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.

September 22, 2013

September 22, 1958

Mary Roberts Rinehart  (August 12, 1876 to September 22, 1958) was writing detective stories before Agatha Christie. The Circular Staircase (1908) was her first big hit. The story revolves around an aunt and her nephew who rent a house for the summer, a house which turns out to be where robbers have hidden stuff. Rinehart is a good writer and this book is free at google books. Rinehart was writing to help support her family, a medical doctor husband, three sons and a daughter. Their first home was near Pittsburgh, but after her husband's death in 1932, she found a home at 635 Park Avenue in New York City, where her children worked with John C. Farrar in their jointly owned publishing company (Farrar and Rinehart). 

Certainly Rinehart's book list was good for the company. Here are just a few of her many titles:

The Window at the White Cat (1910)
Mind Over Motor (1912)
The Breaking Point (1922)
The Red Lamp (1925)
Lost Ecstasy (1927)
This Strange Adventure (1928)
Two Flights Up (1928)
The Great Mistake (1940)
The Yellow Room (1945)
A Light in the Window (1948)
My Story (1931, revised 1948)

But today let's go back to 1920 and a humorous essay Rinehart wrote, titled "Isn't that just like a man." This was a response to Irwin S. Cobb's analysis of women: "Well You Know How Women Are." These essays were published together, but Cobb's must have been written first and perhaps published first. And I like to provide a bit of context, because that can remind us of how much has changed, since, 1920. Or....

...[A]lthough we are discussing men, as all women know, there are really no men at all. There are grown-up boys, and middle-aged boys, and elderly boys, and even sometimes very old boys. But the essential difference is simply exterior. Your man is always a boy. He grows tidier, and he gathers up a mass of heterogeneous information, and in the strangest possible fashion as the years go on, boards have to be put into the dining-room table,.... [D]uring some of his peregrinations he feels rather like a comet with a tail. ....[He might] .... put on a sort of surface maturity. But it never fools his womankind.  Deep down he still believes in Santa Claus, and would like to get up at dawn on the Fourth of July and throw a firecracker through the cook’s window.

That is the reason women are natural monogamists. They know they have to be one-man women, because the one man is so always a boy, and has to have so much mothering and looking after. He has to be watched for fear his hair gets too long, ....And if someone didn’t turn his old pajamas into scrub rags and silver cloths, he would go on wearing their ragged skeletons long after the flesh had departed hence. (What comforting rags Irvin Cobb’s pajamas must make!)

And then of course now and then he must be separated forcibly from his old suits and shoes. The best method, as every woman knows, is to give them to someone who is going on a long, long journey, else he will follow and bring them back in triumph. This fondness for what is old is a strange thing in men.  It does not apply to other things—save cheese and easy chairs and some kinds of game and drinkables.  In the case of caps, boots, and trousers it is akin to mania. .... one of its greatest exacerbations (beat that word, Irvin) [is] in the matter of dressing gowns. If by any chance a cigarette has burned a hole in the dressing gown, it takes on the additional interest of survival, and is always hung, hole out, where company can see it.

Full many a gentleman, returning from the wars, has found that his heart’s treasures have gone to rummage sales, and—you know the story of the man who bought his dress suit back for thirty-five cents.....

There is something feline about a man’s love for old, familiar things. I know that it is a popular misconception to compare women with cats and men with dogs. But the analogy is clearly the other way.

Just run over the cat’s predominant characteristics and check them off:  The cat is a night wanderer. The cat loves familiar places, and the hearthside. (And, oddly enough, the cat’s love of the hearthside doesn’t interfere with his night wanderings !) The cat can hide under the suavest exterior in the world principles that would make a kitten blush if it had any place for a blush. The cat is greedy as to helpless things. And heavens, how the cat likes to be petted and generally approved! It likes love, but not all the time. And it likes to choose the people it consorts with. It is a predatory creature, also, and likes to be neat and tidy, while it sticks to its old trousers with a love that passeth understanding—there, I’ve slipped up, but you know what I mean.

Now women are like dogs, really. They love like dogs, a little insistently. And they like to fetch and carry, and come back wistfully after hard words, and learn rather easily to carry a basket. And after three years or so of marriage they learn to enjoy the bones of conversation and sometimes even to go to the mat with them. (Oh, Irvin, I know that’s dreadful!) ...

This fondness for old clothes and old chairs and familiar places is something women find hard to understand. Yet it is simple enough. It is compounded of comfort and loyalty. Men are curiously loyal. They are loyal to ancient hats and disreputable old friends and to some women. But they are always loyal to each other.

....[Men] stand together against the rest of the world. Women do not. They have no impulse toward solidarity. They fight a sort of guerilla warfare, each sniping from behind her own tree. They are the greatest example of the weakness of unorganized force in the world.

.....[This weakness] is a survival from the days when men united for defense. Women didn’t unite. They didn’t need to, and they couldn’t have, anyhow. When the cave man went away to fight or to do the family marketing, he used to roll a large boulder against the entrance to his stone mansion, and thus discouraged aftenoon callers of the feminine sex who would otherwise have dropped in for a cup of tea. Then he ...cut off the telephone, and went away with a heart at peace to join the other males.

They would do it now, if they could....

Mary Roberts Rinehart was right.

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