Cats in the 20th Century (Cats in Literature-Ernest Hemingway)

Ernest Hemingway catsThe masculine hunter, fisherman, bullfight enthusiast and 1954 Noble prize winner for literature, Ernest Hemingway, doted on his cats.  After being given “Snowball” a white 6 toed cat by a ship’s captain, Hemingway let nature take its course until he had 23 felines in 1945.  A whole tribe of polydactyl cats have inhabited his Key West, Florida estate ever since, and The Hemingway House and Museum still care for them today. Hemingway’s Cats: An Illustrated Biography, with a forward by his niece, provides some insight into his relationship with his cats.  One of the stories related is that of Uncle Willie, one of Hemingway’s cats found after being hit by a car on February 22, 1953.  Afterwards, Hemingway wrote a heartfelt letter to his close friend Gianfranco Ivancich.

Dear Gianfranco:

Just after I finished writing you and was putting the letter in the envelope Mary came down from the Torre and said, ‘Something terrible has happened to Willie.’ I went out and found Willie with both his right legs broken: one at the hip, the other below the knee.  A car must have run over him or somebody hit him with a club.  He had come all the way home on the two feet of one side.  It was a multiple compound fracture with much dirt in the wound and fragments protruding.  But he purred and seemed sure that I could fix it.

I had René get a bowl of milk for him and René held him and caressed him and Willie was drinking the milk while I shot him through the head.  I don’t think he could have suffered and the nerves had been crushed so his legs had not begun to really hurt.  Monstruo wished to shoot him for me, but I could not delegate the responsibility or leave a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him…

Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years.  Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.(Brennen, 2006)

Cats were also very much a part of Hemingway’s writings.  They appear in his short stories Cat in the Rain and Old Man at the Bridge.



Ernest Hemingway with kittens

Hemingway with sons Patrick and Gregory at Finca Vigia, Cuba


Hemingway's cats


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Hemingway cats

Ernest Hemingway at his home in Cuba, the Finca Vigia, 1954. Photograph copyright A. E. Hotchner, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.


Hemingway and cats in literature


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Hemingway cats


Hemingway cats in literature


Ernest Hemingway cats in literature


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Ernest Hemingway cats


Hemingway cats in literature



Carlene Brennen, Hemingway’s Cat’s an Illustrated Biography

Ernest Hemingway, Short Stories


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? 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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  1. Julian Stockwin says

    Great piece – from another author who loves cats, too…

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