Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

*****I Am a Cat, by Soseki Natsume

Translated by: Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was entertaining, dark and philosophical. My pages were filled with colorful post-its, most of which I translated into the notes recorded below. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at your own quirky habits, I tabbed so many quotes I have not had the opportunity to record them all. So, instead of waiting until I do, I decided to go ahead and share what I have......well...uhm...... while I victimize yet another book with a rainbow of post-its!
Author:   Kin'nosuke Natsume (1867-1916). Soseki Natsume pen name. Prominent 19th century literary writer and poet from Japan. Was almost forty years old when published his first novel, I Am a Cat.

Family background: minor Japanese town-gentry that fell on hard times during the 1868 Meiji Restoration.

Hototogisu (Cuckoo) - an influential Tokyo magazine that Natsume originally wrote I Am a Cat for as a short story (which is now the first chapter of this book). Natsume references this magazine in the novel re: p. 8, the teacher is always submitting his poetry to this publication.

Natsume is also known for his haiku, another element incorporated into his novel.

Natsume never intended to write beyond his initial publication in Hototogisu. But, the editor liked his short story so much, he encouraged Natsume to develop it further. The result, a large novel that was originally published over a period of three years - 1905, 1906 and 1907, one volume per year. In 1911 it was first published as a complete book, but was not published in English until 1972.

Notes on The Cat
  • psychological fiction. 
  • Soseki uses the perspective of an animal to portray and comment on human absurdities and foibles during the time when Japan was experiencing:
    •  a decline in traditional Japanese culture
    • western influence and development
    • modernization as a result of Western influence
    • stress caused by the coexistence of the old and new Japanese ideals and traditions
  • Soseki as author:
    • used a Cat to portray human foibles, a new approach to writing during his time.
    • Professor Sneaze and Cat reflect Soseki's attitudes: he was a misogynist, misogamist and a misopedist.  (Despite his unfortunate perspective, Natsume was a brilliant writer.)
    • concepts and various experiences from the author's life were incorporated into this novel
    • As a child, Natsume was abandoned by his parents. They gave him up for adoption when he was one year old. When his adoptive parents divorced, his biological parents took him back. Natsume, being so young at the time, was not aware of this "transaction". It was by accident that he found out his "new" parents were really his biological parents. This happened by chance one day when Natsume overheard their servants discussing his origins. Is it a wonder Natsume chose a stray kitten as a sounding board for his thoughts, or that he does not believe in marriage, and dislikes women and children? Is he, in essence, displacing his feelings of being unloved and unwanted by rejecting all that he and his parents represented to him? It is a sad prognosis for such a talented man.
    • This is not a story about cats.
  • Japan
  • Early Meiji period, post Shogunate era
  • Meiji era: 1868-1912
  • Shogunate Background: during the Shogunate era, Shogun military officers ruled the country and made the decisions. The Emperor was just a figure head.


Professor or The Cat: The anthropomorphized protagonist and omniscient narrator. An unnamed orphaned cat. He finds and attaches himself to the Professor and becomes the household pet. The Professor willingly, yet with a distanced attitude, allows Cat into his home, and treats him with a kind of absent affection. He never gives Cat a name; never even seems to realize it is an option.  The neighborhood cats call Cat, Professor, because he belongs to the professor.

Cat narrates the story, giving us his description and commentaries on all characters and events that surround him. He gives us a cats point-of-view of the people he observes. His narration is lofty, grand, pompous, and humorous. He has a unique and ironic point-of-view that is quite entertaining, which leaves the reader in stitches.

Per Professor, his purpose in life is focused around  his study of  the human condition, especially in relation to an every changing society (p. 254) He feels superior to and more intelligent and kinder than human beings in all ways except one

Professor is, "distressed by the state of the world and deplores the degeneracy of the age..." (p. 303)  Professor watches and listens to the Sneazes and their friends have obfuscated excessive conversations and debates over absurd subject matter that proportionally, does not warrant these long and drawn out discussions.

By Volume 2, Professor is one (1) year old, which makes him eleven (11) years in man years.

Rickshaw Blacky:  Emperor of Cat-dom (the locale of cats in his area), he is a huge black cat, muscular and tough. He has an owner - a rickshaw driver - who does not feed or pamper him. Thus, he must fend for his own. He feeds himself by killing mice and rats. His owner is a mean, angry man, who is uneducated, tough, and streetwise.  His behavior is unethical, if not criminal.

