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Celebrating cats in literature at the British Library

Cats have captured the cultural imagination for hundreds of years through poetry, artwork, fables and fairytales. The British Library in London is celebrating felines in literature with a free exhibition opening this week.

Cats on the Page brings familiar and much-loved favourites together with the eclectic and unexpected to celebrate our furry friends. From comical cats to master criminals, the lovable to the mysterious and magical, this exhibition looks at the various literary guises cats have appeared under throughout the centuries.

Books, manuscripts and artwork from the British Library’s own collections are displayed together for the first time with a number of original illustrations, with loans from Seven Stories, Judith Kerr, Posy Simmonds, Axel Scheffler, Quentin Blake and the T. S. Eliot Foundation.

Highlights from the exhibition include;

  • Original illustrations by much-loved artists including Mog by Judith Kerr, Beatrix Potter’s Kitty-in-Boots as imagined by Quentin Blake, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams, Fred by Posy Simmonds and two illustrations for T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by Axel Scheffler
  • Lewis Carroll’s own copy of the exceptionally rare third edition of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there (1893), in which the author notes his frustration with the printing including a comment on an illustration of Alice’s kitten
  • A selection of sound recordings for all ages including a reading of Macavity the Mystery Cat by T.S. Eliot, songs from the musical Cats and Disney’s The Aristocats and music by The Cure
  • Edward Lear’s charming doodles of himself and his cat, Foss, contained within a letter written to a friend in 1879
  • A 16th century pamphlet on witchcraft describing the activities of Elizabeth Stile and three other ‘notorious witches’, with a woodcut image accompanying the description of the black cat or familiar belonging to Mother Devell (who is alleged to have fed it with milk mixed with her own blood)
  • A letter written by T.S. Eliot to his friend Geoffrey Tandy’s daughter, Alison, containing a draft of his poem ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer’ and signed off with his nickname ‘Possum’; displayed alongside Alison’s reply including delightful drawings of the two cats, on loan from the T.S. Eliot Foundation

Staged in the British Library’s Entrance Hall, Cats on the Page also features a family trail, sound recordings and a children’s reading corner. A number of special events include Legendary illustrator and author Judith Kerr in conversation with her art editor, Ian Craig (Dec 3) and a stage adaptation of Tabby McTat, the children’s classic by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (24-25 Nov).

Cats on the Page runs until 17 March 2019. For further information visit www.bl.uk/events

Jellicle Cats illustration (c) Axel Scheffler published in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (c) T. S. Eliot and Faber & Faber

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