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.

October 20, 2014

October 20, 1905

Ellery Queen is the hero of a series of detective stories. Ellery Queen was the fictional creation of two authors who also were cousins, Frederic Dannay (October 20, 1905 to September 3, 1982) and Manfred Bennington Lee (January 11, 1905 to April 3, 1971). These author names are also aliases for the writers. Ellery Queen, following the classic detective profile, is sketched as a cerebral type, a writer himself. There were regular Ellery Queen books from 1929 to 1971, and a huge amount of media spin-off.

Cat of Many Tails was published in 1949. There were many editions. Here is the cover art for some of them.

If you saw this edition cover, you might think cats played a big part in the story.

But no, this cover is by far 

the most common --

This cover is more about the city, always an  important milieu for the detective story.

And good reasons to forget the cat on the cover completely, since cats are not a big part of the story.

And we get even more abstract----

and abstracter

The best cover may be the Spanish--- where the tails and the feline both  feature

Here are our authors: Manfred Bennington Lee  (left) and Frederic Dannay.  Ellery Queen wasn't the only detective hero these cousins created and wrote about together. Nor are Lee and Dannay actually their own real names. 

Layers of mystery to sort. And others have wondered about the connection between reading or writing about terrible things, made up things that are meaningful because they have or could, really happen, and how such descriptions yet function to divert, amuse, entertain. Now that is  a mystery.

October 19, 2014

October 19, 1950

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 to October 19, 1950) came in from the cold of solitary geniusness, and after many many romances, married a wealthy business man in 1923. They were happy. Millay, the definition of lyric life, showed how even a Pulitzer Prize, (1923) did not render her totally impractical about how far you can use the currency of youth and wit.

This poem gives a sense of her literary gifts, and is interesting for the light it sheds on the tastes of cultivated audiences in the first half of the 20th century. Millay was widely regarded as a brilliant writer.  "I Too Beneath Your Moon, Almighty Sex" is dated 1939.

I too beneath your moon, almighty Sex,
Go forth at nightfall crying like a cat,
Leaving the lofty tower I laboured at
For birds to foul and boys and girls to vex
With tittering chalk; and you, and the long necks
Of neighbours sitting where their mothers sat
Are well aware of shadowy this and that
In me, that’s neither noble nor complex.
Such as I am, however, I have brought
To what it is, this tower; it is my own;
Though it was reared To Beauty, it was wrought
From what I had to build with: honest bone
Is there, and anguish; pride; and burning thought;
And lust is there, and nights not spent alone.

What is lacking of course, is intellectual probity.

October 18, 2014

October 18, 1880

Vladimir Jabotinsky (October 18, 1880 to August 4, 1940), was a Zionist and his efforts to encourage emigration there seem today to have a sickening prescience. His childhood home was Odessa, his first career that of a Russian poet and journalist, but as a youth he set up self defense groups against pogroms. By the 30s (1936) he worked energetically to evacuate the entire Jewish population of Poland to Palestine.

At this time he himself was composing a novel that evoked his own childhood home in Odessa; his novel, The Five, (1935) paints a picture of a world he loved. In it h
e weaves local and cosmopolitan myths, by for example, recalling that," The mouse is sad to be caught in the cat's paws."

According to a book review of the latest of many biographies of Jabotinsky, (
Marat Grinberg's  in Tablet of Jabotinsky: A Life, by Hillel Halkin, ((2014)), The Five

...was ... an elegy about and a eulogy to the Russian-Jewish experience, ...[and] also the whole Jewish world which, to reiterate, Jabotinsky sensed was on the edge of extinction.

This is only superficially a contradiction-- international Zionism versus love of home,-- the kind of false dilemma academics love to churn up. In fact, Jabotinsky's

"... whole life projected the idea that one could be both: an artist and a politician, a Zionist and a citizen of the world."

October 17, 2014

October 17, 1864

Elinor Glyn, (October 17, 1864 to  September 23, 1943) the British novelist, may need a little introduction. (Some typos below are silently corrected):

Elinor Glyn ... was a beautiful woman with red hair and green eyes who was in the news constantly and courted the press. ... Elinor really cared about what the critics said about her books. Elinor Glyn was married to Clayton Glyn, a country squire. They lived a life of ease filled with parties and travel. ...Elinor began to write books to pass the time. Her first book was The Visits of Elizabeth, [1900] a series of letters from a young debutante. The book was quite popular with critics and readers and Elinor wrote several others, all of them romantic comedies. In 1903, Queen Draga of Serbia was assassinated, an event that had a profound effect on Elinor. Several years later, as her marriage was deteriorating, ...[she used such an event in] ...her best known book - Three Weeks [1907].

Three Weeks is the story of Englishman Paul Verdayne, who is sent abroad by his aristocratic parents to break up an unsuitable love affair (he has fallen for a parson's daughter). In Lucerne, he meets a mysterious woman dressed all in black who exudes an hypnotic fascination. Paul and the Lady, who is a Balkan queen on the run from her degenerate and cruel husband, begin a passionate affair. She and Paul spend three weeks together where they make love on tiger skins amid masses of exotic flowers. When the three weeks are up and the Lady leaves Paul, he faints and is ill for a time. Months later, Paul receives a message from the Lady that his son has been born. Still later, Paul finds out that the Lady was killed by her degenerate husband who was himself killed by the Lady's servants. Paul's son is now the ruler and the Regent grants Paul permission to go to the ceremony and see his handsome young son proclaimed King.

