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.

April 27, 2015

April 27, 1904

We recall C. Day-Lewis (April 27, 1904 to May 22, 1972) as the poet laureate of Britain from 1968 to 1972. This Oxford professor of poetry, also wrote detective novels, and translated ancient texts. All this conforms to a vision of England that is chimerical but powerful. Our excerpt below may ground our expectations; we quote from a poem titled "Cat."

Tearaway kitten or staid mother of fifty,
Persian, Chinchilla, Siamese
Or backstreet brawler -you all have tiger in your blood
And eyes opaque as the sacred mysteries


Like poets you wrap your solitude around you
And catch your meaning unawares:
With consequential trot or frantic tarantella
You follow up your top secret affairs.


The best of his lines in this poem I included. Some tropes border on the banal, as in, "eyes opaque as sacred mysteries".  The echoes of "Pangur Ban", the medieval text, are refreshingly recalled.  The lines from the 9th century: 

Your shining eye watches the wall;
My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
You rejoice, when your claws entrap a mouse;
I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.

merely enrich Day-Lewis's stanza.

Perhaps Day-Lewis's insistence on clarity has been confused with the mundane. Surely we should celebrate his graceful and lucid restatement of important themes. 

April 26, 2015

April 26, 1616

Our William Shakespeare (April 23, 1564 to April 26, 1616): his writing is so analyzed and so rarely conclusively.

The Merchant of Venice
, (Act 4, scene 1) contains an explanation as to why Shylock demands a pound of flesh. Shylock's response is that there is no rational answer for the likes and dislikes of men. He, Shylock, despises Antonio, and wants his recompense according to the strictest terms. The reasonableness of this demand, is not open to question anymore than other dislikes men reveal:

Some men there are love not a gaping pig,
Some that are mad if they behold a cat,
And others, when the bagpipe sings i' th' nose,
Cannot contain their urine. ...

Now, for your answer:
As there is no firm reason to be rendered
Why he
[an ordinary person] cannot abide a gaping pig;
Why he,
[cannot abide] a harmless necessary cat;
Why he, a woollen bagpipe, ...

So can I give no reason,...

On another question, though, some light may be gained for the critic. 

The phrase "a harmless necessary cat" may, may... cast some light on the question of Shakespeare's Catholic sympathies.  I say this because the phrase displays, for me,  a silent, rueful,  gaze on the playwright's part, at the extraordinary cruelty often shown cats at that era.  That cruelty was often displayed then, by Protestants who discussed the Pope as a cat. No one has convincingly argued for these sympathies. I merely suggest that the resonance of the phrase, "a harmless, necessary cat," might be a bit of a weight in the question. 

And should my sense of the weight of this phrase be accurate, it casts light on the theme of the whole play, which would then be not about a specific religion, but about the way religions can distort relations between people and their world. 

April 25, 2015

April 25, 1930

The director, Paul Mazursky (April 25, 1930 to June 30, 2014) carved a unique place in cinematography with his depictions of 20th century American culture. Mazursky co-wrote and directed Harry and Tonto which was released in 1974.

We read at Cinema Cats that Mazursky's mother walked her cat on a leash in Greenwich Village, as would Harry with Tonto.  We found a picture at that  site of Tonto.

Harry & Tonto

Mazursky himself shows the best side of American happyendism with his superficial but adorable plots.

April 24, 2015

April 24, 1998

Christiane Rochefort (July 17, 1917 to April 24, 1998) was an algebra teacher and a journalist, before her success as an author.  She was a writer who drew on her own experiences as the child born into a left wing working class, Parisian, family.

One source summarizes her books in this manner:

A leading feminist author, Christiane Rochefort wrote over a dozen books, including both novels and nonfiction. Her works, which incorporate large doses of black humor, presented a scathing picture of women's constricted life and subordination in modern French society. A key theme of much of her writing was the way in which a woman's loving impulses were likely to be manipulated and betrayed. Rochefort's feminist writing has been described by Diana Holmes , a leading scholar of her work, as "closer to that of Anglo-American feminist novelists than to that of her French contemporaries." Holmes points in particular to Marilyn French and Fay Weldon as the English-language authors whom Rochefort most resembles......Working mainly within the conventional forms of the novel, Rochefort was able nonetheless to present a number of radical messages. Her interest in sexuality, as well as her consistent frankness in discussing relations between men and women, often brought accusations that her writing was pornographic......

And her books were sometimes made into movies. Here is her IMDB filmography:

1959 Too Many Crooks (story) 
1960 The Truth (scenario) 
1962  Love on a Pillow (novel) 
1963  Questo mondo proibito (Documentary) (writer) 
1969  Margarita y el lobo (novel "Les stances à Sophie") 
1970  L'apocalypse (novel) 
1971  Sophie's Ways
1971  La ville-bidon (collaboration) 
1974  Les petits enfants du siècle (TV Movie) (novel) 

Here is a screen shot from The Truth, directed by Roger Vadim:

But it wasn't just a popular audience that responded to Rochefort's writing.  No less a critic than Edmund Wilson praised her. In his Europe without Baedecker (1966) Wilson writes that Christiane Rochefort  "was of some importance." And he praises the translation of one novel, titled in English as Cats Don't Care for Money. Cats here are not kitty cats. Wilson goes on:

I had supposed that the novel [
Les stances à Sophie] was untranslateable. But Miss [Helen] Eustis has not been daunted by the bad language, the Paris argot, the sardonic hipster cracks; she has found American equivalents, and the book reads with perfect naturalness.

