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 25, 2015

January 25, 1882

Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882 to March 28, 1941) used the idea of a room as a pointer to the occupant. We note in her comment in Jacob's Room (1922) a feline thread. There she wrote: "Kind old ladies assure us that cats are often the best judges of character. A cat will always go to a good man, they say." The cat as a seemingly irrelevant detail functions to point out the edge of living change in some of her work. 

That edge is a topic that deserves greater development. Such an essay might start with remembering that she got a cat with the first money she received for writing.

January 24, 2015

January 24, 1965

Winston Churchill (November 30, 1874 to January 24, 1965), the British statesman, not the novelist, could wax whimsical about his cats. Nelson was a gray Persian and Churchill warned a friend not to discuss the war in front of the cat., because ""He's in touch with the pelicans on the lake....and they're communicating our information to the German secret service!"

I think that was reported in the same source where I read:

During a dinner at the PM's country residence, Chequers, American war correspondent Quentin Reynolds noted Churchill as saying: "Nelson is the bravest cat I ever knew. I once saw him chase a huge dog out of the Admiralty. I decided to adopt him and name him after our great Admiral." During dinner, Reynolds noted, "When Mrs. Churchill was not looking, the Prime Minister sneaked pieces of salmon to Nelson." There were even rumors that Nelson sat in with his master during Cabinet meetings, and Churchill once told a colleague that Nelson was doing more than he was for the war effort.

January 23, 2015

January 23, 2004

We are indebted to the Cat Museum of San Francisco for this photo of Helmut Newton (October 31, 1920 to January 23, 2004) . They have a great site and I steal from them all the time. (Well, they need a proof reader. Quoting:[A] Cat Museum located in San Francisco California. ... The relationship between cats and people goes back some 5,00 years.)  But that is not the ball being patted around today.

This is Helmut Newton in 1957.

Below we glance at the life of this photographer, which we excerpted from elsewhere, starting with his escape from the Nazi Germans:

In 1938, Newton's parents secured him a passage on a ship to China, ....Newton stopped in Singapore where he stayed until 1940; he then moved to Australia. Newton later joined the Australian army, serving five years....

In 1948, Newton married actress June Brunell, a fellow photographer who later would photograph Newton and work with him on his books. Brunell remained his partner for more than 55 years until his death. During this time, he changed his name to Newton [from Neust├Ądter], and opened a small photo studio in Melbourne. He was hired by Australian Vogue in the 1950s; by British Vogue in 1957-1958, and by French Vogue in 1961; a magazine that he stamped with his trademark images for a quarter century. Throughout the years, Newton contributed to magazines such as Playboy, Queen, Nova, Marie-Claire, Elle and the American, Italian, and German editions of Vogue.

...Newton challenged conventions, and created a provocative, hybrid photography that embraced fashion, erotica, portrait, and documentary elements, producing a highly stylized interpretation of elegant and decadent ways of life.

...Newton was highly sought after until the end of his life. He died of injuries from a car accident at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, California in 2004. Shortly before his death he had established the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, Germany, and donated approximately one thousand of his works to his native city.

This is the end of that article. And we have another photo from Cat Museum of San Francisco, one BY Newton and dated 1967. 

The model is Twiggy. The scene evocative of a certain era. The criticism concerns how they got that cat in the air. Well not how -- someone threw it. How many times, they threw it,  I don't know, and still the picture touches one. 

January 22, 2015

January 22, 1904

George Balanchine, (January 22 1904 to April 30, 1983) the famous choreographer, relied on his Russian training and that country's genius for music, to succeed in the United States. He was the balletmaster at the New York City Ballet for many decades.

Balanchine loved cats and was certain he had trained one, named Mourka, to dance. Igor Stravinsky (1882 -1971) wanted to see this dancing cat.

The story is told by Bernard Taper in Balanchine, a Biography (1996). We would like more details.  The denouement of the story Taper recalls is that "Guests present later said that was the only time they had ever seen Balachine nervous before a performance."

