Charles Dickens, the renowned English writer, is known for his literary works such as “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” and “Great Expectations.” However, not many know about his love for his pet cat, Bob. When Bob died in 1862, Dickens was heartbroken and wanted to keep a visual memory of his beloved pet. He decided to preserve one of Bob’s paws through taxidermy and used it as a letter opener.
The paw of Dickens’ cat, Bob, became a unique and unusual keepsake for the author. The taxidermy process was a common practice during the Victorian era, and Dickens was not the only one to preserve his pet’s body parts. However, the use of the paw as a letter opener was certainly an eccentric choice. The ivory blade of the letter opener was engraved with the words “C.D. In Memory of Bob 1862,” serving as a memorial to his beloved pet. Dickens was known for his love of animals, and his cat paw letter opener is a testament to his affection for his feline friend. (more below the video)
His daughter wrote:
On account of our birds, cats were not allowed in the house […] but Williamina’s numerous offspring had a happy home at ‘Gad’s Hill’ […]. One of these kittens was kept, who, as he was quite deaf, was left unnamed, and became known by the servants as ‘the master’s cat’, because of his devotion to my father. He was always with him, and used to follow him about the garden like a dog, and sit with him while he wrote. One evening […] ‘The master’ was reading at a small table, on which a lighted candle was placed. Suddenly the candle went out. My father, who was much interested in his book, relighted the candle and stroked the cat, who was looking at him pathetically he noticed, and continued his reading. A few minutes later, as the light became dim, he looked up just in time to see puss deliberately put out the candle with his paw, and then look appealingly toward him […]. Father was full of this anecdote when all met at breakfast the next morning.1
The story of Charles Dickens’ cat paw taxidermy is a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the greatest writers of all time. It reveals a softer, more personal side of Dickens that is not often explored in his literary works. The cat paw letter opener is a unique artifact that serves as a reminder of Dickens’ love for his pets and his unconventional approach to preserving their memory.
The Fascinating Tale of Charles Dickens’ Cat Paw Taxidermy
Who Was Charles Dickens?
Charles Dickens was a prominent Victorian-era author, known for his works such as “Oliver Twist,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and “Great Expectations.” He was born in 1812 and passed away in 1870, leaving behind a legacy of literary works that continue to be celebrated today.
The Story of Bob the Cat
One of the lesser-known stories about Charles Dickens involves his pet cat, Bob. Bob was a beloved pet of Dickens, who was devastated when the cat passed away in 1862. In an effort to keep a visual memory of his pet, Dickens had one of Bob’s paws promptly stuffed and adhered to an ivory blade, creating a unique letter opener.
The Taxidermy Process
Dickens was known to have an interest in taxidermy, and he had several pieces on display in his home. When Bob passed away, Dickens likely turned to taxidermy as a way to preserve his pet’s memory. Throughout the history of taxidermy, the process involves preserving an animal’s skin and attaching it to a model or form. In the case of Bob’s paw, it was likely stuffed with cotton or another material before being attached to the ivory blade.
The Significance of the Cat Paw Letter Opener
The cat paw letter opener has become a fascinating anecdote about Charles Dickens and his love for his pets. The letter opener is a unique piece of art that showcases Dickens’ interest in taxidermy and his desire to keep a visual memory of his pet. The letter opener is also a testament to the Victorian era, where taxidermy was a popular art form.
In addition to the cat paw letter opener, Dickens had a few other taxidermy pieces, including his pet raven Grip, who was the inspiration for Poe’s fictional bird. Grip is now on display in museums in a glass case.
The cat paw letter opener also has a connection to Dickens’ work. In his novel “Our Mutual Friend,” a character uses a similar letter opener made from a kitten’s paw. The letter opener serves as a reminder of Dickens’ love for his pets and his ability to incorporate them into his work.
Overall, the story of Charles Dickens’ cat paw taxidermy is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a beloved author and his love for his pets. The letter opener is a unique piece of art that showcases Dickens’ interest in taxidermy and his desire to keep a visual memory of his pet.
The Emotional Connection Between Dickens and His Cat
The Importance of Pets in the Victorian Era
In the Victorian era, pets played an important role in people’s lives. They provided companionship, comfort, and entertainment. For many, pets were considered a member of the family. Charles Dickens was no exception. He was a dog lover, but his daughter Mamie persuaded him to let her keep a cat, Williamina, who later gave birth to a litter of kittens; all but one—Bob—were given away. Mamie related that “the master’s cat,” so called by the household servants for his devotion to Dickens.
The Relationship Between Dickens and Bob
Bob the cat became Charles Dickens’ loyal companion. He would sit on Dickens’ shoulder while he wrote, and the two would often take walks together. Dickens was devastated when Bob died in 1862. To keep a visual memory of his beloved cat, Dickens had one of Bob’s paws stuffed and mounted on a letter opener, which he kept on his desk. The taxidermied paw was a tactile and emotional reminder of his dear friend.
The Allegories in Dickens’ Writing
Dickens’ emotional connection with his cat is reflected in his writing. In his novel “David Copperfield,” the character Mr. Micawber has a pet bird named Polly, who he mourns when she dies. This is a reflection of Dickens’ own mourning for Bob. The taxidermied paw also appears in Dickens’ novel “Our Mutual Friend” as a symbol of mourning and loss.
Dickens’ use of allegories in his writing also reflects his awareness of the emotional connection between humans and animals. In “Our Mutual Friend,” the character Jenny Wren, who makes dolls for a living, has a deep respect for animals. She sees them as fellow creatures with their own energy and mystery. This is reflected in her encounter with a dog, which she sees as a symbol of stillness and sympathy.
Charles Dickens’ emotional connection with his cat Bob reflects the importance of pets in the Victorian era. The taxidermied paw is a tactile and emotional reminder of his dear friend, and it appears in his writing as a symbol of mourning and loss. Dickens’ use of allegories in his writing also reflects his awareness of the emotional connection between humans and animals.
The Art of Victorian Taxidermy
A Brief History of Victorian Taxidermy
Taxidermy, the practice of preserving and mounting animal skins, has been around for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the Victorian era that taxidermy became a popular art form in England. In the mid-1800s, taxidermy went from being a scientific pursuit to a hobby for the wealthy.
The Appeal of Taxidermy in the Victorian Era
During the Victorian era, taxidermy was seen as a way to bring nature indoors and showcase one’s wealth and status. Many Victorians were fascinated by the natural world and wanted to have a piece of it in their homes. Taxidermy allowed them to do just that. It was also a way to coexist with nature without having to leave the comfort of their homes.
The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature
The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library holds several taxidermied animals, including a paw of Charles Dickens’ cat. Dickens was known for his fascination with taxidermy and had several pieces in his collection.
The Berg Collection is home to many literary treasures, including manuscripts, letters, and first editions of works by famous authors. The taxidermy pieces in the collection add another dimension to the literary experience, allowing visitors to see the animals that inspired some of their favorite works.
In conclusion, Victorian taxidermy was a popular art form that allowed people to bring a piece of nature into their homes. The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library is a testament to the enduring appeal of taxidermy and its place in literary history.
- Mamie Dickens, My Father as I Recall Him (New York: Dutton, [1896(?)]), pp. 80–81.