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cats and other untamed animals

Unexpected Character Development: MPM Cats 3 & 4 – Emerson (the peculiar) & Vicky (the homebody)

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When in the midst of writing one of her novels, Barbara often complained that her characters weren’t behaving at all the way she’d expected them to.  (She’s not the only writer we’ve heard making this complaint.)  It seemed that once she gave them life on the page, Barbara’s “people” developed minds and voices of their own, and refused to march along the lines she’d planned for them.  It’s possible that some writers make outlines, sit down, and then follow the imagined developments of plot and character as planned.  This was certainly not Barbara’s approach — although she always had voluminous notes in preparation for each book, and kept notes as she went along.  But often the notes would take the form of questions — “Why did [so-and-so] just do this?”  “What’s going to happen to [so-and-so]?”  … or, more ominously, something along the lines of “It’s getting boring, time to kill someone off!”   (Picture Will Farrell begging Emma Thompson for his life in “Stranger than Fiction,” a movie that made Barbara chuckle — particularly when watching Thompson’s struggles…)

How does this get us to her cats?  Well, as any cat owner can attest, cats are just as ornery as any fictional character.  And it turned out that Barbara’s cats could be just as unpredictable in terms of character development as the people in her books.  Take her cat Emerson, for example.  He began as a gregarious Maine Coon cat, happily scooting around her house along with his many feline siblings.  (The numbers could rise as high as 7, if you counted the mostly-outdoors Sethos.)  However, as he hit the equivalent of feline adolescence, he abruptly became reclusive and even paranoid.  Barbara had several theories about why this happened.  Her favorite theory was that Emerson’s paranoia began with his fear of a particular workman who was at the house doing repairs; this theory was bolstered by the fact that Emerson reappeared each afternoon at just about the time that workman left the house (even long after the work was finished).  Whatever the cause, Emerson became one of the most cowardly of cats — a far cry from the bold Radcliffe Emerson character for whom he’d been named!

Yet another unexpected cat character in Barbara’s household was Vicky — named, of course, for her dashing heroine Vicky Bliss.

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Vicky was one of two cats who arrived during Barbara’s final years, mostly because she wanted a few feline denizens who would actually hang out with her.  (Sethos and Emerson, for example, would sometimes disappear for long periods of time…)  Maybe it was unfair to expect Vicky to be both cozy and dashing — but she turned out to be, in Barbara’s words, one of the “most boring, unimaginative” cats she’d ever owned.  That didn’t mean that Vicky was any the less loved or pampered.  But it certainly made her name a bad fit!  Vicky could frequently be found simply looking ahead with a somewhat blank stare.  Was she thinking some dark and devious thought?  (If it were Barbara’s cat Gandalf, for example, it would be plausible to imagine him planning how to knock the canoptic jars in the bathroom down the stairs.)  Given that it was Vicky, who seemed to prefer things simple, probably not.  There was always something a bit Victorian (in the more conventional sense) about Vicky’s sedate approach to life.  Cozy, settled in her ways, known to slowly chase a ribbon (if dangled right in front of her nose) — but not too bright.

So much for an author’s attempt to control character development — whether in her books, or among her cats!  (And yet both kinds of characters, while they could be frustrating at times, yielded a great deal of pleasure in the end.)

 

Discovery, Books, and Egypt

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Hi all, we are getting some updates on the “Discovery Sale” being held online only, alongside the Gallery Auction at Cooper’s this week.  Items from both events are being displayed simultaneously, although the “Discovery” items are being sold separately (with lower-ticket stuff, it seems).

This is most definitely more Barbara’s than our kind of setting and interest, so we will just highlight the BOOKS!  (Always a shared interest!) and Egyptian things that wound up in “Discovery” — but there are also some other assorted items (all marked as being Barbara’s).

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BOOKS!  … on EgyptSherlock Holmes & other detectives; novels from Edgar Rice Burroughs to a set of Mark Twain (a favorite author of both Barbara’s and her father’s); books on architecture & art, old-fashioned readings (Baroness Orczy, Rafael Sabatini, John Buchan, George MacDonald); books Barbara enjoyed since when she was younger (LM Montgomery, Alcott, Wren); more of the latter with some extra favorites thrown in (like Aiken and Farjeon); a mix of some of the above that adds in Noel Streatfield and E.Nesbit, among others; some L.Frank Baum;  mysteries ….  and, for the “Another Shirt Ruined” crew — H.Rider Haggard, along with “Sons of the Sheik” (really?) and some of her well-worn T.H. White & Elizabeth Goudge.   Within those covers, many feasts.

