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.

December 9, 2011

December 9, 1964

Edith Sitwell (September 7, 1887 to December 9. 1964) was a writer, a poet, and she with her two brothers, Osbert and Sachervelle) all achieved fame. In addition to poetry Edith Sitwell studied genealogy (she claimed to trace her descent back to the Plantagenets). Other of Edith's many titles include non fiction like English Eccentrics (1933) and even a novel, I Live under a Black Sun, (1937) drawing on Swift's life.

In her autobiography, Taken Care Of (1964) Sitwell recalls her youth in London, as part of a literary and upper claass family. She and her brothers edited Wheels, an annual poetic anthology between 1916 and 1921.  She tells the story of an aspiring writer, around this time, who wanted her brother Osbert to read a manuscript, in blank verse, presented as a stack of papers as large as the a "week's laundry." Osbert could not gracefully refuse, and Edith resolved the situation by hiding the manuscript, reusing it as lining for a cat bed.  She pretended at the time, to be puzzled by the disappearance no doubt, but her air of smug omniscience in her memoir reveals the person who disposed of the unwanted, unwieldy manuscript. This, of course,  was before the days of xerox .We are not told whether the author had a copy of their work, but presumably not. Her account continues:
"It was not until many months afterwards, on one of the infrequent occasions when both the cat and her offspring were absent from her basket at the same time that it was discovered that the drama has been used to line this. Unfortuantely when found the work bore not only evident traces that it has been subjected to the inevitable va-et-vient and general wear and tear attendent on the cats frequent accouchements and nursing operations, but it looked also as if it had been torn by tigers.
My brother wished to have the manuscript retyped but not a line was decipherable."

But if in fact the details are not exaggerated we have to assume they did not clean out the cat's basket very often. Is that possible? Did they let the cat have more than one litter, or even go days, without having the lining of their basket changed? Even in the days before kitty litter was invented, and cats had unfettered access to the outdoors, it seems like a dirty practise.

There is no need to doubt Edith Sitwell's reputation as a cat lover, however. I assume the above story was exaggerated for literary intent. The name of one of her cats has come down to us as Leo.

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