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.

January 24, 2017

January 24, 1894

Constance Fenimore Woolson (March 5, 1840 to January 24, 1894) was an American novelist. She wrote for instance Castle Nowhere (1875) which  is set in the colonial American period in the upper midwest. Therein we meet Jacques, a simple-headed person who took up living in an abandoned mansion. The neighbors grew to view him as "like an old family cat."

Woolson wrote other novels and was viewed in her time, as an author worth discussing. James Fenimore Cooper,was her great uncle, and her friend Henry James called her "Fenimore."

There is an interesting portrayal of her life in Europe, where she in fact resided as an adult, in this book review of a new biography (Woolson: Portrait Of A Lady Novelist, Anne Boyd Rioux, 2016).

In the last weeks of the summer of 1882, as she was preparing to leave Baden-Baden for London (then Paris, then Florence), Constance Fenimore Woolson wrote Henry James that “there never was a woman so ill-fitted to do without a home as I am.” She was, according to her biographer Lyndall Gordon, “‘nervous’ and homesick, hauling her memorabilia and the spoils of travel from place to place.” Her items included:


her collection of ferns
a picture of yellow Jessamine (her favorite flower)
a weighing machine

a 1760 edition of the poems of Vittoria Colonna
seven old prints bought by
[her great-uncle James Fenimore] Cooper in Italy which a cousin had given her together with the original contract between Cooper and his publisher....
an engraving of Cooper....
and a photograph of her cherished niece, Clare, which she hung in every room she occupied.....

She had horror of daintiness. In her prose, she aspired to a style muscular enough to impress itself on a reader, flexible enough to turn on a dime from domestic scenes to shipwrecks or chase sequences, and sturdy enough to bear transplanting to different settings and situations. For James, fiction was a house; for Woolson, it was closer to a well-stocked tent, bulging slightly with keepsakes and mementos but ready to be picked up at a minute’s notice.

Despite James' doubts about her writing, he and she visited when both were in Florence, once even sharing a villa there.  She had a depressive streak, and the book argues Henry James felt guilty about her death.  Whether or not he had reason to, the fact remains some reasons are never fully knowable, and guilt is unwarranted.

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