A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Nine Lives of a Cat, 1860 Style

Nine Lives of a Cat, 1860
Today we’re sharing something we just discovered yesterday on The Public Domain Review (a great resource if you’re looking for public domain material). What we found is an 1860 book called The Nine Lives of a Cat: A Tale of Wonder. It was written by Charles Bennett and published in London by Griffith and Farran. Bennett bills this tome as a “tale of wonder … told for children,” but it’s hardly the sort of children’s tale that would pass muster today.

Things were different for cats--and kids--back then

When we first meet the cat who is the star of the story, we see her stealing a fish. Then we learn that the cat pays a disproportionate penalty for this offense:
But when she was young,
Poor Kitty was hung;
Fortunately, though, this is a resourceful cat who keeps a knife in her pocket, so she manages to free herself. Now she’s down to eight lives.

And that is pretty much how the story goes: The cat suffers some potentially deadly calamity only to escape with her life, thanks to her own ability and cleverness. Some of these near-death experiences are the result of the cat’s own actions. She is burned while trying to snag meat off the fire and falls off a house while chasing a mouse, for example. But, disturbingly, she is also nearly done in three times by the deliberate actions of humans. One person attempts to hang her, as we’ve already seen; one attempts to drown her; and one attempts to shoot her. The disturbing part of these incidents is not that they happen at all, but that they’re mentioned so casually. The boy who tries to drown the cat isn’t described as “naughty” or “wicked” or any of the HBO words we might use; he’s just a kid having some fun.

Nine Lives of a Cat
Here, the cat falls of a house but survives by landing on her feet.

We do have to wonder if any 19th-century children were inspired by this or similar stories to try to harm cats or other animals. We suspect the answer is yes, but sadly, we also suspect that not much inspiration would have been needed in an age when violence toward animals was so accepted that it could be included in a children’s story without comment.

We’re glad humans—many of them, anyway—see things differently today.

In case you’re wondering, the cat lives to an old age and finally dies. Not exactly uplifting, although the author does remind us that the cat had lived nine lives, so we guess that’s something.

We suppose there is a moral to the story, but we’re not quite sure what it is. We're willing to entertain ideas in the comments.

Read with caution

If you’re interested in exploring how cats were portrayed in the past—or what children’s books were like in the past—we think The Nine Lives of a Cat is worth a look. None of the illustrations are horribly graphic, but we know some of you find any depictions of animal abuse upsetting. If you fall into that category, you should definitely skip this book. For others of you, we recommend taking a look at it not because it’s a great read—we thought it was awfully clunky and mostly not very enjoyable—but because it’s a piece of cat history. Also, the “Catalogue of New and Popular Works” at the back of the book is pretty interesting all by itself.


  1. Gawd! What a horror story! We were...and ARE...so cavalier about the lives of non-humans. We appreciate that you 'took one for the team' for reading and reporting this book, but just reading your post makes me want to wash my brain out...

  2. How sad! Not our type of bedtime story as it would scare the shen-anigans out of Tyebe. Me? I'd just be sad for my ancestors. Besides I love your stories Miss C. We need another story....we read all yours. Is there another story in the works?


    1. This would not be a good bedtime story at all! I am working on another book, and I plan to release it this December :)

  3. While I love that there's a cat book dating back that far, the subject matter is certainly disturbing. Very excited to hear about a new Miss C book in December!!!

  4. I guess the moral of the story is more geared to humans than us cats. The follies of life carry many risks some fatal some not. I guess at that time it was probably only the more well to do or schools that would have that book to warn the younger children about evils and temptation.
    Interesting book none the less and good to hear about it.... now I must be off as I have a mouse to catch!
    Toodle pips and purrs