As a two-time English major, I have a love-hate relationship with the famed Irish author James Joyce. Sure, the man was a venerable genius and certainly a unique talent – but Ulysses isn’t a picnic to read and Finnegan’s Wake is a guaranteed cause of cluster headaches. The most fascinating thing about Joyce is the cult following his life and works have secured. Something I recently learned is that Joyce absolutely loved cats, and much like his contemporary T. S. Eliot, Joyce actually wrote several children’s stories about the critters! One story, called The Cats of Copenhagen, was recently rediscovered and has now finally been published.
The Cats of Copenhagen began as a sweet letter to a beloved grandson. Dated September 5, 1936 and written while Joyce was staying in Copenhagen, the letter laments: “Alas! I cannot send you a Copenhagen cat because there are no cats in Copenhagen.” The playful story continues by explaining how while there are no cats (or policemen, for that matter) there are “lots and lots of fish and bicycles”. As the illustrations make clear, the lack of cats seem to have encouraged the rodent population!
As the preface explains, Joyce certainly believed that cats were a worthy literary subject: “Like many otherwise sensible people, James Joyce detested, even loathed, dogs; but he thought the world of cats. In the first chapter of Ulysses in which Leopold Bloom appears, the very first conversation is between a hungry feline and a kind-hearted Bloom.”
The illustrations by Casey Sorrow are darling, and really remind me of Edward Gorey‘s simple and quirky style. I love how they match the artwork and typeface with the time period – after all, I’m sure Copenhagen now has many more cats than Joyce probably witnessed in the early 20th century.
The Cats of Copenhagen is available in hardcover from Amazon. I might have to give it a try!
Images from Amazon and Brain Pickings