10 Great (and Cute) Facts about Writers and Cats

It’s World Cat Day! The purr-fect opportunity (sorry – we couldn’t resist) to share 10 of our favourite writer-related facts about cats.

Ernest Hemingway had over 30 pet cats, with names including Alley Cat, Crazy Christian, Ecstasy, F. Puss, Fats, Furhouse, Skunk, Thruster, and Willy. Many of them had six toes; to this day, such cats are often known as ‘Hemingway cats’. (More Ernest Hemingway facts here.)

James Joyce wrote two stories for children, both about cats: ‘The Cat and the Devil’ and ‘The Cats of Copenhagen’. You can see some of the rare illustrations for ‘The Cat and the Devil’ here.

French writer Colette started her working day by picking the fleas off her cat.


One of Daniel Defoe’s early business ventures was the harvesting of musk which he extracted from the anal glands of cats. Perhaps unsurprisingly (and thankfully for the cats involved), this venture failed.

Samuel Pepys is credited with the first use of the word ‘catcall’, in a diary entry of 7 March 1660, not long after he’d started keeping his diary of the 1660s. He is also credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with the earliest use of the word ‘frighten’ (on 4 September 1666, in his account of the Great Fire of London) – which brings us nicely to our next feline fact…

Dorothy Parker is credited with inventing the phrase ‘scaredy-cat’, in a short story called ‘The Waltz’ from 1933 – the Oxford English Dictionary gives her use as the earliest known instance of this feline-themed term.

Names for Mark Twain’s many pet cats included Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sour Mash, and Zoroaster.


‘Baudrons’ is a Scottish name for the cat, like Reynard for the fox – it is found in medieval poet Robert Henryson’s translation of Aesop.

Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas had a cat named Hitler, because the fur above the cat’s mouth resembled Hitler’s moustache.

Dickens’s house at Gad’s Hill had a secret door in the form of a fake bookcase. The fake books included titles such as ‘The Life of a Cat’ in 9 volumes.

Images: © Oliver Tearle, 2014.


25 thoughts on “10 Great (and Cute) Facts about Writers and Cats”

  1. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    I didn’t know there was such a event as World Cat Day, but thanks to Interesting Literature, now I do know and I also know some more facts about writers and cats. Read on and enjoy!

  2. I have a Hemingway cat! Six toes on her front and back feet. She’s also part Siamese, which means she is LOUD and PERSISTENT. The only way I can do much writing these days is to let her outside! (Don’t worry, we’re remote and she doesn’t go far, so there’s no harm of her wandering off or getting into trouble.)

    Twain’s cat names crack me up. I bet he chose some of them just to freak people out.

  3. In the margin of a medieval manuscript, an anonymous monk wrote a short poem to his cat, Pangur Ban. Does anyone remember what it was [I’m feeling too lazy to Google.] And that was the origin of the name of William Butler Yeats’ cat.

  4. In Ulysses James Joyce writes about Mr. Bloom’s cat in Chapter-II “They call them (cats) stupid. They understand what we say better than we understand them. She understands all she wants to.Vindictive too. Wonder what I look like to her. Height of a tower? No, she can jump me…” Yeats would rather cut his fur coat than disturb the cat that had once settled on it at the Abbey Theatre.

  5. If I may add the feline creatures which make an appearance in many of P G Wodehouse’s works. The one in ‘Aunts aren’t Gentlemen’ exercises lot of influence on a horse and gets kidnapped so the hapless owner of the horse may lose the local race!

  6. My cat jumps into my lap and will put his paw on my laptop when he thinks it’s time for me to stop writing. If I try to put him back on the floor he will jump back at me until I relent and either leave the room (which will make him howl) or allow him in my lap for pets.


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