Eleanor was an unabashed cat person. Her earliest memory was of playing with a cat. She and Ian owned four cats over the years, and her observations of and experiences with their feline companions found their way into her books. The emotional devastation of losing each of them led the couple to give up cat ownership, but Eleanor never lost her fondness for or delight in the feline persuasion.
Here are the cats of Eleanor's fictional worlds:
Appears in: "The Dream" (unpublished short story from 1930s)
-"The curtains lifted gently in rounds, swayed and fell; between them the sun streamed and in the exact center of a golden pool Elsa, the cat, lay washing her side, one paw resting along it and drawing up and down as her head moved. Her eyes were closed, she washed as in a deep, deep sleep, drowned in warmth, in sun, drawn in upon herself with some exquisite secret inside the furred head, behind the closed eyes."
-"Elsa ceased washing and settled her cold, yellow gaze upon him distinctly as though she had not a very good opinion of him. The tip of her pink tongue was caught between her front teeth..."
Appears in:Griselda's Great Ambition (unpublished novel from early 1940s)
Description:"Then, all at once, Noggin...seemed to be taken with a fit. His tail switched wildly and without warning he darted madly away, scrambled up a tree as though possessed, clung there staring at them glassily, and then as suddenly dropped to the ground and sauntered mildly back, casual, self-contained, as dignified and superior as ever. 'Spring,' he murmured...'"
Appears in:The Mysterious Christmas Shell
Purrkins plays a vital part in the plot, aiding in the discovery of the lost ornament.
Description: "He was a large, jet-black cat with a white bib, who purred in a deep, velvet roar, and when Jennifer picked him up and scratched behind his ears, you could hear him clear across the room."
Appears / Mentioned in:A Room Made of Windows, Julia and the Hand of God, That Julia Redfern, Julia's Magic
Patchy-Cat was invented, based on no particular cat, but Eleanor truly felt and loved him. It's revealed in Julia and the Hand of God that Patchy was run over by a car.
-"He was a big, glossy cat, mostly black, with one white ear, a white chest, a splash of white on his back, and a white tip to his tail..." (That p12)
-"Patchy-cat knew about the grinling. Sometimes, out in the garden, when he had his hind leg stuck up in the air, holding it steady with one curled front paw and scrubbing away at with his rough little tongue, he'd stop and stare and stare without blinking right at one spot way back under the bushes. He was staring at the grinling." (That p32)
-"...Patchy hopped right back up again and settled himself like a little sphinx, with his front feet together, facing Mama, his eyes on her face." (That p84)
-"Patchy, a black and white cat of the Redferns', suddenly commenced a habit after the children's father was killed in the war of meeting Mrs. Redfern every day at the car stop where she got off the streetcar a long way from home. It was something he had never done before."
Appears in:Julia's Magic
Patchy-cat has a "fierce rival" neighborhood cat, a "tough old tom" that Daddy calls Mordred (Mordy). They sing "songs of loathing to one another"
Description: "Up they went, and down, tenor and bass, a long drawn-out, acid chorus that said, "Don't move, or I'll claw your eyes out...and then terrifying interruptions of spitting and screaming matches in which it seemed that both Patchy and Mordy must surely be torn to bloody shreds."
Sandy and Gretchy
Appear in:A Room Made of Windows, The Private Worlds of Julia Redfern
"Large, hard, daring" Sandy and "Light, wraithlike, feminine Gretchy were based on cats owned by Eleanor and Ian in the 1940s or 1950s, sharing the same names, descriptions, and personalities as the Redferns' two cats.
-Sandy is "heavy, firm...all red-golden and glossy, his fur smelling of eucalyptus." (Hand p111)
- Gretchy has "Snowy boots and tip of tail, / Snowy breast necklaced with a V / Of faintest gray, / And gray wafted about the rest of her / Except in her rich white stomach." (unpublished poem "The Gift")
--"They would sleep on Julia's bed in the sun pouring through the skylight, their arms around one another in a kind of cat bliss..." (Room p54)
-"They would set themselves to burnishing their coats and polishing their ears and whiskers before going upstairs to sleep off breakfast and the long night of adventures with its shocks and pounces and misses, its delectable rifflings of smells, its intoxicating intimations and sweet, brief moments of triumph when the rare capture was made." (Room p45)
-"...the cats climbed onto her stomach where they tried, both at once, to settle. But as Sandy was bulkier and stronger than Gretchy, he easily shouldered her to one side and curled down, with his tail waving across Julia's face before he wrapped it around himself, and Gretchy came and pushed in close to her neck.
