This enchanting 1957 cat-memoir by May Sarton may be the grandmother of the current litter of cat-cozies, a fact that may or may not endear it to you, depending on how you feel about cats and cozies. I ran across it on my shelf last week and sat down with it immediately, remembering the great pleasure it has given me over the years.
The Fur Person chronicles the adventures of Tom Jones, a Cat About Town who lives wild and free on the streets of Boston until he reaches a certain age and begins to see the virtue in reliable meals, a warm bed, and a comfortable lap. After several abortive attempts to hire a Housekeeper, he finally finds two, Brusque Voice (May Sarton) and Gentle Voice (her companion Judy Matlack), who take him in and provide fresh haddock (his favorite), warm milk, chopped liver, and even (yes!) catnip. Fighting Tom learns that cat-life is calmer and more rewarding after a certain . . . alteration in his tomcat-nature. By the end of the book, he has become a Fur Person, who loves and is loved by a human person.
The delight of this little book is in the telling, in the narrator’s distinctive voice. From the first sentence (When he was about two years old, and had been a Cat About Town for some time, glorious in conquests, but rather too thin for comfort, the Fur Person decided that it was time he settled down) to the Eleventh Commandment (A Gentleman Cat becomes a Fur Person when he is truly loved by a human being), the story is as charming and comforting as a warm scone with a spoonful of lemon curd and a cup of hot tea.
And those Commandments (When frightened, a Gentleman Cat looks bored)? I confess to having been under their influence when Bosworth Badger (who lives on Holly How in my series, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter) presented me with the Badger Rules of Thumb:
–Badger First Rule of Thumb: Do not on any account approach a human, for they are not trustworthy.
–Second Rule of Thumb: Beware of all dogs, and especially of terriers, for it is safe to say that they do not have a badger’s best interests at heart.
–Third Rule of Thumb (the Aiding and Abetting Rule): One must be as helpful to other animals as one can, for one never knows when one will require help oneself.
–Fourth Rule of Thumb: Take no notice of friends and colleagues who find they must depart without begging leave, for they may be compelled by urgent circumstance.
As I recall, eighteen of these Rules crop up from time to time in the eight Tales. I very much enjoyed writing about Miss Potter, her farm, her village, and her Little Books. But through the years I spent working on the series, it was the animals who gave me the greatest delight. I’ve been forever grateful to May Sarton for creating Tom Jones, the Gentleman Cat whose Commandments proved so inspiring.
Reading note. So the badger poked up the fire, poured himself another cup of tea, and went back to the History to read the curious story of the Fern Vale dwelves, a story (he suspected) that was mostly unknown to the Big Folk. Of course, that sort of thing wasn’t at all unusual, for although the human residents of the Land between the Lakes thought they knew everything about their surroundings, and although scholarly books related the history, inventoried the animals and plants, and catalogued the folktales, people were aware of only a fraction of what went on around them. One was not criticizing when one said this; one was simply stating the fact. Humans, by and large, were ignorant of the mysteries of life and land.–The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood, Susan Wittig Albert