The image most people have of Ernest Hemingway is that of a macho hunter and fisherman. In fact, most historical photographs of the great author seem to reinforce this misconception. When Carlene Fredericka Brennen asked that I write a foreword to this book on the women Hemingway loved, and his devotion to many cats and dogs, I was pleased to see that she also included her valuable scholarship on Hemingway's understanding of nature. There is no question that when Papa was hiking along winding rivers to take a fish on fly, or watching his prey in the African bush, he was always working to better his understanding of animals. He studied their natural habitat, analyzed their migration and feeding habits, watched the physical changes over their lifespan and, like John Audubon, Hemingway often killed the animals he studied. He examined them in life, and in death, and his writing always included that mystical bond between the hunter and the hunted. As Santiago expressed in The Old Man and the Sea, he had great love and admiration for the fish, even as he was determined to kill it.
But what of the animals Hemingway chose to keep at his homes? When you hear of Hemingway and Key West, you immediately imagine a yardful of six-toed cats. Why? Brennen answers this with her beautifully illustrated work that shows Papa's love for the domestic feline, as well as his canine friends.
Key West was not the only town known for Hemingway cats. In Cuba, Ernest's hilltop home, Finca Vigia [Lookout Farm], once had fifty-seven cats roaming its grounds. One of the first cats Hemingway purchased in Cuba was a Persian female named Tester that came from the Silver Dawn Cattery in Florida. Tester was renamed Princessa by the Finca staff because of her elegant nature. Later Princessa mated with Boise - whom Papa first called Dillinger - a Cuban kitten he had found in the coastal fishing village of Cojimar. By the end of the first summer, he owned three house cats: Princessa, Boise, and a half-Maltese kitten named Willy.
Ernest took great pleasure in writing to his family about his cats and how they were getting along. By 1943, Ernest and third wife Martha had eleven cats at Finca Vigia. "One cat just leads to another . . ." he wrote to his first wife, Hadley Mowrer. "The place is so damned big it doesn't really seem as though there were many cats until you see them all moving like a mass migration at feeding time. . . . It is wonderful when Marty, and /or kids are here but is lonesome as a bastard when I'm here alone. I have taught Uncle Wolfer, Dillinger and Will to walk along the railings to the top of the porch pillars and make a pyramid like lions and have taught Friendless to drink with me (whiskey and milk) but even that doesn't take the place of a wife and family."
Ernest later uses his isolation from his family and his kinship with his cats as inspiration for his hero, Thomas Hudson, in his novel, Islands in the Stream. Hudson talks to his cats and was comforted by them after learning of his sons' tragic deaths in a car accident. Princessa is elegant and aristocratic, while Boise is the male cat who hunts fruit rats and is devoted to Thomas Hudson. Goats [aka Bigotes, Friendless] is the fighter and stud cat. All three cats are immortalized in this novel.
By the time Papa's fourth wife to be, Mary Welsh, moved into the Finca in 1945, Ernest had twenty-three cats and five dogs. They were treated as royalty. The cats slept in the guest bedroom and later lived in a room on the second floor of the white tower Papa had built for his pets at one end of the terrace. He and Mary called the cats "purr factories" and "love sponges" that soaked up their love and in return gave them comfort and companionship.
Among the many family letters describing his cats is one written in 1942. Ernest tells Hadley Mowrer that he had not been able to sleep the night before and had recalled a song they had composed for their cat, F. Puss, so many years earlier in Paris. It went like this, "A feather kitty's talent lies In scratching out the other's eyes. A feather kitty never dies Oh immortality." According to the letter, the Finca cats enjoyed Papa's song.
On behalf of my family, I hope you enjoy Carlene Fredericka Brennen's illustrated text on Hemingway's Cats.