The struggle between Prater’s cat and Prater’s cat’s conscience was short, and ended in the hollowest of victories for the former. The conscience really had no sort of chance from the beginning.
The Tabby Terror (1902) published in Tales of St Austin’s (1903)
P.G. Wodehouse and his wife Ethel were devoted animal lovers who donated generously to establish the Long Island Bide-a-Wee animal sanctuary. But Wodehouse was not above casting the occasional cat as chief miscreant when it suited him.
His black heart was hidden by a sleek coat of tabby fur, which rendered stroking a luxury. His scheming brain was out of sight in a shapely head.
The Tabby Terror
I was attacked in my own kitchen by a not dissimilar animal, this very a.m – a large, Churchillian beast with a decidedly high opinion of himself. He insisted upon the best chair from the moment of his arrival, and I expect will soon take to smoking cigars. Mr Mulliner outlines the attitude nicely in The Story of Webster:
Cats, as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by the fact that in Ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods.
The Story of Webster in Mulliner Nights (1933)
My nominee for Most Fiendish Exhibit in the Wodehouse Cat Show must surely be Percy, from the stable of Mrs Pulteney-Banks. He appears in another story from the same volume, which leads one to wonder if Wodehouse had some cat troubles of his own at the time.
(H)e was pure poison. Orange of body and inky black of soul, he lay stretched out on the rug, exuding arrogance and hate… One could picture him stealing milk from a sick tabby.
Cats Will Be Cats in Mulliner Nights (1933)
Fortunately for the Mulliners, the cat Webster is on hand to dispose of Percy, for it is not a task to be undertaken lightly. Few mortals succeed in their efforts to outwit a Wodehousian cat, though many fools have tried:
At tea on the following evening the first really serious engagement of the campaign took place. The cat strolled into the team room in the patronising way characteristic of his kind, but was heavily shelled with lump sugar, and beat a rapid retreat… From that moment its paw was against every man, and the tale of the things it stole is too terrible to relate in detail. Like Death in the poem, it knocked at the doors of the highest and the lowest alike. Or rather, it did not exactly knock. It came in without knocking.
The Tabby Terror
A friendly war between species is one thing. Almost natural you might say, especially when careless authors start throwing cats, boys and sardines together. But Wodehouse takes a firm stance on anyone who oversteps the mark. Our sympathies can never rest easily with The Man Who Disliked Cats, who begins by flinging them about hotels, and works his way up to having them destroyed. He fails, loses the girl, and becomes a mere shadow of his former self.
He had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life’s gas pipe with a lighted candle; of one whom the clenched fist of Fate has smitten beneath the temperamental third waistcoat button.
The Man Who Disliked Cats in The Man Upstairs and Other Stories (1914)
And on that note, I must go. The malevolent feline of my household, of whom I spoke earlier, has returned and is giving me a meaningful eye. I’m sitting in his chair – and the consequences of thwarting this dictatorial example of his species are more than I can bare.
This piece is dedicated to my beloved cat Terry who recently passed away, leaving a huge hole in our hearts – and a cold spot on my pillow where a little cat used to be.