by Lisa Lewis
| notes on
When I was at Brattleboro on a winter day in ’52 I saw a hunting cat in the wet wild woods looking too absurdly like the picture that is on the cover of the 4th edition. It belongs to New England though it was written at Cape Town seven years later.Carrington also called it '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, (Letters, vol. 2, p. 159)]. What status these cats held – pets, kitchen or stable mousers – is not explained.
the prehistoric background of … "The Cat that walked by Himself" offered me a fascinating blend of the cosy and the infinitely distant.To Rosemary Sutcliffe:
The story of The Cat, seen in a kind of rainy witchlight, has a really back-hair-disturbing magic of its own. (But few children are disturbed by the things that seem to have the potency and the terror of the true Other World; … [I felt nothing] about "The Cat that Walked by Himself", save that it was a very exciting and very satisfying story and the cat was superbly catly.) [p. 95].But to Angus Wilson the story was 'too marred by humans, cosy … [p. 229].
To some extent the tales are allegorical, but they are also actualist. Wild Horse arrives 'tripping and stumbling on his long mane', a genuine creature in his own right [Kipling Journal, 232, December 1984, p. 12].She further wrote
the tale of the Cat appears to be a self-generating myth; until one considers what is its direction.In a letter to the Kipling Journal, 235, September 1985, she wrote [p. 55]:
Clearly, the tale centres on the creation of that indefinable entity, a home: to accomplish which, the Woman has to call on all her powers acquired and inherited – whether she is a little girl hanging sacking across the entry of a lean-to in the garden, or some larger representative of Womankind. Under her guidance, comforts, responsibilities, and relationships, shared in common by all the household, emerge and proliferate.
Only the Cat presents an insuperable challenge, since “all places were alike to him”, and his concerns affect him alone. The conflict of the tale lies between him and Woman, not over a question of social accommodation, but on an issue of principle and of attitude. Notably, it is immediately after the Cat, “the wildest of all the wild animals”, that the Man is introduced to the story. The Man [quoted p. 175, lines 20-2]. So she domesticates them all, and it is made clear that although they gain much by their bargain, they lose their freedom. The point is scored most incisively in the case of the Horse – as is appropriate: [quoted p. 182, lines 25-7].
Every word tells, from “slipped” to “plaited hide”. The noose is handsome, and it is comfortable, but it is also durable. The Man’s situation is to be sought in the experience of the animals; and it is thus that the Cat’s part in the allegory becomes clearer. When the night gets into his head – as happened to the author when a young man – he makes his escape in the moonlight, 'waving his tail and walking his wild lone'. … “The Cat that walked by Himself” reserves its own ironies; of which one of the best may be that it was first published in the Ladies’ Home Journal, an organ dedicated to the preservation of home life. Yet it is by no means an allegory easy to interpret; its truths, because inexpressible otherwise, are presented with the elusiveness of myth. [pp. 17-8].
I am prepared to state my conviction that somewhere from that enigmatic myth arises the impression that the Horse, Dog and Cow at one level are meant to reflect Husband the lover, defender and provider; while at that point the Cat mirrors whatever else in him the Woman may never domesticate – though she is obliged to live with it, for it comes with the others!In his introduction to the Oxford Authors Rudyard Kipling, a Critical Edition of the Major Works (Oxford University Press, 1999), Daniel Karlin wrote:
Kipling’s emblem is the Cat that Walked by Himself, who is both inside and outside the warm cave and the ordered lives of beasts and men. [p. xxi].In his notes on the story, he said:
… he is essence of cat, really; he makes most other literary cats look half-realized, yet he is drawn in monochrome. Kipling’s account of the making (or, more properly, engendering) of the family is similarly succinct and intense. The flatness and repetitive rhythms which denote a childlike mode of storytelling are primitive without being in the least simple-minded. The cat may be allegorized as many things (the artist’s imagination, the Freudian ‘id’, male sexuality) but the story remains a fable, not an allegory; like all Kipling’s best stories, it is meaningful because no single meaning can be extracted from it.