Do You Know Macavity The Cat?

The literate catA fellow named Phil made a comment on my site. He said he looked to see if I had written about Macavity the cat, but he couldn’t find a story. I didn’t have a story about Macavity, though he missed my offering of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which includes the poem. I decided a spotlight on Macavity was in order.

Wikipedia gave a definition of Macavity. Here it is: Macavity is a fictional character who is described in a poem in ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,’ by T.S. Eliot. This character also appears in “Cats,” the musical by Audrey Lloyd Webber. The lyrics in the musical are identical to the words in the book.

In “Old Possum’s…” the poem is entitled, “Macavity: The Mystery Cat.” Here is the first stanza:

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw —

For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.

He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:

For when they reach the scene of crime — Macavity’s not there!

The name Macavity is a pun formulated by T.S. Eliot on the names of several characters in other works of literature. Also, the word “cavity” can be defined as a hole or an absence of something. In the poem, Macavity is described as “not there” at the time or location of the crime.

Macavity, aka the “Hidden Paw,” was well-known as the Napoleon of crime. He is too clever to leave any evidence of his guilt. Elliot says, he’s broken every human law; he breaks the law of government.

Macavity modeled after a master criminal

Macavity was modeled after Professor James Moriarty, the master criminal in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. In the poem the description of Macavity was very similar to the description of the criminal professor. He is described as a ginger cat who is very tall and thin with sunken eyes, and he “sways his head from side to side with movements like a snake.”

The poem describes him as a close parallel to Professor Moriarty. “His brow is deeply lined in thought. His head is highly domed; his coat is dusty with neglect; his whiskers are uncombed.”

The Secret Service is after Macavity. However, even when they decide that Macavity is behind a crime, they can’t catch him, as “he is a mile away” or “engaged in doing complicated long division problems.”

Eliot describes Macavity’s misbehavior in ways that could describe an ordinary cat, such as a stealer of milk. However, he is also likely responsible for major crimes. He is referred to as “a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.”

Many misdeeds have been attributed to him. These include stifling Pekes, vandalism, theft, cheating at cards, and espionage. He is also the leader of an organized crime ring. He apparently can levitate, as he “breaks the laws of gravity.”

In the musical, “Cats,” Macavity tries several times to scare the cat tribe. In the process, he abducts Old Macavity character from "Cats"Deuteronomy. He tries to abduct another cat, and two cats come to her defense. They draw Macavity off in a dramatic cat fight.

Macavity also appears to be able to perform some kind of hypnotism. When two cats sing about him, they do so sensually, suggesting that there is a familiarity between them.

Macavity’s Influence Spreads to Other Quarters

Now, Macavity has slipped into other aspects of society. MysteryReaders International presents the Macavity Awards annually in several best mystery categories.

Polish author Maciej Wojtypzko’s children’s books feature a character named Macavity the cat. This mystery cat is a criminal mastermind who loses a game of chance with dog detective Kajetan Chrumps. Afterward, he is persuaded to become the detective’s assistant.

Gillian Roberts’ schoolteacher detective Amanda Pepper features Macavity the cat in several of her books.

In 1995 the New Jersey punk band Gimp honored the cat with an album cover. The album was titled, “Smiles for Macavity.”

While still the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was compared to Macavity. David Heath, a Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House, called Brown “the Macavity of the cabinet.” The belief was that Brown was not there when there was dirty work to be done.

Several bus drivers from West Midlands, United Kingdom, gave the name Macavity to a white cat in their area. The cat would use the local bus service regularly on his own. The cat had white fur, one green eye and one blue eye. He wore a purple collar. The cat’s owner and his real name were unknown.

T.S. Eliot, Macavity’s creator, was a poet extraordinaire

The author of the collection of poems known as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Thomas Stearns Eliot,

Thomas Stearns Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot

(1888 – 1965) is considered one of the 20th century’s major poets. Eliot was also an essayist, publisher, playwright, and literary and social critic. His most well-known works include The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Four Quartets.

On November 4, 1948, Eliot won the Nobel Prize in literature.  This honor was bestowed due to his profound effect on the direction of modern poetry.

He was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He was often isolated in his youth, and developed a love of literature. After he learned to read, books became his passion and his friends.

He moved to England in 1914, settled and married there. He became a British subject in 1927 at age 39. At that time, he gave up his American passport.

Though he moved to England, Eliot lived in St. Louis for 16 years in the house where he was born. When he left there, he wrote a friend that the “Missouri and Mississippi have made a deeper impression on me than any other part of the world.”

Eliot was a student of languages from his youth. Early in his education, he studied Latin, Ancient Greek, French and German. He studied philosophy at Harvard College from 1906 to 1909, earning his Bachelor’s after three years.

Before his move to England, Eliot moved to Paris in 1910 and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. He returned to Harvard. When the First World War broke out, he ended up at Oxford.

Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a Cambridge governess, on June 16, 1915. It was not a happy marriage. Vivienne had health issues, and the couple became increasingly detached. They finally separated in 1933.

He taught in a number of places to earn extra money. He wrote book reviews and taught night classes. He even worked in a bank at one point.

In 1927, he became a British citizen, and then became a warden of his parish church. He identified himself as an Anglo-Catholic, proclaiming himself a “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion.”

