Tag Archives: UK

on cats

Lessing, Doris. On Cats. London: Harper Perennial, 2008. Print. First published 2002.

Particularly Cats (1967)

Rufus the Survivor (1993)

The Old Age of El Magnifico (2000)

“Hawks for sunlight; owls for half-light; but for the night, cats, wild cats.” p. 7

“Wild cat mated with out cats, lured peaceful domestic pussies off to dangerous lives in the bush for which, we were convinced, they were not fitted.” p. 7

“This was no wild cat, it was one of our own. We recognized it, that ugly corpse, as Minnie, an enchanting pet from two years before who had disappeared-taken, we thought, by a hawk or an owl.” p. 8


“But more than that: she was one of that part of humankind which understands how things work; and works with them. A grim enough role.” p. 13


“‘Nature’ he’d say, capitulating, ‘is all very well, if it’s kept in its place.'” p. 13

“A year, less, of my mother’s refusal to act her role as regulator, arbiter, balance between sense and the senseless proliferation of nature, had resulted in the house, the sheds around the house, the bush that surrounded the farmstead, being infested by cats.” p. 15

“At a certain age – and for some of us that can be very young – there are no new people, beasts, dreams, faces, events: it has all happened before, they have appeared before, masked differently, wearing different clothes, another nationality, another colour; but the same, the same, and everything is an echo and a repetition; and there is no grief  even that it is not a recurrence of something long out of memory that expresses itself in unbelievable anguish, days of tears, loneliness, knowledge of betrayal and all for a small, thin, dying cat.” p. 20

“For weeks she lay in my hands purring, purring, in a rough trembling hoarse little voice that became weaker, then was silent; licked my hand; opened enormous green eyes when I called her name and besought her to live; closed them, died, and was thrown into the deep shaft – over hundred feet deep it was -which had gone dry, because the underground water streams had changed their course one year and left what we had believed was a reliable well a dry, cracked, rocky shaft that was soon half filled with rubbish, tin cans and corpses.” p. 22

“There are always cats on the walls, roofs, and in the gardens, living a complicated secret life, like the neighbourhood lives of children that go on according to unimagined private rules the grown-ups never guessed at.” p. 41

“Even as a kitten she could express annoyance, or pleasure, or a determination to sulk, by what she ate, half-ate, or chose to refuse. Her food habits are an eloquent language.” p. 47

“the sullen hostile eyes always on the watch for admiration.” p. 50

“The cats lined up on the garden wall. First, the sombre old winter cat, king of the back gardens.” p. 52

“The kitten is expelled, lies at the cat’s back end. The cat looks, with a trapped, waiting-to-escape reflex, at the new thing attached to her; she looks again, she does not know what it is; then the mechanism works, and she obeys, becomes mother, purrs, is happy.” p. 60

“When she knew I had, she purred, hoping I would soften, and licked my face and bit my nose. All no use. I ordered her back, and she went, sulking.” p. 64

“If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.” p. 70

“Cat like a soft owl, cat with paws like moths, jewelled cat, miraculous cat! Cat, cat, cat, cat.” p. 71

“She is elegant. She has curved noble profile, like a cat on a tomb.” p. 84

“Grey cat licks my face, delicately, looks briefly out of the window at the night, acknowledge tree, moon, stars, winds, or the amours of other cats from which she is not infinitely removed, then settles down.” p. 104

“Grey cat and black cat exchange long green and yellow stares.” p. 105

“Grey cat is running across our garden, a string of sausages trailing behind her, to deposit them on our kitchen floor. Perhaps a gesture originated in hunting ancestors who were trained to catch and bring food to humans” p. 109

“She put a paw to her picture in the water, but, unlike a mirror, her paw went through it, into wet.” p. 134

“Or when she lifts her eyes to the moon over the chimney pots?”

“one day she came back and sat at the edge of the clearing where the house was, looking at the house, the people, the door, the other cats, the chickens – the family scene from which she was excluded.” p. 158

“The long dry season had flattened and thinned the grass, cauterized bushes: everything in sight was skeleton, dry sticks of grass; and the tiny leaves fluttering on them merely shadows.” p. 159

“Under the verandah were the dogs, and they were barking at the old cat, who crouched out in the rain, her eyes green in the lantern-light.” p. 161

“We flashed the light through interstices of the branches, and we thought we saw the cat moving, but were not sure.” p. 162

To read: The Soul of the White Ant by Eugène Marais

“Last week I trod on grey cat’s tail by mistake: she let out a squak, and black cat leaped in for a kill: instant reflex. Grey cat had lost favour and protection, so black cat thought, and this was her moment.” p. 175

Rufus the Survivor

“He had the air of one who knows he must make the most of what Fate offers before it is withdrawn.” p. 183

“This is how mother cats greet their kittens, kittens greet their mother. Had he been dreaming of when he was a kitten?” p. 215

The Old Age of El Magnifico

“We intended to drop the name, this boring unimaginative name, that half the male cats in the country get called, and dogs too, Butch, Big Butch, by the name stuck, though softened, first because of his kitten status, to Butchkin, and then Pushkin, or Pusskin, Pusscat, Pushka – all the variations on the ppsssk psssh puss sounds that for some reason seem to fit with the reality of Cat.” p. 224

***”There is no coquetry in this honest cat, she disdains female wiles, quite unlike Grey Cat, whose life is such a long way in the past” p. 238

“If our dream worlds are not the same, cats and humans, or seem not to be, then when he sleeps where does he travel?” p. 244

King Lear (I)

Shakespeare, William, and Stanley Wells. The History of King Lear. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.


