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.

July 25, 2016

July 25, 1896

The Singing Sands (1952) was the last crime novel Josephine Tey (July 25, 1896 to February 13, 1952) published. 
The reputation of Tey has grown since her death but she herself remains a figure of some mystery.

What we do know is summarized in this review from 2014.

From time to time, audiences ask crime writers who we would choose if we could have a single new novel from a dead crime writer. The name that comes up most frequently is not Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle or Raymond Chandler... No, the writers’ choice is a reclusive Scottish spinster who wrote only a handful of crime novels: Josephine Tey.

Partly that’s because of the range and quality of her work. Reading Tey for the first time is a surprise and a delight.. But of equal importance is Tey’s role as a bridge between the classic detective stories of the golden age and contemporary crime fiction. She left the genre in a different place from where she found it and she cracked open a series of doors for others to walk through.

But first, a little about the woman and her work. And where the woman is concerned, it will be a little. Elizabeth Mackintosh aka Gordon Daviot aka Josephine Tey was pathologically private. She never gave interviews, posed for publicity photos only under duress and managed to keep her private life a mystery. In the last year of her life, when she knew she was dying, she avoided contact even with her closest friends because she didn’t want anyone to know...

What we do know is this. She was born in Inverness in 1896... Her father was a fruiterer, her mother a teacher, and Tey followed in her mother’s footsteps, taking advantage of her physical agility to train as a gymnastics teacher at a college near Birmingham – a long way from Inverness, in every sense.

The First World War was at its height, and there are hints that Tey suffered a tragic loss during that conflict, though no details survive. Besides, it would be hard to find anyone in Britain untouched by grief in those four years. But she was far from home, and it may well be that the roots of her self-containment were planted then.

While she was still a student, she ran fitness classes for factory workers and in the holidays, she volunteered as a nurse for convalescing soldiers. After she qualified, she taught PE... in Oban... But before she had published a thing, her mother died, and when she was 30, Tey returned to Inverness to keep house for her widowed father.

One advantage of removing herself from the world of routine work was that it gave her time to practise her craft as a writer. And three years later, in 1929, her first attempt at detective fiction,
The Man in the Queue, won a mystery novel prize run by the publishing house Dutton. The book was published under the pseudonym of Gordon Daviot, a name she later used as a playwright and writer of historical fiction. It was also the name she liked friends and associates to use in her private life.

It would be another seven years before she returned to the mystery novel, and her next breakthrough was a life-changer. She wrote a play about Richard II,
Richard of Bordeaux, which was produced in 1933 in London’s West End starring John Gielgud. It became the theatrical sensation of the year. It pried Tey loose from the narrow confines of Inverness society and gave her another life amid the glamour and excitement of the theatrical world.
[H]er final novel  The Singing Sands opens [with], Grant ... taking leave from his Scotland Yard job because he’s going through a kind of breakdown. He can’t sleep, he’s suffering from panic attacks and claustrophobia and he’s in the grip of some sort of depression. It’s hard to imagine Hercule Poirot in the throes of such psychological torment. It’s certainly impossible to picture any of the hard-boiled American heroes revealing a similar vulnerability. Already the convention of the capable and emotionally resilient detective was well established....

Questions of identity permeate her novels.
Brat Farrar hinges on whether a young man is truly who he purports to be; The Franchise Affair turns on whether a mother and daughter have a secret life that verges on the perverse; Miss Pym Disposes is only a mystery because issues of sexuality were so deeply submerged in that time and place that they were unthinkable as part of the solution to a crime; To Love and Be Wise is entirely shaped by fixed notions of gender. Masks and the identities they hide run through her work like the unifying thread in a tapestry.

And it is that fascination with who we really are and what actually shapes our relationships that is the key to Tey’s role as the bridge between the golden age and contemporary crime fiction. She started writing at a time when the genre appeared only to have space for the most conventional of connections between men and women and where secrets were only valid when they had a direct bearing on the commission of a murder, either as clear motive or as red herring.

Even then, those secrets were defined within relatively narrow tramlines. Conventional secrets, you might say. ...

But Tey opened up the possibility of unconventional secrets. Homosexual desire, cross-dressing, sexual perversion – they were all hinted at, glimpsed in the shadows as a door closed or a curtain twitched. ...her world revealed a different set of psychological motivations.

Without Tey cracking open the door, I don’t know how easy it would have been for writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell to have begun their own explorations of the darker side of humanity...

This all makes Tey sound very worthy. Someone we should read because of her place in the canon. But she is so much more than that. She writes vividly...

