did not put themselves about when the Emperor called; hence, it is said, arose the adage, "A cat may look at a king."

This is our contribution to World Book and Copyright Day. This UNESCO holiday, observed now for 22 years, is widely noted except for the UK. The Brits call a day in early March World Book Day. Perhaps because they regard April 23 as a national holiday.

April 22, 2017

April 22, 1899

I only recently learned that Nabokov's mastery of English was not the feat often presented: the author learned it in his cradle, and it was perhaps even his first language. And I would not have described Vladimir Nabokov (April  22, 1899 to July 2,1977) as a cat lover, but one source presents that picture:

[H]e doted on...May Sarton’s [cat], a tom named Tom Jones whom he renamed Tomski. According to Sarton, when the Nabokovs sublet her house and kept the cat one year:

Tom Jones soon learned that he was welcome to install himself at the very heart of genius on Nabokov’s chest, there to make starfish paws, purr ecstatically, and sometimes — rather painfully for the object of his pleasure — knead.

The Nabokovs became so attached to him that they later arranged for a reunion tea in a hotel suite. Unfortunately, the guest of honor spent the hour hiding under the sofa.

Not that this makes up for the butterflies.

April 21, 2017

April 21, 1929

Lucy Clifford's Oxford Dictionary of National Biography summarizes her literary career:

Lucy Clifford's first publications were printed anonymously in The Quiver in the early 1870s. In tales such as "The Dingy House at Kensington", "Queen Madge", "Against Herself", and "The Troubles of Chatty and Molly" she tends to portray young, female protagonists who experience an emotionally painful intermezzo before they can marry the man of their dreams, their purity and goodness remaining unquestioned. After the death of her husband most of her books were published under the name Mrs W. K. Clifford. Her first relatively successful work, however, was a collection of children's verses, Children Busy, Children Glad, Children Naughty, Children Sad (1881) signed L. C., which was erroneously attributed by some to Lewis Carroll. Real fame came in 1885 with the anonymous publication of Mrs Keith's Crime. This novel is the harrowing, personal narrative of a young widow who first loses her eldest child and then has to...cope with the imminent death from tuberculosis of her small daughter. When the family doctor predicts that she herself will die first, she decides to kill the child so that she will not have to suffer a lonesome death. The novel paved the way for a writing career in which books such as Love Letters from a Worldly Woman (1891) and Aunt Anne (1892) seem to have been the highlights after 1885.

...The most enduring of her writings, however, have been two short stories, 'The New Mother' and 'Wooden Tony', which have been repeatedly included in anthologies of children's tales. 'The New Mother', especially, has drawn a good deal of critical comment because of the unexpected callousness of the mother towards her children and the horrifying aspect of the new mother herself. Lucy Clifford was also a sporadic contributor to a variety of journals. She wrote a great number of gossip items for The Athenaeum, and she was on the staff of The Standard for fourteen years...

This writing is how Lucy Clifford (August 2, 1846 to April 21, 1929) supported a family of two young daughters after her husband's unexpected death. She was helped in this by her sturdy connections in the literary world which included visitors to her salon such as

Leslie Stephen, Frederick Pollock, John Collier, Frederick Macmillan, and, for a while, the controversial 'Vernon Lee' (Violet Paget). At this time Henry James became one of Lucy Clifford's most prized friends, and their correspondence was extensive.

In another biography we learn that Virginia Woolf wrote about how tacky Clifford was because she had "a wooden black cat on the clock and little carved animals under it."

The world changed again for Clifford with the war and then (back to ODNB):

....Lucy Clifford's fame declined and she found it extremely hard to get her books published. She remained a feisty, enterprising woman until the very end of her life, even going to Spain to learn Spanish in 1920 when she was seventy-four years old .... The two Clifford daughters survived their mother. Little is known of Margaret (1877-1932), the younger of the two, but Ethel Clifford (1876-1959) was a poet and celebrated beauty in her youth. She became Lady Dilke in 1905 when she married Sir Fisher Dilke (1877-1944), Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke's nephew.

April 20, 2017

April 20

Joan Miró (April 20,  1893 to December 25, 1983) was an artist whose painting is definitive of the modern sensibility. The thumbnail below is of a work of art titled "The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers". I see a cat. "The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers" is dated to 1941. We quote the Museum of Modern Art on this painting.

Artwork description & Analysis: In the Constellations series of 1940-41, Miró set about to create new challenges, and figure out new solutions, to his compositions. The The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers, features a reduced palette, including a solid background that emphasizes the simplified forms and lines that together mimic the appearance of a complex constellation in the night sky. In the midst of producing this series, Miró was forced to flee with his family from France to Mallorca to escape advancing German troops. Evidently the family took little else with them aside from these paintings. The crowded, chaotic feeling of these compositions in some ways echo Miró's feelings regarding the violent upheaval in Europe at the time.

I see a cat.