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Besides books on Egypt, there are Egypt-themed figures and framed prints and toys (fun to look at, for those who share Barbara’s sense of the frivolous).

Oh, and of course, there has to be …. a cat.

The yearly MPM cat greeting…

There’s something about cats and writers, not sure what, but certainly any fan or friend of Barbara’s knew the connection was there!  Every year at this time, for many years, she sent out an annual season’s greetings… and each card featured one of her cats.

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So, in honor of the season, we thought we’d share a photo from 2007.  Here you see a younger version of Gandalf (whom you met in an earlier post as he clung determinedly to “his” chair in Barbara’s kitchen).

For anyone wanting to revel in cats and seasonal references, we recommend Trojan Gold — a Vicky Bliss mystery.  Set against the backdrop of a Bavarian Christmas, the book ends with a feline flourish… (No spoilers!  But suffice it to say that one of our heroes may have met his most painful adversary in a cat resisting the indignity of a bow tied around  her neck …  “The bow was under her chin, and so lacerated I had to cut the ribbon off.  It took all three of us to cram her in the carrier I had bought that morning….  the thing that touched me the most was my hero’s gallantry in taking on [the cat] singlehanded…”)

With each new year, like many in her Amelia Peabody family, Barbara often spoke of her hopes for a peace that could reach across senseless habits of suspicion, violence, and ill-will toward others.  This seems an appropriate year to renew those wishes, in the spirit of good-will and basic human decency that characterized so much of what she stood for.

All our best hopes and wishes to you and yours in 2016.

 

 

Sir E A Wallis Budge’s cat Mike (thanks to the Joys)

Emerson: It may even be a perverse joke perpetrated by a modern tourist or by one of my professional enemies.  Some of those fellows — I name no names, Peabody, but you know to whom I refer– would like nothing better than to see me make a fool of myself over a bundle of sticks or a dead sheep.  Wallis Budge —

Amelia: “Yes, my dear,” I said soothingly.  When Emerson gets on the subject of his professional rivals, especially Wallis Budge, the keeper of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, it is necessary to cut him short.  SEEING A LARGE CAT

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To round up our discussion of cats this month — courtesy of the fabulous Joy collection — we’re delighted to share with you the story of Mike.  William Joy wonders whether Amelia might have softened on Budge had she known of his abiding attachment to the British Museum cat?  In this pamphlet MPM-Joy-Mike the Cat (1) Budge details Mike’s mysterious arrival at the British Museum in the mouth of Black Jack, and his subsequent long career there — ending when Mike was almost 20 years old.  Apparently the British Museum house cats trained Mike to catch (but not kill) pigeons: The pigeons were taken into a little side room, and after they had eaten some maize and drunk water, they flew out of the window none the worse for their handling by the cats.

NOTE TO SALIMA IKRAM:  Mike attached himself to the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities because of the care which that official bestowed on the mummies of Egyptian cats.

Mike also eventually developed the habit of chasing dogs out of the Courtyard of the Museum — The dogs that laughed at policemen and gatekeepers fled in terror before the attack of Mike, who, swelling himself to twice his normal size, hurled himself on them. 

As Mike aged, he received the royal treatment: He preferred sole to whiting, and whiting to haddock, and sardines to herrings; for cod he had no use whatever.

In what Budge describes as “the most excellent Memorial Poem on Mike,” F.C.W. Hiley, M.A., Assistant Keeper in the Department of Printed Books, details Mike’s disdain for pats or handling by most people: And if perchance some forward minx/ Dared to go up and stroke the Sphinx — / Her hand shot back, all marked with scores / From the offended Michael’s claws ….BUT he laid aside his anti-human grudge for Budge: Each morn Sir Ernest, without qualms / Would take up Michael in his arms.

Now the pamphlet does tell us that Mike especially disliked the pokings in his ribs which ladies bestowed upon him with their parasols — but then Amelia would totally know better than to treat a cat that way.

Great ending to the poem includes:  Old Mike! Farewell! We all regret you /  Although you would not let us pet you

So, would this have softened Amelia? (realizing that nothing would have softened Emerson!) ….  well, knowing how she felt about the smuggling of antiquities, and her dire suspicions of Budge — it’s hard to say!

