Cats in the 19th Century (Part 14-Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cat)

Edgar Allan Poe's Black CatThe tormented American poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), had a beloved pet cat named Catterina.  Edgar Allan Poe’s black cat often perched on his shoulders while he wrote as if overseeing his work and would remain there, observed a visitor, “….purring as if in complacent approval of the work proceeding under [her] supervision.”  Catterina also kept Poe’s wife Virginia, who was dying of tuberculosis, company by lying next to her in bed.  Poe acknowledged that Catterina was “….one of the most remarkable black cats in the world—and this is saying much; for it will be remembered that black cats are all of them witches.” (Mabbott, 1978 p.479)  It was perhaps Peter that Poe based his character Pluto on in The Black Cat (1843).  An excerpt from Poe’s novel has the narrator stating, “Pluto—this was the cat’s name- was my favorite pet and playmate.  I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house.  It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.”  Originally a nice man, the narrator becomes an alcoholic and starts to abuse his once beloved black cat, Pluto.  The smart cat then began to avoid him, and when the narrator tries to grab him, the cat naturally scratches him, and the narrator gouges out one of his eyes.  The narrator in a fit of guilt at the realization of what he has become could not stand the once loved cat and eventually hanged him. Not long after this horrendous crime, another almost identical black cat appeared.  At first he was pleased to have a new cat, but he soon became fearful when it persisted on showing him its feline affection.  He thought that it was persecuting him for his previous crime, taking the rather natural behavior of the cat as a threat.  The cat that resembles Pluto is believed to be its reincarnation and a supernatural avenger, and thus the narrator’s fear of the cat drives him to the crime that will destroy him.  As he goes downstairs, the cat weaves between his legs and drives the narrator to attempt to hit the defenseless animal with an axe.  As his wife grabs his arm to stop him, he swings at her as well and accidentally kills her.  He hides her body behind the cellar wall and would have gotten away with the murder if the cat, who had been accidentally walled up with her, had not alerted the police by its crying.   The cat is an avenger that the narrator believes led him to the murder of his wife.  The cat here is seen as evil and an agent of Satan.  However, it is the narrator’s evil passions, not the cat’s that bring him to his unfortunate end.

Edgar Allan Poe's Black Cat

Here’s the 1941 version of the movie….


Want to know more about the cat in history, art and literature? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for you.  Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.
Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats 

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