book reviews by Althea

The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories ***

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The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories
The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories by W.L. Alden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**** Tobermory by Saki
Teaching domestic cats to talk would certainly be an amazing scientific accomplishment – but are you sure we’d really want to hear what they have to say? Here, a group of guests at a hoity-toity British dinner party learn that they absolutely do not want to hear from the cat.
This really isn’t one for the cat lovers – but it’s a cuttingly humorous look at the humans.

*** The Cat that Walked by Himself by Rudyard Kipling
An entertaining fable about how humans domesticated animals. Several species here make what they think is a good bargain – but the house cat is clearly the cleverest of all.

***** The Cats of Ulthar by H. P. Lovecraft
A re-read (of course!)
The inhabitants of the village of Ulthar have long tolerated the creepy old couple that they suspect has been kidnapping and killing their pets. After all, they don’t have any hard proof, and perhaps it’s easier just to mourn Fluffy. However, a boy from a travelling nomad caravan has no such compunctions. When his beloved kitten falls victim to the unsavory couple, he will appeal to his strange gods for justice – and finally, things will change in Ulthar.

*** Cats’ Paradise by Émile Zola
So, you’re going along with this one, thinking, “what an accurate depiction of the mentality of a feline!” as you follow the fat, comfortable house cat in his (mis)adventures after he runs away from his mistress. And then, it takes an abrupt turn into political allegory, and you go “Hmm.”
However, I think Zola might’ve done a bit too good a job with the cat’s perspective, because I ended up siding up more with the house cat than with the alley cat. (Clearly not the intended result.)

* The Cat’s Grave by Natsume Sōseki
Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but I did not get the point of this at all. A family cat gets sick and no one much cares. It dies, and then the family summons up some gestures toward mourning. However, no real conclusions are drawn, and it ends oddly (I had to double-check that it was really meant to be the end), leaving the reader with a feeling of unfocused dislike for the family described.

*** The Black and White Dynasties by Théophile Gautier
This piece superficially resembles the previous (Natsume Sōseki) story in that it seems to be the author’s reminiscence about cats he has owned. Neither follow a traditional story structure. However, the tone and feeling couldn’t be more different in the two different pieces. Gautier’s essay is full of affection and love, as he thinks back on the entertaining habits and charming behaviors of his pets.

*** Midshipman, the Cat by John Coleman Adams
Another in the “Cats I Have Known” genre. A group of leisure yachties are adopted by a wharf cat, who finds himself quite at home on board. Full of amusing anecdotes and the love of both cats and boats – although the ending is rather poignant.

*** The Cat by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Left to fend for himself in a mountain cabin over the winter, a domestic cat forms a friendship with a vagrant seeking shelter. The seemingly-simple story has interesting and complex dynamics involving the limits of affection, dependency, responsibility and communication.

**** The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault
A classic version of a classic tale.

The Watchers by Bram Stoker
No star rating, as this is not a complete work – it’s actually an excerpt from Stoker’s ‘Jewel of Seven Stars.’ I quite liked the novel, but this random bit featuring a pet cat doesn’t work on its own.

*** Zut by Guy Wetmore Carryl
Two French shopkeepers get into a feud involving a lovely Angora cat. The cat belongs to one – but decides that it’d rather spend time at the new, fancy salon across the way – much like many customers! The cat’s the only one here that’s not upset by the situation.

** The Afflictions of an English Cat by Honoré de Balzac
Political satire often doesn’t age that well, and this piece is an example of that. Probably would be more greatly appreciated by those with a in-depth, detailed knowledge of mid-19th-century issues.

*** Gipsy by Booth Tarkington
This one draws on the tradition that cats and dogs are natural enemies. Gipsy the cat falls afoul of Duke the dog one day, while trying to steal a fishbone… and all does not end well. Obviously meant to be funnier than I found it; I guess I’m just a bit too softhearted!

*** The Blue Dryad by G. H. Powell
When a naturalist brings a deadly poisonous snake home from a field excursion, it’s a recipe for disaster. But the family’s house cat – lazy and indolent as she may be – will save the day.
The story reminded me a lot of ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’ – and, indeed, was apparently compared to it in reviews when it was first published (1897).

