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.

February 23, 2019

February 23, 1991

Joyce Dennys, (August 18, 1893 to February 23, 1991) we read at a commercial site, was:

'[B]orn [in] Simla, India. ...[She] was a painter, playwright, illustrator, author and painter well into her nineties. Her prolific artistic career included creating [a] propaganda poster for the Great War, postcards of which are still sold at the Imperial War Museum.

'She took to writing during the Second World War and her peices were published weekly by Sketch and were later collected together and published in book form as
Henrietta's War: [subtitled, News from the Home Front 1939-1942]. She was a prolific illustrator and wrote plays for rep, amateur and professional theatre companies.

'She took to oil painting when her husband died in 1964 and painted many of the eye catching and amusing characters of Budleigh Salterton, including a series of paintings inspired by the typical sights of a seaside town...'

The  canvas we noticed, "THE FORTUNE TELLER" is described this way:

'This wonderfully atmospheric original painting by Joyce Dennys features a gypsy fortune teller, complete with red scarf, gold hoop earrings and crystal ball.

'She was probably inspired by one of the many fortune tellers that worked the stalls in the .... seaside town of Budleigh Salterton, where Joyce lived for a great many years. There are exhibitions of her paintings in the town, and an annual art prize is awarded in her name.

'In the background of the picture is a tree and sitting in the branches of the tree are two fabulously supernatural occult symbols a black cat and an owl.

'The light in the picture is amazing, appearing to come up and out of the crystal ball, illuminating the fortune teller from beneath and making her eyes appear incredibly powerful....

'The picture is signed in the bottom left hand corner by the artist...

'It was framed in Budleigh Salterton...

'She may not be quite as famous as Sir John [Everett] Millais, (who stayed in Budleigh Salterton) but in Budleigh Salterton the name of Joyce Dennys still brings a smile to faces. She's remembered as the author of Henrietta's War.

'She was also an artist who captured on canvas so many Budleigh characters and landmarks, often with a wicked sense of humour.'

Budleigh Salterton is in Devon, and is also now the home of Hilary Mantel.

February 22, 2019

February 22, 1956

Philip Kerr, (February 22, 1956 to March 23,  2018) wrote books; his adventures were popular. Kerr could put the cat in action, and often did. This is just an example:

"The lynx crept toward the top of the stairs, crouched down as if preparing to spring and then growled again; only this time, the cat showed her its teeth and its claws as if to remind her that it was strong enough to bring down a fully grown deer, which was its normal prey. Kalinka lifted the extinguisher and prepared to hit the plunger, but since it was full of water, it took all of her strength to aim the nozzle at the cat. ..."

This scene is from his 2014 The Winter Horses.

He ranked an obituary in the Guardian (of course they are very good at that) and so we learn:

'Born in Edinburgh, Philip was the son of William Kerr, a building planner, and his wife, Ann (nee Brodie). His parents had converted from the Free Church of Scotland to the evangelical Baptist church, deeming it more “family-friendly”.

'It was not an easy fit for a boy with an aversion to water. “I could not swim or even bear to have my head under water and consequently the spectacle of full immersion baptism – and by extension, the very idea of washing away the sin that was required to make my peace with Jesus – was horrifying to me,” he later wrote....

'Though he had wanted to study English at Birmingham University, Kerr bowed to paternal pressure and took up law. After a year in a kibbutz, Kerr returned to Birmingham for a postgraduate degree in jurisprudence.

'After he left law, work as an advertising copywriter included a spell at Saatchi and Saatchi – though he had a tendency to get fired. While colleagues enjoyed boozy lunches, he preferred to be in the London Library, where he worked on five unpublished “sub-Martin Amis” novels until turning to crime in March Violets....

'Berlin held a great fascination for the author Philip Kerr, was a place where the impact of evil upon essentially decent people was felt especially keenly. His morally ambiguous fictional private detective Bernie Gunther first appeared in March Violets (1989), set in the city in 1936, after the Nazis’ rise to power, and the first of his Berlin Noir trilogy. ...

