Famous Writers and Their Cats: Eliot, Twain and Hemingway

Some of our most famous and admired authors were cat lovers. From T.S. Eliot and his beloved cats Tantomile, Noily Prat, Wiscus, Pettipaws and George Pushdragon; to Mark Twain’s cats Appolinaris, Beelzebub, Blather Skite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sin, Sour Mash, Tammary, and Zoraster; to Ernest Hemingway’s Alley Cat, Boise, Crazy Christian, Dillinger, Ecstasy, F. Puss, Friendless Brother, Furhouse, Pilar, Skunk, Thrister, and Whitehead Willy—writers have found both comfort and inspiration from their furry friends. While there haven’t been any studies directly linking pets with creativity the mood-enhancing benefits of having a beloved companion are well documented.

The cats of these famous writers found their way into the work. T.S. Eliot wrote a volume of light verse entitled, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” which inspired Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Cats. In addition to the many appearances of cats in his work, from Tom Sawyer to Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain famously said: “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction,“ and, “By what right has the dog come to be regarded as a “noble” animal? The more brutal and cruel and unjust you

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are to him the more your fawning and adoring slave he becomes; whereas, if you shamefully misuse a cat once she will always maintain a dignified reserve toward you afterward–you will never get her full confidence again.”

One of the purely practical aspects of pet ownership is daily care—getting up to feed the cat, clean the litter box and freshen the water. For a writer, immersed in his latest opus, the simple act of taking a break to feed a pet can be a powerful tool for maintaining health and mood. For Hemingway, another famous cat lover, his six-toed (polydactyl) cats provided companionship and kept him engaged with the world around him. He had a special drinking fountain installed in his home for his cats’ convenience, and included provisions for his companions in his will.

“We know that pets can have a positive health impact on people who feel positively about them,” says Erika Friedmann, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and president of the International Society for Anthrozoology, the study of human-animal interaction.

But what exactly is this link between the creative writers among us and their animal friends? Perhaps it lies in the unconditional love cats provide. For a writer intent on illustrating the problems with the world at large—the injustices, brutality and sadness—coming home to a pet whose only concern is getting fed may provide some much needed relief and comfort. In the case of Hemingway, Eliot and Twain, their tortured creative lives led them to write enduring works of fiction and poetry, while their devoted cats waited by their feet, to be pet.

It is important to note in light of recent research that pet ownership may bring with it some unintended negatives. There have been some inconclusive studies linking certain health problems with cats, including eczema and certain heart ailments. There is a need for more research in this area. Until then, the benefits of cat ownership for the highly creative seem to far outweigh the risks.

References and Resources:

Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/17/AR2011011703739.html

Twain Quotes: Cats
http://www.twainquotes.com/Cats.html

PetCentric: Hemingway’s Cats
http://www.petcentric.com/Read/Articles/The-Hemingway-Cats-Seem-to-Know-They-Are-Celebrities.aspx?articleid=8a966928-f822-4248-9356-2787dc71d08b