This one’s more than a little Dickensian. Charles Dickens loved his cat, Bob. When Bob died, Dickens had his paw made into a letter opener that sat on his desk.
Dickens owed a few cats throughout his life. This one was named after Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s assistant in ‘A Christmas Carol’. When Bob died in 1862, Georgina Hogarth, Dickens’s sister-in-law, had the cat’s paw stuffed and turned into the handle of a letter opener for the author. It now sits in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature in the New York Public Library. This collection includes the author’s own markings and cues for his public readings. Dickens commonly read his works to large crowds and was well known for these performances. He would cut up bound copies of his works and paste them into larger books, adding notes to the margins and crossing out entire sections. Many of these ‘prompt copies’ have been digitised, have a look. They whisper clues to the way Dickens thought his works should be read.
It’s fair to say then that Dickens liked cats. They would walk across his desk as he wrote and apparently played with his candles, extinguishing their light. In fact, Dickens loved them so much that he once claimed, “what greater gift than the love of a cat”. His sister-in-law’s letter opener gift took that love to its most extreme. On the blade of the paw-handled opener is the inscription, “C.D., In Memory of Bob, 1972”, so that Dickens could still keep Bob on his writing desk.
Dickens is famous for his bleak writing. He first found success in 1836 at the age of 24 with ‘The Pickwick Papers’, shadowing the curious life of a wealthy gentleman. His works gradually came to focus more on the soot and smog of life in the Victorian Working Class. ‘A Christmas Carol’, his most famous work, was a favourite in Dickens’s performances using prompt copies.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dickens was a member of the Ghost Club. The club was founded in 1862 and still meets today. It was also founded the same year as Bob’s death, giving you a tingling feeling that perhaps Bob did hang around to purr on the writer’s desk.
In the spirit of Dickens’s theatrical side, Neil Gaiman performed ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the New York Public Library. It’s worth a listen.
There’s more information about Dickens’s cats (including William, who Dickens had to rename when he discovered her kittens…He chose Williamina) and a museum’s worth of other weird and wonderful things in: Molly Oldfield, The Secret Museum (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2013).