Cats in the 20th Century (Cats in Literature-Colette)

Cats in Literature

The cat naturally came to the pages of 20th century literary works as the usual symbol of feminine sexuality, lust and desire.  However, writers loved cats not because they could use them in their literary works as symbol and metaphor, but because they, just as the independent thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, admired the cat’s natural independence and haughty superiority.  Long since glorified by the ancient Romans as the goddess of freedom, the cat could not be tamed, an attribute that writers chose to emulate.

cats in literature, Colette and catThe French writer Colette (1873-1953), who epitomized the bohemian lifestyle of the period by living with both female and male lovers, and writing scandalous novels, had a special love of cats.  Her devotion to her pets caused her second husband to complain, “When I enter a room where you’re alone with animals, I feel I’m being indiscreet.”  One of the French novelist’s books is even entitled La Chatte (Cat) and focuses on a love triangle between a man, woman and cat.  Oddly enough it is the man who is in love with the cat and cannot give her up, summarized in brief from a 1936 New York Times Review:               

 “The Cat,  La Chatte is a French novel by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Released in 1933, the book tells of a love triangle involving Camille Malmert, her husband Alain Amparat and his Chartreux cat Saha. Camille loves Alain, but Alain loves his cat, whom he has had from childhood, more than he could love any woman. The book mainly focuses on Alain and his refusal to grow up; his cat is the embodiment of his childhood.

In the story, Camille and Alain get married and temporarily move into one of Camille’s friend’s flats. Alain does not like this, as he is away from his childhood home and his cat. Eventually, Camille becomes so annoyed at Alain’s obsession with the cat that she pushes Saha from the balcony of the flat, to what she hopes is her death. The cat survives and Alain, furious, leaves Camille to move back in with his mother and his cat.

Alain is rumoured to be based upon Colette’s own brother. Saha is based upon a Chartreux cat that Colette once owned called “la chatte”.

There is some writing in this novel which would be hard to match for delicacy and exactness, and there are dozens of delightful pictures of Saha. No one who is fond of cats can afford to miss the acquaintance of this one. “ (Colette and a Cat by Margaret Wallace New York Times  August 9, 1936  Review)  

cats in literature, Colette and cat

 

cats in literature, Colette and cats

 

cats in literature, Colette and cat

 

FURTHER READING:

Colette, The Cat

Colette, Gigi and the Cat

Colette, 7 by Colette of the Academy Goncourt: Gigi, The Cat, Cheri, The Last of Cheri, My Mother’s House, Chance Acquaintances, The Vagabond

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