That lucid descriptive style works just as well on character as it does on landscape. Tey was a shrewd observer of people in all walks of life and of all ages. In a few strokes of the pen, she brings them to life, provoking smiles and nods of recognition in her readers. ...

An example of her excellence is this glimpse of a minor character in The Singing Sands:

"He was a bachelor ex-serviceman with a short leg, a cat, a collection of china mugs, and a passion for darts...."

Josephine Tey left all her assets to the National Trust.

July 24, 2016

July 24, 1980

According to an IMDB note, Peter Sellers (September 8, 1925 to July 24, 1980) is often
"credited as the greatest comedian of all time..."

There is something unsettling and fascinating about genius, and the way such phenomena elude explanation. Perhaps if we tried to look away, the situation of  genius would gain clarity. Here are some notes about the will and children of Peter Sellers.

Peter Sellers tried to change his will just hours before he died to prevent his entire fortune passing to his estranged fourth wife...

[He did not succeed and the]...comedian’s three children were left with paltry sums [800 pounds each] after Lynne Frederick received the bulk of his £5 million fortune following his death in 1980.

[There is evidence] Sellers wanted his youngest daughter, Victoria Sellers, to inherit £20,000 upon turning 21. But the ...[will papers] , signed on the day he died of a heart attack aged 54, were never filed and were therefore not made official.

Although Sellers is said to have been trying to cut Frederick out of his will, all but a tiny fraction of his estate was handed to her as their bitter divorce was never finalised. [The divorce papers were]
 not binding because their decree absolute had not been granted, so they were still married when Sellers died......

The fortune is now in the hands of Frederick’s daughter Cassie Unger....who was born four years after the actor's death.

Sellers reportedly had a strained relationship with his three children Michael, Sarah and Victoria....

Victoria, who was aged 15 at the time, [of her father's death] went on to lead a troubled life. She became addicted to drugs and even posed nude for Playboy magazine in 1986. She is now a jewellery designer in California.

Michael Sellers died of heart failure in 2006 aged 52. Sarah runs an antique teddy bear shop in London......

Frederick, who subsequently married and then divorced Sir David Frost... died in 1994 after fighting an alcohol problem. The estate ... passed to Unger included properties around the world and rights to Sellers’s films.

Sellers' staggering talent is recalled with just these names:
Claire Quilty (1962)
Inspector Clouseau (1963)
Doctor Strangelove (1964)
Chauncey Gardiner (1979)

and Dr. Pratt. Dr. Pratt, is his character in The Wrong Box (1966). That movie is the source of this line:

"Don't sit on that moggy, sir, she's the finest ratter in the East End."

July 23, 2016

July 23, 1911

Clement Young Sturge (1860 to July 23, 1911) came from distinguished line of Quaker merchants and activists.  He edited his great-grandfather's diary, Diary of John Allen, sometime Brewer of Wapping, 1757–1808, written between February and July 1777. (1905).

Clement Young Sturge, M.A., Oxford, was also a lawyer, and this doubtless assisted him in his responsibilities as a member of the London County Council.  Here is some background on this group:

In January, 1896, the London County Council, on the motion of Sir John Lubbock (now Lord Avebury), directed the General Purposes Committee to consider and report what course the Council should adopt in the case of the contemplated destruction of any building of historic or architectural interest....As a preliminary it was deemed essential that a list, as complete as possible, should be obtained of all such buildings in the county...

The above is from a preface to a list of the buildings. London Survey'd: The Work of the Survey of London 1894-1994 is a modern work by 
Hermione Hobhouse which surveys the surveying (1994).  Therein we find out more about Clement Young Sturge:

Sturge was a somewhat eccentric figure, described by Godfrey, who designed an Italian garden for him in Rodborough Heights, Stroud, as 'immensely corpulent'. He always travelled from Gloucestershire 'with two large cats in baskets....

He sounds like my kind of basket case.

July 22, 2016

July 22, 1882

One of America's greatest painters, Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 to May 15, 1967) captured in his art an America of wide open spaces, wide open spaces which turn out to be psychological, mainly, as the country is urbanized. This tension is wonderfully portrayed on his canvases. Edward Hopper was from New York, from a comfortable background. We are glad he stopped to draw a cat once.

This sketch of his is currently at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and dated to 1941.

An example of his genius.