When narrator Cat first comes across him and sees his regal stance and glossy black fur, he refers to him as an Emperor whose, "eye gleamed far more beautifully than that dull amber stuff which humans so inordinately value."(p. 13) Referring to gold. Even when making a statement about another cats beauty, he works in what he sees as human foibles. A litter satiric fun that keeps you smiling and laughing throughout the book.

Tortoiseshell:  Her Buddhist posthumous name is: Myoyoshinyo. - a luxuriously beautiful cat who is named for her fur pattern. She is pampered by her mistress, 2-String Harp, and treated like a human being.

Tom Cat: a three colored cat who belongs to an attorney.

Miss Blanche: White cat across the way. Lives in military man's home.

The Sneazes:
     Professor Sneaze:  Owner of narrator cat, is a school teacher who always complains about how hard his job is and how much work it is, yet sleeps most of the day. He constantly demeans his wife and seems to become quite ill whenever she is around.

Has contempt for all commerce and businessmen, although he could benefit from a better source of income. He is paid poorly as a teacher, and lives in little better then a shack.  p. 181:" Ever since my school days I've always taken a scunner to businessmen. They'll do anything for money. They are, after all what they used to be called in the good old days: the very dregs of society."

Attempts, halfheartedly, to watercolor, write poems, and play the violin. He is so lazy, his sloppy efforts are done in vain.

     Mrs Sneaze:  Professor's Wife

     Sneaze Children: 3 daughters
       Menko - 1 year old
       Sunko - 3 years old
       Tonko - 5 years old
     They are spoiled brats. Their mother brags about them as if they are well behaved intelligent angels, despite every indication otherwise.

Osan:  household maid at professor's home. Hates their cat. Cat feels she is, "one of a species yet more savage than the shosei." (p. 5)

Mr. Beauchamp Blowlamp:  A friend of Coldman's he introduces to the professor ; an odd fellow;
belongs to the Reading Society

Avalon Coldman:  Professor Sneaze's favorite former student who holds a higher position than the professor in the academic field.. He has a missing tooth, yet is very handsome.  In order to marry the wealthy Opula Goldfield, her parents want him to pursue his doctorate. The subject matter of his thesis continuously changes. First, it was to be a study of the stability of acorns (p. 200). Later, he decides his post graduate work will be on the study of terrestrial magnetism, and finally on:  The Effects of Ultraviolet Rays upon Galvanic Action in the Eyeball of the Frog. (p.267).  At one point he was consumed with the process and study of hanging (mainly oneself). Where it is a serious subject, in Natsume's writing, it is pure humor.

2-String Harp:  Teaches the idle rich how to play the 2-stringed harp (hysterical). She has a distant
connection to a Shogun. She was not part of that household, but continuously makes references
to her high-class life style. She is snarky and ridiculous. The owner of the cat, Tortoiseshell, she treats her as if she were human; even taking her to a regular doctor of medicine when she is ill.

Maid: Maid to 2-String Heart and Tortoiseshell; has a cat-like face (per narrator Cat).

Waverhouse:  Professor's "aesthete" friend. He plays jokes on his friends and colleagues by telling them a bit of information as if it were fact. They treat it as fact and wind up making fools out of themselves. Nonetheless, they fall for his lies over and over. In truth, mean, it is conveyed with much humor. I laughed hysterically at some of his ploys.

Professor Whatnot:  Professor's scholar friend

Mr. Tatera Sampei:  A former house boy of the Sneazes', who has graduated from Law School and work in the mining division of Mutsui . Unlike the professor, is involved in business. Tatera often visits the Sneaze's. They consider him as part of their family and vice versa.

Eats cats  and offers to take the Sneaze's useless cat off their hands by cooking him into a stew. This lazy view of cats inspires Professor The Cat to prove his value by killing a rat for the Sneazes.

The Goldfield's:
     Mr. Gold Field: A wealthy businessman who believes his daughter to be the most marriageable girl around. "Everyone want to marry Opula." He and his wife spy on a suitor they seem interested in, Avalon Coldmoon.

     Mrs. Goldfield: A snarky woman, a social spy, and a gossip. Unsurprisingly, her nose is exceptionally huge and ugly. It is cause for many much speculation and jokes. Professor Cat calls her Madam Conk, others by Archnose.  Waverhouse shares a small dissertation on her nose.

