A TOTALLY SELF-INDULGENT POST, TANGENTIALLY LINKED TO MIDDLEMARCH AND ROMANCE-READING, AND HAVING A DUBIOUS MORAL
When a man has seen the woman whom he would have chosen if he had intended to marry speedily, his remaining a bachelor will usually depend on her resolution rather than his. (George Eliot, Middlemarch)
When a woman has once announced to her family that she would consider keeping two kittens instead of just one, she’s keeping two kittens. (Liz’s corollary)
OK, I’m stretching a point in connecting my Summer of the Kittens saga to Middlemarch, but when I read that line, I thought “that’s just like me with the kittens.” Re-reading Middlemarch, I’m struck by how often Eliot confidently makes pronouncements like this about human nature, and how often they ring true for me. Is that because they’re true in real life, or because they’re true in the fiction I read?
Another Middlemarch theme I find reflected in my Cat Saga is Fate. I’d been wanting another cat for awhile (we’ve had only one for a couple of years, since our “first baby” grad school cat died), but my son wasn’t ready. Then a colleague tweeted about a stray she’d found. I asked my son whether he’d take a cat who needed a home, and he agreed. It felt like Fate or serendipity to me; we weren’t actively looking, but a cat fell from the sky. And so Stella entered our lives, and shortly thereafter, rather predictably, her six kittens did.
It’s because there were six that I agreed to keep two. That’s a lot of kitten to give away. But there too it felt like Fate took a hand. I mentioned at lunch with a colleague (OK, “mention” is code for “desperate kitten pimping”) that I had kittens looking for homes, and she said another colleague might be interested. So the two girl babies went to a family who were mourning the loss of an elderly cat . . . who was black with white markings, much like one of their new kittens. It seemed to them like a match that was meant to be.
A couple of days later, we got a phone call from a friend of theirs who had visited their kittens and wondered if we still had any. She showed up with her two little girls, who didn’t know why they were at our house. The look on their faces when they saw the kittens was priceless. They got the mellow, cuddly gray boy, just right for a family’s first ever pet.
Then my husband chipped a tooth and went to the dentist. As he reclined in the chair, he noticed pictures of animals everywhere and blurted out, “Who wants a kitten?” Turned out the dentist had been looking for a while. Best dental emergency ever!
She and her husband came by and chose the confident all-black boy, who should do well in a house with older cats. He’ll be headed there when they come back from vacation this weekend. As they left, they thanked me profusely, which made me laugh because I’m so grateful to all the people who are giving these kittens good homes.
Any one watching keenly the stealthy convergence of human lots, sees a slow preparation of effects from one life on another, which tells like a calculated irony on the indifference or the frozen stare with which we look at our unintroduced neighbour. Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatis personae folded in her hand. (Middlemarch)
In a kind of irony of Fate, one irresponsible cat owner made four families very happy (that’s the dubious moral). And all of these serendipitous cats brought me closer to people: colleagues I’d been meaning to have over “sometime” came to visit mama and kittens; my dentist visits will be enlivened by cat updates. It’s a neat Eliot-ian web of connections.
It’s also a fiction, of course. I’ve left a lot out to tell this tidy story of Fated Cat Mates: all the possible homes that fell through; the way I wonder, when I’m cleaning multiple litter boxes, whether I am insane to consider having four cats (yes, but I’m sticking to my mother’s “no more cats than people” rule); the fact that at least one kitten is driving me to despair by failing to use the litterbox consistently.
The ironies of Middlemarch are calculated, of course. The paradox of high realist fiction like this is that it relies on all sorts of very unrealistic conventions to achieve a realistic effect: the omniscient narrator, for instance; who is this person who knows what everyone is thinking? The author, as Destiny, ensures that everyone in the novel’s sprawling canvas is connected in some way, and that they all get what they deserve in the end.
I think this is why I became a Victorianist, and why I like reading genre fiction, both classic mystery and romance: their worlds make sense; everything is connected and meaningful, events have explanations, acts have motivations, justice–emotional and legal–is meted out. I know the real world isn’t like that. But while it may not quite be true that, as Joan Didion wrote, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” I am always trying to make my life into a story with meaning. So I downplay to myself the parts of the Kitten Saga–and everything else in my life, really–that don’t fit into a meaningful narrative. And I read to find a world where things make sense and work out as they should.