12th Dynasty to 20th Century…did someone pounce on the birds…?

Just to follow up on the Gandalf post commentary on the scenes, here are the two side-by-side….  the panel to the left in Barbara’s tiles are indeed Amarna — ish, as some have pointed out…. but not a copy of anything particular.

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MPM Cat 2: Gandalf (the Deaf)(also the White)

Continuing our saga of the MPM Manor cats, we promised to tell you about Gandalf.  Here he is fiercely claiming the chair he’s in as his own.  (One of us had the temerity to suggest that we might like to sit there.)  (It’s actually one of the kitchen table chairs where friends and family sat for meals.) (Silly us.)  More on the battle for the chair later in this post….

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Although Barbara was a Tolkein lover, Gandalf got his name not from her, but from a good friend of Barbara’s who gave this cat to her.  Like many cats with his coloring (at least according to Barbara!), Gandalf was deaf.  This did not diminish his spirits or energy one bit.  In fact, he delighted in knocking heavy items off of high places — apparently to enjoy the vibrations that followed as they smashed.  And like Beethoven (???) he enjoyed lying on the piano and messing with the strings.  (Okay, we may be stretching this simile just a bit ….)

He was so persistent that Barbara wound up having to cement some items to her windowsills, including the canopic jars that graced the windowsill in her bathroom.  (No worries, they were empty!)  Just for fun, here are some pictures of that bathroom:

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As Barbara noted in her newsletter, Gandalf was “unfortunately … extremely friendly and morbidly fascinated by vehicles of all sorts. We had to put up signs reading ‘Deaf Cat’, since he had a tendency to rush out and fling himself down in front of cars and trucks.”   The sign must have worked, as nobody ever hit him.

His persistence is evident in his eventual triumph in the battle for the chair:

Us: gentle hint, tipping chair, time to move ….  Gandalf: “Can you believe this crap?!?”

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Chair seat is now vertical, chair on its side on the floor … Gandalf: “YOU. SHALL NOT. SIT!!!” (Actually, he’s probably more like Gollum:  “Nooooo!  It’s mine!  My precious chair!!!!!”)

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Let’s just say, Barbara’s cats were just a wee bit entitled.

**And in our next post, Gandalf’s first owner, a bookstore maniac, shares his BOOKSHELF pics!

The MPM Cats: Sethos the mysterious

“I knew Sethos well. Only too well, Emerson would say; my strange rapport with that brilliant, tormented man was the source of my husband’s jealousy.”  SEEING A LARGE CAT

With the shift to September, we’re changing gears a bit here at MPM Manor (see new Barbara photo-of-the-season on our Twitter feed).  As that new Barbara photo indicates, we’re focusing on the mystery-author-who-adored-cats for a little while.  *We’ll archive the previous Twitter photos on our new “Photo Archives” page*

And so we thought we’d introduce some of the beloved MPM Manor cats.

And who better to start off this little adventure than Sethos!?  Barbara always said that some cats just appear when they need you … that’s certainly what happened with Sethos.  He showed up on day when she was sitting on a bench in her garden and started to make friends.  Always more an outdoor than indoor cat, he remained a bit of a mystery — neither feral nor completely tame.  (How appropriate!)

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Prone to turning on people if they patted him too long, Sethos was always more attached to Barbara than anyone else.  He especially liked to return to the bench where they first met for occasional patting sessions, an oddly sentimental gesture from a generally crusty old guy.  (He outlived Barbara by some months, and was cared for tenderly, but was clearly annoyed and disappointed that none of us were …. well, her.)

You can find an earlier picture of him in an MPM newsletter (although the text mostly focuses on his sibling Gandalf — more on G later!).  Barbara always said that Sethos would likely just disappear back into the woods whence he came some day — but it turned out that he stuck around til the end, on both counts.  Two tough old coots!

“As for Sethos’s motives, they were equally transparent.  He was taunting me:  announcing his presence, defying me to stop him …. His sense of humor was decidedly peculiar.”  HE SHALL THUNDER IN THE SKY

“Thanks to your inveterate habit of meddling, my dearest Peabody, things did not work out quite as Sethos had planned….” SNAKE, CROCODILE, DOG

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