Our Claw-some Cat Collections

McFarlin Special Collection and University Archives houses many author’s personal papers and manuscripts. Recently I discovered that a popular topic amongst writers was their interest in cats. The first author that came to mind when I thought about this close-knitted relationship with cats was Ernest Hemingway and his Florida – Key West home, which survived the recent hurricanes.

So it begs the question: “What is it about cats that writers find attractive?”

Cats have long been a muse for writers. Felines are present in author’s personal papers or as characters in books. I think it is safe to assume that most writers are cat people and have quite the dynamic relationship with these animals. Cats unlike dogs, in my opinion, require people to earn their trust. They are the perfect pet for people who spend copious amounts of time in silent thought.

I began to comb through our collections and found that author after author had some type of material, including photographs, letters, and books, of cats. Below I’ve included some of our many pieces related to cats:

  1. 16 pen and ink illustrations by Jean Campbell Willett, Helen Corke (Coll. No. 1975.001)
  2. The Cats of Copenhagen, James Joyce (PR6019.O9 C387 2012)
  3. Rover and the Other Cats, Hugh Leonard (Coll. No. 1995.021.39.4)
  4. “My Cats,” “Cats in Colour,” Stevie Smith (Coll. No. 1976.; Coll. No. 1976.
  5. Cats in Camera, Jan Styczynski (Coll. No. 1988.013.1)
  6. Correspondence, Rebecca West (Coll. No. 1986.002)

Joyce’s The Cats of Copenhagen short-story was written on September 5, 1936 for Joyce’s nephew, Stephen James Joyce, and illustrated by Casey Sorrow, an American artist. This piece was not published until 2012 due to public controversy on unpublished material and copyright issues. The Cats of Copenhagen is related to Joyce’s other well-known work titled The Cat and the Devil. We have no. 6 of 170 bound copies and it makes for a great addition to our department’s Joyce collection.

Rebecca West and longtime love affair H.G. Wells used cat names, Panther and Jaguar, to describe their relationship and separation from society. She also wrote a short-story titled “Why My Mother was Frightened of Cats” from a typewritten manuscript in 1956 which stated: “For me to keep a cat has all the excitement of a forbidden love-affair” and “Cats can be depended upon to find an infinite number of ways of disconcerting human beings.”

If you are interested in these materials or any others, collections are available for viewing in the Special Collections Satin Room from 8 am – 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. If materials are housed at our offsite location, we ask for twenty-four hour notice. Have a great weekend!

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