Literary history is jam packed with women whose charisma has helped fire up writers’ creative urges. Think Zelda Fitzgerald, Louise Joyce and Vivienne Eliot. But not all these magical muses have been women. In fact, many have not even been human. For a broad spectrum of fantastic writers this role has been filled by a furry or even feathered friend. Here’s ten iconic authors whose animals were more than just pets, they were an essential part of their creative process.
Edgar Allan Poe was obsessed with his cat, a large tabby named Catterina, which often “chose a commanding spot to roost, right on his shoulder” while he was writing. Poe considered his darling feline friend his literary guardian who “purred as if in complacent approval of the world proceeding under her supervision.”
Charles Dickens had a beloved pet raven named Grip, who made frequent cameos in the writer’s fiction. In 1841, a few months after swallowing a paint chip, Grip sadly died. Dickens had him stuffed and literary historians believe the bird inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”.
Despite his manly bravado, Ernest Hemingway also had a soft spot for felines. When he lived in Key West in the 1930s, he lived amongst dozens of polydactyl cats. In Cuba, he played host to over sixty cats on his estate. But it was a black and white kitty called Boise, which he held in highest esteem. So much so, that it appears as a character in Islands in the Stream.
Raymond Chandler’s animal muse was a black Persian cat named Taki. Surprisingly, he also considered Taki to be a useful critic, writing that Taki would spend time “just quietly gazing out of the window from a corner of the desk as if to say, ‘The stuff you’re doing is a waste of time, bud.’”
Ever since reading Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima, Alice B. Toklas, the love of Gertrude Stein’s life, had wanted a white poodle. Eventually her dream came true when the couple got one and named him Basket. Basket was succeeded by Basket I and Basket II, both dogs were later photographed by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton.
Mark Twain once said, “If a man could be crossed with a cat, it would improve the man but deteriorate the cat.” Twain often combined his two loves, cats and pocket billiards, by tucking a pet kitten into a corner pocket while playing. The antics of the cat, as it pawed at passing balls, amused and relaxed Twain, helping him to write later in the day.
William S. Burroughs was a tremendous cat-lover – so much so that he cracked his coarse and often icy literary persona to reveal a gentler, warmer side in The Cat Inside. He adored his “psychic companions,” Fletch, Ruski, Spooner, and Calico.
Flannery O’Connor’s affection for chickens came from a childhood surrounded by poultry. In adulthood, she had a collection of pheasants, ducks, turkeys, and quail. Most famously, however, twenty-something O’Connor mail-ordered six peacocks, a peahen, and four peachicks, which later populated her fiction.
Sir Walter Scott was more a gentleman of his age and a keen horse rider. So keen, in fact, that he composed his poem Marmion while on horseback. Of his writing process, he said, “Oh, man, I had many a grand gallop among these braes when I was thinking of ‘Marmion.’”
French novelist Colette’s bulldog, Souci, helped his mistress’s writing by providing her something to focus on, his fleas. Colette would study his fur with a discerning eye. Then she’d pluck a flea from Souci’s back, continuing the hunt until she was ready to write again.