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 18, 2013

July 18, 1817

One must face the fact:  Jane Austen (December 16, 1775 to July 18, 1817) had no cat. She never lived away from family members, and who knows what scruples may have affected this decision, were it even a decision. Surely Claire Tomalin in her biography Jane Austen (1993) would have mentioned any feline connections. Tomalin, after all, mentions that Jane's brother James, wrote TWO cat poems. Nothing about Jane though. 

Beyond cats, this quote from a friend of Jane Austen, regarding the horrors that would ensue should a woman include her real name with a published work, is quite interesting. The result of such would be "to be pointed at -- to be noticed &... commented upon--to be suspected of literary airs--to be shunned as literary women are..." Jane Austen's name did not appear in her lifetime on her novels.

We do have a cat metaphor, and let me mention a bit of detail leading up to it, from Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters: A Family Record written and edited by William Austen-Leigh, and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (1913). The correspondence is with her sister Cassandra.

Thursday [September 16, 1813, ...]

Thank you, my dearest Cassandra, for the nice long letter...
We . . . went to Wedgwood’s, where my brother and Fanny chose a dinner set. I believe the pattern is a small lozenge in purple, between lines of narrow gold, and it is to have the crest.
With love to you all, ...I remain,

Yours very affectionately,

J. Austen

Godmersham Park : Thursday [September 23, 1813]. My Dearest Cassandra—Thank you five hundred and forty times for the exquisite piece of workmanship [a letter] which was brought into the room this morning, while we were at breakfast, .... and which I read with high glee, much delighted with everything it told, whether good or bad. It is so rich in striking intelligence that I hardly know what to reply to first. I believe finery must have it.

I am extremely glad that you like the poplin. I thought it would have my mother’s approbation, but was not so confident of yours. Remember that it is a present. Do not refuse me.  I am very rich.

Let me know when you begin the new tea, and the new white wine. My present elegancies have not yet made me indifferent to such matters. I am still a cat if I see a mouse...

The picture of women turning into cats when they see a mouse, goes back to the Greeks, over two thousand years. The presumption is that women are essentially cats and their true nature is revealed in the irresistible circumstance of spotting a mouse. 

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