     Opula Goldfield: The daughter of the Goldfields, she is spoiled and rude, with a heightened sense of entitlement; she treats those beneath her station horrifically. Her parents state she is the most sought out daughter by potential suitors, and that everyone wants to marry her.

shosei:  Japanese - A student who does housework in exchange for meals. (p. 3)

pusillanimous: lacking courage or resolution, fainthearted, timid, cowardly (p. 83)

thanatophile: a person who is fascinated with death and death related subjects (p. 112)

infundibular:  a funnel shaped organ. Waverhouse uses to describe Mrs. Goldfield's nose. (p. 150)

osify: 1) to calcify, petrify, turn into bone or tissue  2) to cease developing, become stagnant Mr. Waverhouse uses term to describe Mr. Goldfield's big nose. (p. 151)

indurate: to harden or  make harden (p. 151)

peroration: the concluding part of a speech, especially intended to inspire enthusiasm in an audience (p. 154)

empyrean:  belonging to or deriving from heaven (p. 160)

Catherine Wheel:  1) a firework that spirals upwards, sparks and produces flames. 2) Named after Catherine of Alexandria, a Catholic martyr, who was sentenced to death by use of a torture device that is named after the firework - a spiked wheel that flew to pieces when her hand touched it, so she was beheaded. Milk, not blood, was said to pour from her veins. (p. 172)

declension: a condition of decline or moral deterioration. (p. 172)

scunner: a strong dislike; to feel disgust or dislike (p. 181)

pansophic:  self awareness; all wise; claiming universal knowledge (p. 198)

gongoristic:  an affected elegance of style that was introduced into Spanish literature by the Spanish poet Gongora. (p.198)

epigrammatically: a witty saying, an epigram (p. 199)

adumbrated: to describe briefly with main points; summarize (p. 200)

furacity:  addictiveness to theft; thievishness (p. 220)

unpetrine:  not in any relation to St. Peter's teachings or writing; not relating to Peter of Russia

poltroonery:  abject cowardliness (p. 248)

jactitated: to move or stir about violently

clobber: informally, personal possessions (p. 252)

heterogeneity: the quality of being diverse and not comparable in kind (p. 252)

aluroid:  unable to locate a definition (p. 254)

gormless:  lacking intelligence and vitality: stupid (p. 255)

moithered:  to bother or harass; to toil or labor; to perplex or confuse (p. 265)

aglay:  askew, distorted, amiss, awry (p. 268)

presbyope:  farsighted (p. 277)

franion:  a cheerful frivolous person, a sill man, a loose woman;a paramour (p. 294)

neurasthenia: nervous breakdown (general term) (p. 302)

pismires: a social insect living in organized colonies (p. 312)

pettifogging:  arguing over petty things (p. 312)

My Favorite Words
These are words I found in my recent reading of Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, and I Am a Cat.  I fell in love with these words and must share them:

virago: a loud ill-mannered woman

scurrilous:  1)  to make or spread scandalous claims about someone with the intention of damaging their reputation  2) humorously insulting

syncope: to faint; a spontaneous loss of blood in the brain causing unconsciousness

obstreperous: noisy, boisterous without control or restraint

guileless:  sincere, honest

perspicacity:  keen vision or discernment, understanding

immurement:  a form of imprisonment;  to confine within walls

Notes and Quotes
p. 5   Cat: "I now realize now how true the adage is that what is to be will be." Meaning, life is circumstantial." Meaning, he was lucky to find food. He could have just as easily starved to death. Life is circumstantial and a matter of good or bad luck.

p. 6    Cat:  "Teachers have it easy. If you are born a human, it's best to become a teacher. For if it's possible to sleep this much and still to be a teacher, why, even a cat could teach."  Despite the teacher's constant complaints about his difficult and demanding job, Cat observes differently.

p. 7    "Living as I do with human beings, the more that I observe them, the moire I am forced to conclude that they are selfish."  Cat makes these, and other assessments about humans throughout the book. They are noted with increasing wit and humor.

p 8.    "...there is no living creature quite so heartless as a human." Miss Blanche's assessment after the shosei of her house heartlessly killed the beautiful four kittens she just gave birth to.  So sad.

p. 8  Narrator Cat:  "I feel that life is not unreasonable so long as one can scrape along from day to day. For surely even human beings will not flourish forever. I think if best to wait in patience for the Day of the Cats."

p. 11    Narrator Cat: "The prime fact is that all humans are puffed up by their extreme self-satisfaction with their own brute power. Unless some creatures more powerful than humans arrive on earth to bully them, there's just no knowing to what dire lengths their fool presumptuousness will eventually carry them."

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, there are many more wonderful quotes that I hope to add here at a later time.


No comments:

Post a Comment