July 21, 2016

July 21, 1899

Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 to April 27, 1932) has an extensive biography at the Poetry Foundation website, and below is just a bit about his most famous poem, "The Bridge:"

....[I]n 1924, Crane had already commenced the first drafts of his ambitious poem The Bridge, which he intended, at least in part, as an uplifting alternative to T. S. Eliot's bleak masterwork, The Waste Land. With this long poem, which eventually comprised fifteen sections and sixty pages, Crane sought to provide a panorama of what he called "the American experience." Adopting the Brooklyn Bridge as the poem's sustaining symbol, Crane celebrates, in often hopelessly obscure imagery, various peoples and places—from explorer Christopher Columbus and the legendary Rip Van Winkle to the contemporary New England landscape and the East River tunnel. The bridge, in turn, serves as the structure uniting, and representing, all that is America. In addition, it functions as the embodiment of uniquely American optimism and serves as a source of inspiration and patriotic devotion: "O Sleepless as the river under thee, / Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod, / Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend / And of the curveship lend a myth to God."

The article is detailed and recommended, and includes mention of Hart Crane's sad end. It is not surprising they do not mention his "house cats" at his home in Mixocoac (1932), but his biographer Paul Mariani in The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane (2000) does.

July 20, 2016

July 20, 1912

In The Invention of Telepathy, 1870-1901 (2002) by Roger Luckhurst, we discover Andrew Lang (March 31, 1844 to July 20, 1912) played a significant part. He was remembered at his death as "a poet, leader-writer, critic, novelist, classicist, translator, Scottish historian, fairy-tale and myth collector, folklorist, anthropologist, and psychical researcher." Luckhurst has parsed Lang's contributions to elucidate a critic who had significant influence over popular taste:

A worshipper of Sir Walter Scott, Lang was one of the engineers of the romance revival, hailing Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. He advocated the imperial adventures of Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling on their first appearance in the late 1880s...Lang regarded the romance as a virile, masculine riposte to Decadent and Naturalist fiction, novels which had an "almost unholy knowledge of the nature of women." Against this over-refined interiority, Lang juxtaposed the vitality of the romance whose energies he related to "the ancestral barbarism of our natures"....

Luckhurst is an acute cultural historian, the author of other books, like The Mummy's Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy (2012) and The Trauma Question (which traces the effect of this idea on the modern conception of the self (2013)). It was however an older book, Roger Lancelyn Green's Andrew Lang: A Critical Biography (1946) wherein we discovered that Andrew Lang named his black cat, "Semiramis". Since this name was that of an Assyrian queen credited with monumental structures, and a lusty nature, we think that means Lang found some kind of rapprachement with "the nature of women."

July 19, 2016

July 19, 1896

Archibald Joseph Cronin, ...[July 19, 1896 to January 6, 1981] born in 1896, was a novelist, dramatist and writer of non-fiction who was one of the most renowned storytellers of the twentieth century. His best-known works are The Stars Look Down, The Citadel, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years, all of which were adapted to film. He served as a Royal Navy surgeon during the First World War before graduating from medical school. During an enforced holiday from his medical practice due to ill health he composed his first novel, Hatter's Castle, with which he enjoyed immense success and which launched his career as a prolific author; he never returned to practicing medicine. ...

"The Sisters Scobie" is one of his short stories. Rufus, a large ginger tom cat, plays a big part in the story about two aging spinsters, sisters who live in their parents home with its horsehair furniture, and Satsuma china. They have not spoken to each other for fifteen years due to an argument about the cat.

The story is part of a series collected as Dr Finlay's Casebook: Omnibus, which was a BBC broadcast series for a number of years, starting in 1962. Google books glosses it (and the author, above,) this way:

"Dr Finlay's Casebook" is a delightful collection of episodic stories of Dr Finlay and his life in the fictional Scottish village of Tannochbrae during the inter-war years and based on A.J. Cronin's own experiences as a doctor. The BBC went on to dramatise these stories on both television and radio during the 1960s and '70s, with the television adaption drawing weekly audiences of 12 million viewers. The characters were revived by ITV from 1993-96 and were adapted again for BBC radio in 2001 and 2002. This omnibus edition of "Doctor Finlay of Tannochbrae and Adventures of a Black Bag" revive Cronin's masterpiece for a contemporary audience - stories which are tragic, funny and wry and.... a celebration of Cronin's tremendous talent.

A. J. Cronin's appeal is analysed here:

Cronin drew his popularity from his ability to construct a realistic narrative, based on his keen observation of episodes within his own experience. His work is credible on account of its detailed description, and his personal experience allowed him to construct a dramatic account from mundane events. His appeal lies in a powerful portrayal of working-class life, coupled with social commentary and criticism. His outspoken approach said to have contributed to the creation of the National Health Service in 1948.
In 1946, for health reasons, Cronin made his home in Switzerland, where he carried on writing until he died in 1981.

Cronin's autobiography is titled Adventures in Two Worlds (1952). 

Here is a list of his books.