'Hello, my Gretchy,' murmured Julia, and began scratching behind her ears and all over her face, which sent her into such a dither of ecstasy that she got herself right up under Julia's chin...so that Julia couldn't neglect her for an instant." (Private Worlds
Appears in:A Room Made of Windows
Zabero belongs to the Redferns' landlords, the di Rizzios.
Description: "He'd been a huge marmalade cat, spoiled, perverse, even spiteful at times, hiding in the bushes and then leaping out, scratching and biting for no reason except that he was in a mean mood."
Appears in:A Room Made of Windows
Black Bart is "the old beaten-up robber cat" neighborhood cat who fights with Sandy.
Appears in:Julia and the Hand of God
Smokey was the cat owned by the Redferns before Patchy. He was run over by a car when Greg was 9 years old. Julia reminds him: ""But you said after Smokey got run over that you'd never love another cat-or any other animal. Like, but not love." (Julia and the Hand of God, p39).
The Three Mung-gows
Appear in:Julia and the Hand of God
The Three Mung-gows are Siamese cats belong to Dr. Jacklin. Their names are Sukhothoi (Sookie), Ananda (Nanda), and Timka. Timka a "heavy one with a green eye" is the mother and the other two are her daughters. Julia loves the cats and even believes she can understand the meanings behind their different purrs and meows.
Descriptions: For a moment the three creamy cats, with their dark brown ears and faces and legs and tails, turned their heads to study Julia with intent, measuring, luminous blue eyes, and the one green one. Then Timka got up - "Mung-g-o-o-w?" she inquired, and approached with dignity, tail aloft. Whereupon Sookie trotted forward and got to Julia first.
"Mung-g-o-o-w?" asked Sookie.
"Mung-gow," said Nanda, remaining where she was."
Appears in: The Court of the Stone Children
There are actually two Lisabettas, one of the present, belonging to the museum groundskeeper, and one of the past, belonging to Domi.
-"Domi was chasing the Lisabetta Nina had tried to catch, and now she was swooping her up, burying her face in the cat's fur, and letting her go. Then here came the first Lisabetta and the two cats went careening away, leaping at each other, springing into the air, and then flitting off until they were nothing but two glimmering moths in the distance." (p68)
-"Presently a furry side was pressed against her arm, and Lisabetta's head poked in under her elbow. She surveyed Nina's lap, stepped delicately in, curled down and settled herself. Nina stroked the creamy back with its faint markings and Lisabetta lifted a pale gray face." (p108)
-"And sometimes he'd give her little firm taps on her skull between the ears - pok, pok, pok - with his first finger, and with closed eyes she would lift her head as if this sensation too she found rapturous for some cat reason." (p166)
Appears in:The Court of the Stone Children
Nina "never minded being alone, she could never remember having been lonely up at Silverspring. If some friend hadn't been with her after school, she would talk to Windy when he came to meet her. He had had to be left with the Hudsons because it would have been cruel to bring him to an apartment in the city, a cat who loved to run in the wind, up over the hills, through the woods. Again and again he would hide, then leap out just as she passed him and go tearing ahead, his feet drumming like a little horse's on the path, disappear for five minutes as if he'd deserted her, then there he'd be around a bend, one front paw up as if to say, 'Well, where've you been? I've had to stop here, fiddling around and wasting the evening while I waited for you -'"
Appears in:To the Green Mountains
-"She [Aunt Lily] had Pillow on one arm, his plumy tail draped over and his front paws resting on her shoulder.
'Poor old Pillow,' said Mama, for he was an eerie, unpredictable cat, whom you could not safely pick up nor take into your lap, for he might stiffen suddenly and from being a perfectly amenable family animal, look up at you with bright feral eyes, whereupon you knew instantly that he was about to bite. He loved only Aunt Lily, of all human beings, and allowed her to do with him exactly as she pleased." (p57)
Appears in:Beyond Silence
Description: "I noticed at once the silky tabby curled on the old wrinkled, sunken-looking couch in front of the fire, a tabby with white paws and snowy breast and a ridiculous black mustache set slightly askew." (p61)
Eleanor on Cats
"Ian and I are just as mad about cats as we ever were, and if there is ever an especially endearing cat commercial on television he calls to me. What we both want is a half hour, or preferably an hour of cat-doings on television. Cats are a never-ending engrossment, and so many incredible things have been told about them, and pictures taking of their exploits that I think it would be an enormously successful hour. Imagine! With the world falling apart, and I want a cat show." - Letter to Elizabeth, April 7, 1985