'A German Requiem (1991) ended the trilogy by taking events to the end of the second world war and Vienna, but the lure of his protagonist and Berlin, which proves as much a character as its citizens, remained strong. The One from the Other (2006) was the first in a run of 10 more Berlin Noir novels. If the Dead Rise Not (2009) won the Ellis Peters Historic Crime award...

'In the intervening years, Kerr produced standalone books, starting with the ambitious A Philosophical Investigation (1992), which married cyber-punk crime with the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. A complex and demanding tale of a serial killer, it led to him being listed alongside Iain Banks and AL Kennedy as one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists under 40. But critical acclaim was not matched by sales. His commercial breakthrough arrived only in 1995 with Gridiron, a Towering Inferno-style action story...

'By the time Gridiron was published he was married to the journalist and author Jane Thynne, whom he had met while he was working as a gossip columnist on the London Evening Standard, and with whom he had three children...

'His commitment to research led him into dangerous situations, sometimes in the seamier areas of Berlin, or as when travelling with the St Petersburg police for Dead Meat (1993), his thriller set among the Russian mafia. One particularly frightening day ended with the discovery of holes in the flak jacket he had been wearing. They marked where the previous wearer had been shot...'

His books included The Penguin Book of Lies (1991) and The Penguin Book of Fights, Feuds and Heartfelt Hatreds: An Anthology of Antipathy. (1992)

Philip Kerr was popular and prolific.

February 21, 2019

February 21, 1907

As if we needed to be reminded of who Auden (
February 21, 1907 to September 29, 1973) was:

'Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England. He moved to Birmingham during childhood and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. As a young man he was influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, as well as William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Old English verse. At Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

'In 1928, his collection Poems was privately printed, but it wasn’t until 1930, when another collection titled Poems (though its contents were different) was published, that Auden was established as the leading voice of a new generation.

'Ever since, he has been admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and an ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; the incorporation in his work of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information. He had a remarkable wit, and often mimicked the writing styles of other poets such as Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and Henry James. His poetry frequently recounts, literally or metaphorically, a journey or quest, and his travels provided rich material for his verse.

'He visited Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war, and in 1939 moved to the United States, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman, and became an American citizen. His own beliefs changed radically between his youthful career in England, when he was an ardent advocate of socialism and Freudian psychoanalysis, and his later phase in America, when his central preoccupation became Christianity and the theology of modern Protestant theologians. A prolific writer, Auden was also a noted playwright, librettist, editor, and essayist. ....

'W. H. Auden served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1954 to 1973, and divided most of the second half of his life between residences in New York City and Austria. He died in Vienna.'

'Some consider Auden the greatest poet in English of the 20th century. Like me, and not because he was a cat lover.

Image result for Auden cat

February 20, 2019

February 20, 2003

Maurice Blanchot (September 22, 1907 to February 20, 2003) was one of the French thinkers said to have influenced the post modern movement. Blanchot made a point about the relation of words and that to which words pertain with this example:

"[T]o name the cat is, if you like, to make it into a non-cat, a cat that has ceased to exist, has ceased to be a living cat, but this does not mean one is making it into a dog, or even a non-dog.”

The cat is just an example of course. Blanchot treated his own life with the awareness he brought to verbal partialness.  Still we have this obituary

e know that he was born in the village of Quain, in Saone et Loire, and went to university in Strasbourg and Paris. He studied German and philosophy, and considered medicine.

'He took up journalism in 1930 and, as a young bourgeois, was given to the right-wing opinion that France was being ruined by its constitution, the corruption of politicians and by the foreigners within. The worst enemy was Léon Blum's Popular Front government and, in November 1936, in the revue Combat, Blanchot denounced "the degenerates and the traitors" who were governing France, adding that the day must come when the government should be brought down by the people.

