Saturday 21 October 2017

Mary Kenny: Purr-fect summer reads

Forget cat videos: cat stories reveal far more about felines - and humans

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Many writers have featured cats in their prose (or poetry): T.S. Eliot, Colette, P.G. Wodehouse, and a beguiling little cat appears in the first pages of Joyce's Ulysses. But maybe the most chilling feline story was written by the Gothic novelist Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat. It is a truly terrible tale - but also a gripping one - about a very disturbed man who is in the power of a "gin-nurtured… fiendish malevolence".

One night, after an evening of debauchery, he takes a penknife from his pocket and, grasping his pet cat, cuts the eye out of the creature. Poe wrote horror stories, and they are about the horror that is inside the psyche as well as the dreadful deeds described. The tormented cat recovers but the narrator - who is in part Poe himself, for he had a desperate drinking problem, and a damaged personality - goes on to a worse act of violence. For this, he will be hanged, and it is the meowl of another afflicted black cat which leads the police to find the evidence.

But the attack on the black cat has revealed to the narrator the presence of evil, and perversity, within the heart of humankind: "Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a stupid action, for no other reason than because he knows he should NOT?" Edgar Allan Poe's cat story is about the torture of cats, but it is also about the torment of the alcoholic, who carries out crazed acts in drink which are afterwards a source of heart-scalding remorse.

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