January 21, 2015

January 21, 1672

Adriaen van de Velde was a Dutch painter. He was baptised November 30, 1636 and buried January 21, 1672. He was part of a family of artists, and his Nederlands Wikipedia article says he was financially well-off. He married a Catholic and so was involved in clandestine rituals to have their children baptised in their mother's faith.

Adriaen van de Velde specialised in animal and landscape paintings. His talent was such that other artists used him to paint some figures in their own paintings. The translate tool produces absurd results in patches but apparently the following artists have figures, (including animal) in their work that were painted by Adriaen van de Velde.

Hobbema ,
Ruisdael ,
Adriaen Hendricksz.Verboom ,
Jan van der Heyden
Frederik de Moucheron
Jan Wynants.

This example of his work tells us why he was so popular:

I have never before seen an artist capture that translucent fur over skin effect so well. 

January 20, 2015

January 20, 1926

The Book of the Cat (1903) written by Frances Simpson (died on the 20th of January 1926)  is one of the earliest books to treat the feline species from a variety of perspectives-- the lore, the history, the literature, the fascination, in one volume. I have not studied the question of whether or not her book may have been the first of this genre. This volume repays consideration still: her stories, and her thoughts, have a freshness which supports the idea that she inaugurated a new category of book -- a compendium  geared to the ailurophile.

The author was one of the early proponents of, show cats. This activity began at a Crystal Palace exhibition (1871) and the idea of awarding prizes to individual cats among groups of groomed and carefully bred felines, caught on, especially since royalty participated in raising cats. We know little of her private life but Simpson lived in the world of the cat fancy. 

We are indebted to for more information about this writer. For now though we are going out of that fancy world, and quoting Simpson on --- stray cats. She gives a glimpse of the middle class attitude to the homeless cat when she discusses licensing cats (she calls it taxing cats) and says such a policy would not help, " in exterminating the poor, disreputable, half starved members of the feline tribe, who have no fixed abode and whose only means of existence is by plunder."

Here is our author. Without the attention to pampering cats she illustrates, there would not now be an audience willing to work on protecting those alley cats. 

January 19, 2015

January 19, 1946

Julian Barnes (January 19, 1946) is a modern British novelist. Several of his books like Arthur and George (2005) were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, before The Sense of an Ending, won the 2011 Booker.

According to his website, the awards began with his graduation from Magdalen College, Oxford, from which he graduated in modern languages (with honours) in 1968.

[We read on:] After graduation, he worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary supplement for three years. In 1977, Barnes began working as a reviewer and literary editor for the New Statesmen and the New Review. From 1979 to 1986 he worked as a television critic, first for the New Statesmen and then for the Observer.

.... Barnes's other awards include the Somerset Maugham Award (Metroland 1981), Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (FP 1985); Prix M├ędicis (FP 1986); E. M. Forster Award (American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1986); Gutenberg Prize (1987); Grinzane Cavour Prize (Italy, 1988); and the Prix Femina (Talking It Over 1992). Barnes was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1988, Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1995 and Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2004. In 1993 he was awarded the Shakespeare Prize by the FVS Foundation and in 2004 won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. In 2011 he was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature. Awarded biennially, the prize honours a lifetime's achievement in literature for a writer in the English language who is a citizen of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. He received the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence in 2013.

This really impressive list throws into contrast a personal detail of interest. The book Conversations with Julian Barnes (Vanessa Guignery, ‎Ryan Roberts, 2009) quotes our author, regarding pseudonyms:

For instance I hate cats, but in a Julian Barnes novel I doubt whether I'd do more than lightly push one off my lap, but give me a pseudonym, and I'll have one barbecued by the end of the first chapter."

Perhaps another Barnes quote, used in a Google blurb, is relevant here: "I don't have a sentimental side. I'm suspicious of sentimentality. In my experience, sentimentality often goes with cruelty."