'Such sentiments were often expressed by anti-semitic writers attacking Blum and, many years later, Blanchot himself was criticised for anti-semitism. But this was never the case: he also worked for Paul Levy's weekly Aux Ecoutes, which had been founded to denounce Hitler, and his best friend was the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

'By 1939, Blanchot had left these political ideas behind. He spent the war in Paris, becoming friends with literary figures connected with the Nouvelle Revue Francaise. ...

'His first novel, Thomas l'Obscur (1941), was an abstract work, in many ways anticipating le nouveau roman. The principal character had no personal history, was not situated socially, and had no clear geographical location. There was no story, only the set of writing.

'But the work was an indication of Blanchot's postwar route. From 1953 to 1968, he wrote a monthly article for the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, and it was these pieces, together with a number of collected essays, that made his reputation. He became a most respected literary critic.

'This was all the more remarkable because his thought ran counter to the prevailing belief that literature and art should be committed to a cause, and that writers have a duty to commit themselves. Blanchot believed that it was in writing itself that the author found his purpose; there was the use of language, the reality of silence and the overwhelming reality of death. Jean-Paul Sartre was impressed, and devoted space to discussing Blanchot's ideas.

'Blanchot's devotion to language ...led him to support new writers, such as Samuel Beckett and Alain Robbe-Grillet. But he was not oblivious to world events; in 1960, he wrote the final version of the Manifeste des 121, which called on French soldiers in Algeria to desert rather than employ torture.

'In May 1968, Blanchot again left his solitude to join the street demonstrations of the student protest movement, on one of which he met the philosopher Jacques Derrida. They had both researched the work of Mallarmé, who had fulfilled Blanchot's belief that the hold on language was the supreme test of a writer...

'After 1968, Blanchot retired from the scene, although he continued to publish. Sometimes, he offered to return to public activity - as with his suggestion that he could mediate between Salman Rushdie and his Islamic enemies - but usually he acted as if he were already dead, and said that his books were posthumous.'

Jacques Derrida spoke at Blanchot's funeral.

February 19, 2019

February 19, 1868

Edward Garnett, the son of Richard Garnett, British museum librarian, was the father of writer David Garnett, and the husband of Constance Garnett, famous for her translations from the Russian. Edward Garnett was born February 19, 1868, according to Britannica and died February 21, 1937. (Other sources have other dates.) Britannica describes Edward Garnett as an "influential English critic and publisher's reader who discovered, advised, and tutored many of the great British writers of the early 20th century."

Another article states the significance of Edward Garnett was because of his position as "the writer and editor [who] promoted Joseph Conrad and DH Lawrence and [thereby deserved] recognition as a great literary tastemaker..."

'The Nobel-winning Galsworthy, Conrad and the Lawrences (DH and TE) all benefited from his advice,....the aspiring authors who caught his attention could expect to have their work chewed over, their excesses reined in, their published books mentioned in the literary articles he wrote for the Speaker and the Nation periodicals. They would be invited to lunch at his favourite Soho restaurant, the Mont Blanc...'

Helen Smith’s biography of Edward Garnett stresses:

'the qualities he searched for and admired in a writer ...[were] “the ability to suggest the intangible from the palpable; a willingness to shake the reader out of his or her settled perceptions, and the facility to make a small, apparently insignificant detail reveal the depths of a situation”. These are crucial distinctions, for they gesture at the position Garnett took on the highly contested cultural battlegrounds of the 1900s where his presence was conspicuous. Broadly speaking, he operated at a time when the gap between the finely wrought modernist masterpiece and the commercial bestseller was becoming an abyss; the taste of the vast middlebrow public keen on the “materialist” fiction of a Bennett or an HG Wells would make highbrow critics despair.
'Garnett’s sympathies were with the modernists, and their forebears – he wrote an excellent book about Turgenev – but the constant struggle between his responsibility to the employers who paid his wages and his hankering for reticence, subtlety and concision set up an inevitable tension in his work. ...