Les stances à Sophie, originally published in 1963, appeared in this English translation, Cat's Don't Care for Money,  in  1965.

Other of Rochefort's books available in English include: 

Le repos du guerrier (1958)  Warrior's Rest (translated by Lowell Bair, 1959)
Les petits enfants du siècle (1961)  Children of Heaven (translated by Linda Asher, 1962) 
and also as, I Josyane and the Welfare (translated by Edward Hyams, 1963).

April 23, 2015

April 23, 2015

World Book Day, every 23rd of April,  is an occasion to celebrate, for the staff here at the Cat Lover's Almanac, those authors whose biographical details are obscure. Today we spotlight Jane E. Horning. She was born in 1942, in California, we read, and worked as a librarian. She was reported living in northern California, but recent news is missing.

Jane Horning authored a book: The Mystery Lovers Book of Quotations (1988). The credit specifies she edited and compiled this collection of quotes from mystery stories, which runs to over 1300 pages. The range of authors whose work was not just read, but studied, and portions typed out, and filed, and then collated, retyped, and prepared for press, is impressive. We note just a few writers included in her resource:

Anthony Berkeley
Earl Derr Biggers
Agatha Christie
Howard Engle
Loren Estleman
Helen Eustis
Matthew Head
Ross Spencer

Frank Stockton

We picture the editor spending years preparing for this volume. The idea is quite innovative. And the publication year, 1988, was just before the world of researchers, writers, editors, quite changed. I  have used her work for paragraphs here in this blog. The authors I list above have another singularity---- the selections for these mystery novelists, picked by Horning for inclusion in her reference work ---- all mention a cat. I of course could determine this quickly, using contemporary digital resources. Copy it quickly with a few key strokes. And file it on line, til I meed it.  My labor is nothing compared to Horning's.  Soon perhaps no one will remember what went into original research. 

Jane Horning, we are so glad you researched and published The Mystery Lovers Book of Quotations. We hope you know about this post. 

April 21, 2015

April 21, 1910

Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 to April 21, 1910)  is one of the more famous cat lovers in history. At the end, he had outlived his wife, sold his adored home, and also suffered the loss of a dear daughter. He was the object of adulation from the public in these latter years. Here is another description of his life at that time:

Col. George Harvey, Twain's publisher, described the writer in his bed with Bambino:

I think that perhaps the funniest thing about Mark Twain now is not his writing, but his bed. He lies in bed a good deal; he says he has formed the habit. His bed is the largest one I ever ..
.[saw], and on it is the weirdest collection of objects you ever saw, enough to furnish a Harlem flat--books, writing materials, clothes, any and everything that could foregather in his vicinity.

He looks quite happy rising out of the mass, and over all prowls a huge black cat of a very unhappy disposition. She snaps and snarls and claws and bites, and Mark Twain takes his turn with the rest; when she gets tired of tearing up manuscript
[s] she scratches him and he bears it with a patience wonderful to behold.....

His publisher only saw one aspect of a complex cat.  Mark Twain would have felt no need to correct another's impression; Bambino's reputation was just another joke. Twain said elsewhere:

"A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime."

April 20, 2015

April 20, 1879

Paul Poiret (April 20, 1879 to April 30, 1944) designed women's clothing, and his designs were the epitome of high fashion in his (pre-1914) day. He is credited with freeing women from the corset, though he does not claim sole credit for this. His fame can be glimpsed in the fact that an American poet, Elinor Wylie (once considered on an artistic par with Edna St. Vincent Millay), specified she be buried in her Poiret gown. 

Poiret's significance is summarized at this website and I quote from Lotusgreenfotos, where we learn he "made-over western fashion in the style of the Japanese. " Poiret handled the lines, the cuts of  the dresses for which he is famous,  made out of a fabric whose pattern Raoul Dufy may well have designed.

...[I]t is astonishing to do a little research into women's fashion in the 1800s. It was quite literally not until the final half decade of the century that colors, other than black and white, were allowed in the door-and it was past the century mark itself before color and pattern beyond calico showed on the well-dressed woman. and at the very same moment, the whole shape of the fashions changed as well...[G]one were the corsets and the bustles and stays. [Y]es, there were 'hobble skirts,' also Poiret's doing, but for the most part women's bodies had been freed.

[Poiret used]...Dufy's designs ...created using woodblock prints, thereby using both method and themes he [Dufy] found in Japanese art. Poirot, ever an entrepreneur, commissioned some of Paris's newest and best artists to paint portraits of his dresses for publicity purposes.... Dufy's designs were very different from the available printed silk fabrics which had small paisley or polka dot designs. Dufy's fabrics were stunning and Poiret used them extensively in his fashions, creating magnificent coats, capes and dresses in sumptuous silk brocades block-printed with large designs; and when Poiret took his models to the races to publicize them, they were the center of attraction.

Here are Poiret's own words (En Habillant l'Epoque, 1930) as to his use of Dufy's designs.

Dufy designed and carved woodcuts for me based on the illustrations he had just created for Apollinaire's Bestiaire. I made dresses with the sumptuous materials printed from them.

And here is a sample of the work Poiret references:

Vive le japonisme.