**** Madame Jolicoeur’s Cat by Thomas A. Janvier
A dryly hilarious story of a widow with two suitors. When she tells both of them that, no matter what, her beloved cat will always come first in her affections, each has a very different reaction. The witty, deadpan delivery of the tale, liberally spiced with the malicious gossip of the widow’s acquaintances, makes the story that much funnier. It also helps that a heaping portion of just desserts is served out, in a most appropriate manner.

*** Calvin by Charles Dudley Warner
A charming eulogy for a beloved pet. As any good eulogy should, it really makes the reader feel that they know the salient qualities of the subject – and any cat owner will chuckle and empathize. The author says that everything here is 100% true – and I see no reason to doubt his claim.
Interestingly, the cat described here was given to the author by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

*** The Queen’s Cat by Peggy Bacon
A rather peculiar fairy tale. A king who cannot stand cats marries a princess who is devoted to them. ‘Hilarious’ hijinks ensue.

**** Plato: The Story of a Cat by A. S. Downs
Things that make you go “awwww…”
Plato is a handsome and charming fellow, and not only that, it turns out he’s quite selfless. I’d adopt him in a heartbeat.

*** Frisk’s First Rat by Charles W. Chesnutt
Intended for reading aloud to children, this brief story about a kitten catching his first rat is cute – but there’s not that much to it.

*** Aunt Cynthia’s Persian Cat by L. M. Montgomery
Originally published in “Further Chronicles of Avonlea,” this is an ‘Anne of Green Gables”-related story. I hadn’t read it before, but I recognized the setting and the style from the Montgomery books in the series that I’d read as a girl.
Two young women, living on their own, are pressured into cat-sitting their aunt’s treasured feline while she’s out of town – even though neither of them like cats. Of course, something goes wrong, and they must appeal to a persistent suitor to come to the rescue.
The humor and attitudes here are quite dated, in a particularly twee way – but it’s still not without its charm.

*** How a Cat Played Robinson Crusoe by Charles G. D. Roberts
I kept imagining this story being told to the author’s children on a Christmas Eve night; the family happily gathered around a roaring fireplace.
Ironically, it looks like it was written well after Roberts permanently left his family behind in the pursuit of his career as a freelance writer.
The story tells of a cat inadvertently left behind on a small island, when the family that summers there goes home for the winter. Originally called ‘Marooned,’ it’s a classic survival tale, as the pampered pet learns new skills to stay alive.

*** From the Diary of a Cat by Edwina Stanton Babcock
These faux diary entries from the point of view of a cat give a humorous insight into the feline type of thought processes. Another charming piece.

**** A Black Affair by W. W. Jacobs
Those with more delicate sensibilities may find themselves put off by the rough humor here – but I found it believable and appropriate for the attitudes of the characters – 19th century sailors.
Cats and birds have always been a bad mix – and there’s certainly no exception when both are on board ship. Here, a beloved ship’s cat encounters the captain’s new parrot – and not all ends well.
This is by the author of the famous horror story, ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ – apparently, during his career, he was more well known for his nautical tales, such as this one.

*** The Yellow Terror by W. L. Alden
Here, a nautical character tells us a salty yarn about a ship’s cat with a penchant for fighting – and religion.

**** A Talk with Mark Twain’s Cat, the Owner Being Invisible by The New York Times
Actually, by Zoe Anderson Norris.
Excellent ‘save’ on the part of a journalist who failed to get the requested interview with Samuel Clemens. Unfortunately, her editor didn’t feel the same, although apprently Clemens himself was amused. The piece, and a must-read explanation (not included in this volume) is available here:

** On Cats by Guy de Maupassant
This short piece made me glad that I was not in a position, historically, to become acquainted with Monsieur de Maupassant. Guy had some issues.
I suppose it does a good job of describing the overlap of affection and sadism… but, yeah.

*** The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat by Saki
(Only a cameo here by a cat). Society lady living a life of leisure decides to go out and do a good deed, but is so ineffectual that she can’t even manage her rather unambitious plan. Wryly humorous, as one might expect from Saki.

*** My Cat by Michel de Montaigne
When it comes to cats and people, who’s zoomin’ who?
Very brief.

*** Tom Quartz by Mark Twain
A folksy tale of a miner’s cat, purportedly as it was told to Twain. (y’know, beloved & respected as this cat may have been, I’m glad to not be a miner’s cat.)

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