'If Garnett’s critics sometimes accused him of liking “controversial” books merely for their controversy, then his personal life was similarly unorthodox. Married at 21, he spent most of his adult life in a menage a trois involving his wife, Constance, the distinguished translator of Tolstoy and Chekhov, and a woman named Nellie Heath. Three early works of [Edward Garnett's] fiction sank without trace, and the four plays to which he put his name... were...reckoned lifeless....'

A biography--An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, Mentor and Editor of Literary Genius, (2017) authored by Helen Smith is our source for the above.

nd therein we learn that a 12 year old Edward Garnett was deeply concerned about the Ireland of his time, for one thing, because of all the homeless cats resulting from their masters being murdered.

February 18, 2019

February 18, 1932

Milos Forman (
February 18, 1932 to April 13, 2018) was the director of the smash hit Amadeus (1984) in which there were brief bits of cats .

There is a nice long article on Milos Forman at Britannica. We learn:

'Miloš Forman,....[was a]  Czech-born New Wave filmmaker known primarily for the distinctively American movies that he made after his immigration to the United States.

'Forman grew up in a small town near Prague. After his parents, Jewish professor Rudolf Forman and a Protestant housewife, died in Nazi concentration camps, he was reared by two uncles and family friends; in the 1960s he learned that his biological father was not Rudolf Forman but a Jewish architect. In the mid-1950s Forman studied at the Film Faculty of the Academy of Arts in Prague. ....

'....The first major productions that he directed, Černý Petr (1964; Black Peter) and Lásky jedné plavovlásky (1965; Loves of a Blonde), had great success both domestically and internationally—the latter received an Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film—and Forman was hailed as a major talent of the Czech New Wave. His early films were characterized by their examination of working-class life and their enthusiasm for a socialist lifestyle. Those elements are also evident in Hoří, má panenko (1967; The Firemen’s Ball)... When The Firemen’s Ball was banned in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion of 1968, Forman immigrated to the United States; he became a U.S. citizen in 1975.

'Forman’s first American film was Taking Off (1971), a story about runaway teenagers and their parents. Although not a box-office success, it won the jury grand prize at the Cannes film festival. The movie was also notable for being the last of Forman’s works to incorporate his early themes. Most of his American films are also bereft of the earlier social concerns that defined his Czech films, although he clearly demonstrated his mastery of the craft of direction and ... a remarkable ability to work with actors.....

'One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) was an independent production that had been turned down by every major studio, but it catapulted Forman to the forefront of Hollywood directors. A potent adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, it starred Jack Nicholson as Randle P. McMurphy, an irrepressible free spirit who cons his way from a prison work farm into a mental hospital. Against his better judgment, he enters into a war of wills with the sadistic head nurse (played by Louise Fletcher). The film became the first since It Happened One Night (1934) to win all five major Academy Awards: best picture, actor (Nicholson), actress (Fletcher), director, and screenplay (Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben)...

'Less successful was Goya’s Ghosts(2006), a costume drama starring Natalie Portman as a model for the artist Francisco de Goya (Stellan Skarsgård) and Javier Bardem as a church official who rapes her after she is unjustly imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition. ....

'In addition to his directorial efforts, Forman occasionally acted in films, including Heartburn (1986), ...' and was sometimes upstaged:

February 17, 2019

February 17 is World Cat Day

The pictures below are, were, "printer trademarks." Some information about this style is available at a University of Chicago journal description. The link lets you read some, not all, of an article titled "The Cat as a Printer’s Trademark: The Case of the Sessa Family." The authors are Sonja Svoljšak and Urša Kocjan. The pictures are Sessa trademarks, but they may not be in the article.  There is also information here.
Since February 17 is World Cat Day, in lots of Europe, we thought these cats from the 1500s a fitting tribute.

Image result for Sessa cat

Image result for Sessa cat