“Pussy can sit by the fire”

(notes by Lisa Lewis and John Radcliffe)


Publication

Published in Just So Stories (1902) where it follows “The Cat that Walked by Himself”.

The poem

The Cat is the central figure of the story, making his own bargain with the Woman but asserting his independence of mankind, and his acceptance of enmity between him and men and their servants, particularly the Dog. He is the Cat that Walks by Himself, and all places are alike to him. The poem, however, confirms Kipling’s deep loyalty to the dog, as the real true friend. He wrote many affectionate stories about dogs in his last years.

Charles Carrington calls the story ‘a gentle satire on Carrie Kipling’, pointing out that a few months before the written version, her Wolcott cousins ‘had made her a present of a fine Persian cat.’ He did not mention, though it is listed in his notes, that her husband had also given her a Persian cat on 1st December 1894. A fortnight earlier, Kipling had written ‘the cats don’t like’ a skunk in the coal-cellar at Naulakha, their Vermont home [letter to Ripley Hitchcock, 13 November 1894, in Letters, vol. 2, p. 159]. What status these cats held—pets, kitchen or stable mousers – is not explained.

When Kipling’s uncle Sir Edward Burne-Jones drew the three children at Rottingdean in 1898, Josephine was shown clutching a kitten (the picture hangs in the bedroom at Bateman’s). Since she was the only one old enough to have played with a cat while the family still lived in Vermont, it seems probable that the cat story was originally addressed to her. The poem, which would have been written when Just So Stories was being assembled, seems to be about John Kipling, who was five when the book was published. [Philip Holberton notes that the last line of Verse 1 confirms that the speaker is male: ‘I am the Man in the Cave!’ Kipling’s biographers do not mention whether hr kept dogs when he first moved to Bateman’s, or whether young John had a puppy.]

[L/L./J.R.]

©Lisa Lewis and John Radcliffe 2020 All rights reserved