In 1957 at age 68, Eliot married Erme Valerie Fletcher, who was 30. He knew her well, as she had been his secretary since 1949.

In the early 60s, Eliot worked at the Wesleyan University Press as an editor. His health was failing, and in January 1965, he died in his home in Kensington in London.

The book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,  was published in 1939. (Old Possum was Ezra Pound’s nickname for him.) TheOriginal cover for Old Possum's... poems were written in the 30s in letters to his godchildren. They were selected and published originally in 1939, with a cover illustration by the author They were quickly republished in 1940.

Here;s another taste of the poem. This is the last stanza:

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,

There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.

He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:

At whatever time the deed took place — MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!

And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known

(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)

Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time

Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

If you would like to read the full poem, your are in luck. I have several alternatives for you. I will offer a full version of the poem in a children’s edition, and a board book of the story for the littlest tots. How cool is that? If you’d like the complete book of “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” click on the book title and follow the link to the post where I offer it.

Phil, I hope you see this post. Thank you very much for the Macavity suggestion.

If you would like your own copy of Macavity, or if you would like a book for your youngster, see the offers below.  If you want the complete book, click on the link at the beginning of the story to take you to the post where you can order it.  Meanwhile, consider these:

Macavity the Mystery Cat, by T.S. Eliot

by Faber & Faber Children’s Books

Paperback

Prime

Price:  $9.44

 

 

Macavity’s Not There 

by Faber & Faber Children’s Books

Board Book

Prime

Price: $11.67

 

I’d be delighted if you ordered one of these books, or the full version of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  If you do, please note that as an Amazon affiliate, I may earn a small commission from your purchase.  Thanks!


10 Responses to Do You Know Macavity The Cat?

  1. Samm says:

    Hey Fran
    Thank you for the very interesting post! You did an excellent job by taking your time and put all these together.

    My kids love cats. Definitely I will grab the copy of Macavity for them and as for collection

    Definitely worth bookmarking this page for future use. I will definitely comeback here for more interesting story 🙂

    Wish you all the best,
    Samm

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Glad you liked the post.  Yes, your kids would love to learn about Macavity.  I really was pleased to find the board book among the selections on Amazon, as I think it would be a very fun board book for a tot.  If I still had a little one, would grab one my own self.

      Hope you come back to the site.  There’s lots of information here.  Read the book reviews done by Lucinda, the literate cat.  They are fun to read.

  2. Dave Sweney says:

    I do know Macavity and he is quite the cat. Never have I met a cat such as that.  He may be a criminal, but there is no harm in that cat. The reason is that Macavity is like every other cat, for whom I will always go to bat! T.S. Eliot created a timeless piece of work with Macavity, no one can argue that!

    Phil has got to be quite happy with this post, it was such an interesting read and I learned a lot about one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot. I read his work as a kid and even passed them on to my children when they were old enough, and he lives on for us all.

    Macavity is a clear favorite for many people to this day, and when they think of poets that are timeless, T.S. Eliot is a name that many banter on about. I am one of them, and Macavity the mischievous and devious cat would likely appreciate that! This was an enjoyable read, thanks for putting it together!   

    • Fran Kelso says:

      So glad you enjoyed learning about Macavity.  As a matter of fact, so do I.  It is my enjoyment to get to research these ideas and learn new things about one of my favorite subjects, cats.  

      T.S. Eliot was quite amazing.  He also knew cats.  If you ever need an original name for a cat, look in “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”  You will find enough original names in there to last a lifetime.

  3. RoDarrick says:

    Wow! This is an interesting read for me. I’m not acquainted with the knowledge about macavity before though I’ve heard the name used for many things on countless occasions but then, the story behind it is very cool to read about. Macavity seems like a very clever cat and its anthologies should be very interesting to read. Thanks so much for giving this tasty insight to macavity. I will definitely order these books.

    • Fran Kelso says:

      T.S. Eliot was a remarkable writer.  Though “Macavity” was part of the “Old Possum” collection, which he wrote for his grandchildren, it is definitely a strong, stand-alone piece.  It is interesting how the “Macavity” persona has been fitted into so many things.  His name and reputation get around.

      Glad you found the post interesting.

  4. Stella says:

    Macavity, the brainy and wise cat. The chief of all thieves. The innocent of all thieves. What a smart cat. This review is amazingly great  I love the poem so much and I will like to get a copy for my kid. Am sure, they will also like it. Macavity, don’t locate my home because I can’t bear your hurtful action. Lol 😂

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Macavity is quite the cat.  Of course you can buy the book shown on the site, and have a full copy.  I’d love it if you ordered the book.  However, I’m guessing you can find a copy of the poem somewhere online and read that to your kid.  T.S. Eliot did a great job with this creation.

  5. Kaju says:

    Such an entertaining post Fran!
    What a great name for a Cat!

    “Macavity the Cat” is such a sly one, one who can never be caught at the scene of the crime.
    Certainly a genius criminal mastermind of Cats!

    You have now piqued my interest, and I am going to searching for “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”

    • Fran Kelso says:

      It’s a really great little book. You can probably find one easily in the library, but if you decide you simply must have your own copy, I have one for sale on my site. Glad you enjoyed “Macavity” as he is quite the cat.

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