Hemingway and His Cats

When nine lives aren’t long enough for love

Deborah Barchi
Apr 17 · 2 min read
Image by Averette via Wikimedia.org

I just finished watching the three part Ken Burns special about the life and loves of Hemingway. We learned quite a bit about the wives, but not that much about the dozens of cats with whom Hemingway was totally enamored.

In one photograph from the program, we see a cat atop Hemingway’s desk, obviously insistent on being the center of the notoriously cranky writer’s attention. I doubt very much if Hemingway would have been half as tolerant if Hadley, Pauline, Martha, or Mary had made so bold as to interrupt him while he was writing.

Although in the course of his lifetime Hemingway could boast of having four wives under his belt (pun very much intended), I think he respected his cats more.

“One cat leads to another”, lamented Hemingway facetiously in a letter to his first wife, Hadley. Was he perhaps mistaking his cats for his wives?

“A Cat has absolute emotional honesty”, wrote Hemingway. “… human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”

This strikes me as a completely correct assessment. Having been in the company of cats for most of my life, I can honestly write that none of them ever chose to flatter me.

Unless, of course, they thought it might get them a few extra tuna treats.

Descendants of Hemingway’s beloved cats may be found to this day, lounging and lording it around the grounds of Hemingway’s former home in Key West. Many of these cats are polydactyl, which only adds to their insouciant charm.

Although wives and lovers passed stormily through Hemingway's life, he stuck unwaveringly to his cats. With typical feline mentality, they were neither in awe of him, nor in love with him.

They liked being petted and pampered of course. But unlike the wives, they felt perfectly comfortable with saying to the besotted man, “That’s enough, Papa”, and stalking away.

Tails held high, dainty feet barely touching the ground.

“One cat leads to another”, lamented Hemingway facetiously in a letter to his first wife, Hadley. Was he perhaps mistaking his cats for his wives?

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Deborah Barchi

Written by

Deborah Barchi has recently retired from her career as a librarian and now has time to read, explore nature, and write poetry and essays. 824drb@gmail.com

The Haven

The Haven

A Place to Be Funny Without Being a Jerk

Deborah Barchi

Written by

Deborah Barchi has recently retired from her career as a librarian and now has time to read, explore nature, and write poetry and essays. 824drb@gmail.com

The Haven

The Haven

A Place to Be Funny Without Being a Jerk

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