Cats both domestic and wild have been worshipped, adored, feared, coveted, persecuted, psychoanalysed, parodied, wondered over, painted, written about, sculpted, photographed… and there is no sign of this fascination ever abating.
Some of us find cats enchanting; others greatly prefer dogs. Personally, I love both; but admit that I’ve probably spent longer pondering the psyche of a cat, than that of a dog.
When considering the appeal of our own cat, Hattie, I believe that few come closer than Emily Bronte to explaining humankind’s long enthrallment by cats.
Emily Bronte wrote a French essay called “The Cat” in 1842 – often one of the examples cited in demonstrating her unsentimental attitude towards nature. The cat, she wrote, although it differs in some physical points, is extremely like us in disposition. Then she considers the three charges of hypocrisy, cruelty and ingratitude levelled against the cat by its detractors : detestable vices in our race and equally odious in that of cats… a cat in its own interest sometimes hides its misanthropy under the guise of amiable gentleness… the ingratitude of cats is another name for penetration. They know how to value our favours at their true price, because they guess the motives that prompt us to grant them.
Emily understood that we see something of ourselves in cats. We recognise their psyches. And of course we are free to interpret that as we like!
For instance, Hattie, among her many intriguing characteristics, never fails to miaow for her biscuits approximately one hour before they are due. And the miaows continue until we cannot possibly resist any longer. The danger of course is that the biscuits come slightly earlier each day… Her persistence is admirable, and I have often compared it to the way I handle frustration in life. I have even thought that if Hattie had written a novel, and wished to find a literary agent to represent her, she would achieve success much quicker than many thousands of despairing authors of slushpile manuscripts.
Emily Bronte wrote her cat essay under the tutelage of her French master in Brussels in 1842. Five years later she published Wuthering Heights. In this novel she created the kind of home, occupied as it is by a deeply dysfunctional family, where any cat would lead a high-risk existence – escaping from the boot of sadistic Hindley when he’s in one of his rages, or the heartbroken revenge of a demented Heathcliffe a generation later. Emily’s perception of human nature is fierce, penetrating and unsentimental; and therein lies her reliability in discerning the psyche of a cat.
What do you think? Is this a true picture of the cat? Or perhaps you disagree with Emily Bronte? I’d love to have your comments!