To read:

Prometheus Vinctus by Aeschylus

Dirck van Baburen – Prometheus Being Chained by Vulcan. circa 1594/1595–1624). Via Wikimedia.

Introduction by Stanley Wells

“The folio is, after all, a derivative, adapted, and edited text.” p. 8

“Muir, however, notes eclipses of both sun and moon in 1601 ‘that would still be remembered by the audience’, and there was a partial eclipse of the moon in May 1603.” p. 12

Titus Andronicus he had already portrayed an elderly tyrant who goes mad” p. 14

To Read:

The Theme of the Three Caskets by Sigmund Freud

“proposes that the opening scene is based on an ancient myth of a man’s having to choose among three women, the third one represents death. footnote p. 16

Historia regum Britanniae

“written by the learned and imaginative monk Geoffrey of Monmouth” p. 17

Illumination of a 15th century manuscript of Historia Regum Britanniae showing king of the Britons Vortigern and Ambros watching the fight between two dragons. Via Wikimedia.

Gonorilla to the Duke of Cornwall, Regan to the Duke of Albania, or Albany, the northern part of Britain. Later Aganipus, King of the Franks, married the dowerless Cordeilla for love.” p. 17

Cordelia. 1888. William Frederick Yeames (1835–1918). Via Wikimedia.

Edwin Austin Abbey (1852–1911) King Lear, Cordelia’s Farewell. Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York, NY . Via Wikimedia.

“Aganippus raised an army to restore him to his kingdom; they succeeded, and three years later Lear died. (By this time he must have been very old indeed.) Cordeilla, widowed, buried her father at Leicester. Some years later her nephews rebelled against her, captured her, and put her in prison, where she committed suicide.” p. 17

to read:

Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney

“In reading it, Shakespeare must have been struck by the relation between the Lear story and the episodes in Arcadia telling of a Paphlagonian king deposed and blinded by a wicked, illegitimate son but cherished by the natural son whom, under the influence of the bastard, he has cast off with orders-not obeyed-that he be killed.” p. 26

“Shakespeare is indebted to Arcadia for plot motifs and atmospheric effects rather than for language.” p. 26

“The Bible exerted a strong influence, even though Shakespeare has been at pains to locate his action in a non-Christian, pagan society; indeed, both the Book of Job and the parable of the Prodigal Son have been regarded as deep sources of the play.” p. 29

George Orwell essay: Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool.” p. 32

Tolstoy on Shakespeare wikipedia article

Tolstoy on Shakespeare; a critical essay on Shakespeare

“It might on the contrary be argued that Shakespeare’s opening scene is a masterpiece of dramatic exposition-almost a little play in its own right-and that its reduction and simplification of motive is one of the ways in which it establishes a mode in which symbol and emblem will have as important a part to play as psychological verisimilitude.” p. 33

Michael Gambon playing the Fool “That weekend I hurried to London Zoo to watch the chimps and became even more convinced that they had all the requisite qualities for the Fool-manic comic energy when in action, a disturbing sadness when in repose.” p. 42

“But the suffering diminishes when madness comes upon him. As Gloucester is to realize later in the play, madness can bring relief from suffering.” p. 45

footnote Howard Felperin “takes a contrary view: Gloucester ‘naïvely wishes he could go made like Lear, mistaking madness for a protection against pain when it is in fact an exposure to it.” p. 45

“Suffering teaches both men how they have misvalued their offspring, and leads them to acknowledge their own faults and to express humility.” p. 46

José Ribera, Ixion (1632). Oil on canvas, 220 x 301 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Via Wikimedia.

See Ixion

literary context of ‘bound upon a wheel of fire‘ p.47

“The Wheel of Fire is part of the Aristotelian reading of a tragedy (e.g. plays), which includes the central flaw within a character.” wikipedia

“To its early audiences, the language of King Lear must have seemed very strange, as original in its day as that of James Joyce or Dylan Thomas in theirs.” p. 53

To read:

Dylan Thomas

poems: Do not go gentle into that good night, and And death shall have no dominion.

Margreta de Grazia “the play itself goes to extremes, pushing beyond the bounds of tragedy, particularly in its superfluous addition of Cordelia’s death.” p. 53

“What Tate did to Shakespeare was not essentially different from what Shakespeare had done to King Leir: Shakespeare had turned an old tragicomedy into a tragedy, Tate reversed the process. In doing do created a new, different play which, critics have increasingly argued, has its own artistic validity.” p. 62

King Leir play

Nahum Tate‘s King Lear adaptation

“But at the time Tate wrote, Shakespeare was not thought of as an immortal classic, but as a dramatist whose works, however admirable, required adaptation to fit them for the new theatrical and social circumstances of the time, as well as to changes in taste.” p. 62

Tate’s play “supplanted Shakespeare’s play in every performance given from 1681 to 1838.” p. 63

King Lear in the Tempest Tearing off his Robes. George Romney (1734-1802). Via wikiart.org

See John Runciman (1744-68), King Lear in the Storm (1767)

See Alexander Runciman (1736-85) King Lear on the Heath (1767)

“Barker insists that the storm is not in itself ‘dramatically important, only in its effect upon Lear’, and that the actor should ‘impersonate both Lear and-reflected in Lear-the storm’.” p. 72

King Lear (1970) Grigori Kozintsev

The Tale of Lear (1984) Tadashi Suzuki

King Lear (1987) Jean-Luc Godard



King Lear (1971) Peter Brook


King Lear (1983) Michael Elliott

A king Lear of the Steppes (1870) Turgenev

King Lear’s Wife (1915/1920) Gordon Bottomley

Lear (1971) Edward Bond

Book: A Thousand Acres (1991) Jane Smiley

“The language of Shakespeare’s time was permeated by the Bible.” p. 87