Three Weeks is written in a full-blown passionate style dripping with purple prose. Here is a sample from the book:

The light of all the love in the world seemed to flood the lady's face. She bent over and kissed him and smoothed his cheek with her velvet cheek, she moved so that his curly lashes might touch her bare neck, and at last she slipped from under him and laid his head gently on the pillow. Then a madness of tender caressing seized her. She purred as a tiger might have done while she undulated like a snake. She touched him with her finger-tips, she kissed his throat, his wrists, the palms of his hands, his eyelids, his hair. Strange subtle kisses, unlike the kisses of women. And often, between her purrings she murmured love words in some fierce language of her own, brushing his ears and his eyes with her lips the while.

The critics hated the book. And the public? Sales figures are incomplete, but it is estimated that Three Weeks sold over five million copies. ....

Elinor received gifts of tiger skins from several admirers. She was bewildered by the fuss the critics raised about the "immorality" of Three Weeks. ... There is lots of kissing, caressing and writhing around on the tiger skin in the book, but there are no descriptions of sex. A large part of the book is devoted to the Lady's lectures to Paul to be true to his race and heritage, but according to most critics, an adulterous affair, especially one the author seemed to condone, was not acceptable subject matter for a novel in 1907.

After Three Weeks was published, Elinor found out that her husband was practically penniless. She supported the family by her writings for the rest of her life. Elinor made a lot of money, but was a very poor business woman and was often in financial straits, especially after her attempt to start her own movie production company. Elinor Glyn continued to write books and magazine articles for almost her entire life. She remained in the public eye and her books were popular with the public (if not with the critics), for her entire life.

Elinor Glyn is today mainly remembered because she put the quotes around the pronoun 'it.' As in"the IT girl." Regarding the use of the word Elinor Glyn wrote in the February 1927 issue of Cosmopolitan:

To have 'It', the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes... 'It' [is demonstrated]... in tigers and cats—both animals being fascinating and mysterious, and quite unbiddable..

This photograph of the author, by Claude Harris, and dated to late 1920's, shows how adorable "it" can be.

October 16, 2014

October 16, 1919

Forever Amber (1944) is a work of historical fiction. The narrative, set in Restoration England, tells the story of the King's interest in an actress. The scenes dealing with the Great Fire of London (1666)  are considered historically accurate. The author's husband was a history professor, according to one account. Kathleen Winsor (October 16, 1919 to May 26, 2003) may have relied on his research for some settings. Forever Amber was a bestseller at the time. Here's a scene, with a brief setup: Our heroine, a country girl who has not been in London very long, has found herself in debtor's prison, after being abandoned by a man who left with all her money. We join the action as the jailer's wife enters the cell.

A huge gray-striped cat followed her in, pushing against her legs and arching it's back, giving out a low satisfied rumble. And then all at once it caught sight of Amber's parakeet and moved swiftly forward. But Amber, with a little scream, jumped to her feet and, holding the cage at shoulder-level, kicked out at the cat with one foot while her parakeet
fluttered and clung terrified to the bars of its cage.

Winsor wrote other novels -- none anywhere as successful as her first.

October 15, 2014

October 15, 1881

Leonora Rowley, (1904-1944) was the product of passion bridled a little late. Her father died in a few years from drinking unclean water in India. Her mother, herself the product of sad lives, remarried, this time to a tailor. Leonora's mother was exceptionally beautiful. When her second husband committed suicide the mother returned to a previous profession, dancing as an "artiste." Her third husband was a writer and soon to be wealthy. Leonora became the step-daughter of P. G. Wodehouse, in 1915, the same year that Jeeves made his first appearance in a Wodehouse novel.

P. G. Wodehouse (October 15, 1881 to February 14, 1975) and Leonora were very close and here is a sample of a letter he wrote to her, (dated, November 14, 1923):

...We miss the delicately nurtured. Life has lost its savour. The world is dull and gray. The only bright spot is Jack the Cat Supreme...

Above and below, in another letter, we see his signature humor extends beyond the fictional page:

(dated December 23, 1923) ...Oh by the way Mummie tells me that you have taken to wine in your old age. I wish you wouldn't. I have always pointed with pride to you as the one female in the world who can subsist on water. I should preserve the record, if I were you.... Jack the cat has a red ribbon around his neck today. Looks an awful ass. That's all. Cheerio.

We found all the above in P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters (2011.) The editor, Sophie Ratcliffe, did an great job of annotation.

October 14, 2014

October 14, 1618

Peter Lely (October 14, 1618 to December 7,1680) was the court painter of Restoration England. His dates are different depending on the source, and it is possible October 14 is a baptism date). His genius is apparent in the following examples of his art.

Lely's portratt of Charles II's queen, Catherine of Braganza (1638 to 1705)

His portrait of their daughter Princess Isabella (1676-1681)

Here is his portrait of Nell Gwynne, one of the King's many mistresses

And Lely's portrait of the Duke of Monmouth, (1649-1685) Charle's illegitimate son who was later hung for leading a revolt against the throne

How lovely to read that Peter Lely was not just influential on, but friends with, England's first professional female portrait painter, Mary Beale (1633-1699). Here is an example of Beale's work:

This was painted in 1680, the year Lely died, so it is not clear if he saw the cat picture of Beale's. Lely painted Beale's son Bartholomew--