They say that a dog is a man's best friend, but these writers found solace—and occasional inspiration—in another four-legged companion. Celebrate your own love of cats with these 13 feline-loving scribes.
1. Mark Twain
Mark Twain—the great humorist and man of American letters—was also a great cat lover. When his beloved black cat Bambino went missing, Twain took out an advertisement in the New York American offering a $5 reward to return the missing cat to his house at 21 Fifth Avenue in New York City. It described Bambino as “Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair across his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.” The cat, fortunately, was alright and returned home.
2. T.S. Eliot
Aside from peppering his high Modernist poetry with allusions to feline friends, T.S. Eliot wrote a book of light verse called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a collection of 15 poems, dedicated to his godchildren, regarding the different personalities and eccentricities of cats. Names like Old Deuteronomy, the Rum Tum Tugger, and Mr. Mistoffelees should be familiar to people all around the world—the characters and poems were the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running Broadway musical, Cats. Later publications of Old Possum's included illustrations by noted artist Edward Gorey—yet another avid cat lover. You can listen to Eliot read "The Naming of Cats" here.
3. Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway and his family initially became infatuated with cats while living at Finca Vigía, their house in Cuba. During the writer's travels, he was gifted a six-toed (or polydactyl) cat he named Snowball. Hemingway liked the little guy so much that in 1931, when he moved into his now-famous Key West home, he let Snowball run wild, creating a small colony of felines that populated the grounds. Today, some 40 to 50 six-toed descendants of Snowball are still allowed to roam around the house. Polydactyl felines are sometimes called “Hemingway Cats.”
4. William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs is known for his wild, drug-induced writings, but he had a softer side as well—especially when it came to his cats. He penned an autobiographical novella, The Cat Inside, about the cats he owned throughout his life, and the final journal entry Burroughs wrote before he died referred to the pure love he had for his four pets:
“Only thing can resolve conflict is love, like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner, and Calico. Pure love. What I feel for my cats present and past. Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE.”
5. William Butler Yeats
Though not overt, William Yeats’s love for cats can be found in poems like “The Cat and the Moon,” where he uses the image of a cat to represent himself and the image of the moon to represent his muse Maude Gonne, a high society-born feminist and sometime actress who inspired the poet throughout his life. The poem references Gonne’s cat named Minnaloushe, who sits and stares at the changing moon. Yeats metaphorically transforms himself into the cat longing for his love that is indifferent to him, and the heartsick feline poet wonders whether Gonne will ever change her mind. Too bad for Yeats; Maude Gonne never agreed to marry him, despite the fact that he asked for her hand in marriage—four separate times.
6. Samuel Johnson
Known to be a general cat lover during his life, this 18th century jack-of-all-trades was immortalized in James Boswell’s proto-biography The Life of Samuel Johnson. In the text, Boswell writes of Johnson’s cat, Hodge, saying, “I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge.” Although Boswell was not a fan, Johnson called Hodge “A very fine cat indeed.” Hodge is immortalized, with his oysters, with a statue of his likeness that stands outside Johnson’s house at 17 Gough Square in London.
7. Charles Dickens
One of most important and influential writers in history, Charles Dickens had a soft spot for a few cats. As his daughter recalled, when one cat was in need of some attention, it extinguished the flame on his desk candle. In 1862, he was so upset after the death of his favorite cat, Bob, that he had the feline’s paw stuffed and mounted to an ivory letter opener. He had the opener engraved saying, “C.D., In memory of Bob, 1862” so he could have a constant reminder of his old friend. The letter opener is now on display at the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library.
8. Neil Gaiman
The author of American Gods and The Sandman kept regular updates on his blog of the everyday eccentricities of the group of cats—including Hermione, Pod, Zoe, Princess, and Coconut—that he kept at his house. Though he hasn’t written much about them recently, the love and affection that come across in the posts from 2010 and earlier show someone who is absolutely an animal lover in all respects.
9. Patricia Highsmith
Patricia Highsmith doesn’t have the friendliest literary reputation around (she once said “my imagination functions better when I don't have to speak with people”). But The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train author nevertheless found a perfect way to let her imagination function with her many four-legged companions. She did virtually everything with her cats—she wrote next to them, she ate next to them, and she even slept next to them. She kept them by her side throughout her life until her death at her home in Locarno, Switzerland in 1995.
10. William Carlos Williams
Imagist poet William Carlos Williams also worked as a doctor to supplement his writing career, which would eventually culminate in a 1949 National Book Award for Poetry and a posthumously awarded 1963 Pulitzer Prize. His direct style tried to capture the essence of small moments in everyday life, and it’s no wonder he uses a cat to conjure a simple scene in his poem entitled “Poem (As the Cat)”:
As the cat climbed over the top of the jamcloset first the right forefoot carefully then the hind stepped down into the pit of the empty flower pot
11. Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler had an immense influence on detective fiction and came to define the tenets of hard-boiled noir. He used femme fatales, twisting plots, and whip-cracking wordplay in his evocative classics starring the detective Philip Marlowe, including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. But it wasn’t all serious business for Chandler because—you guessed it—he really loved cats. His cat Taki gave him endless enjoyment, but also occasionally got on his nerves. Here’s a passage from a letter Chandler wrote to a friend about Taki:
“Our cat is growing positively tyrannical. If she finds herself alone anywhere she emits blood curdling yells until somebody comes running. She sleeps on a table in the service porch and now demands to be lifted up and down from it. She gets warm milk about eight o'clock at night and starts yelling for it about 7.30.”
12. Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë not only shared a love of writing with her sisters, but also a love of cats. Felines are featured in many of the sisters’ writings, including Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights, as well as in the personal diaries of Anne and Charlotte. Emily Brontë even wrote an essay in French entitled “Le Chat” (“The Cat”), in which she defends cats against those who argue that they are selfish and cruel, asserting that the disposition of cats is quite similar to that of humans and even arguing that the self-reliance of cats is better than the hypocrisy of humanity.
13. Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott once jokingly listed a “love of cats” among her vices, and her fondness of felines shone through her writing. In Little Women, the March sisters have a pet cat, and at one point in the story Beth is seen playing with the cat and her kittens. The book even includes a poem called “A Lament (For S.B. Pat Paw)” eulogizing a beloved pet cat: “We mourn the loss of our little pet, / And sigh o’er her hapless fate, / For never more by the fire she’ll sit, / Nor play by the old green gate.”
For more fascinating facts and stories about your favorite authors and their works, check out Mental Floss's new book, The Curious Reader: A Literary Miscellany of Novels and Novelists, out May 25!