Tech professor looks at poet's naming practices of cats

Feb 7, 2013 | General News, Liberal Arts

A Louisiana Tech professor of English will have an article published in the March issue of the national journal, “Names.”
The title of the article by Dr. Dorothy Dodge Robbins is “Imperial Names for Practical Cats: Establishing a Distinctly British Pride in ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’” In the article, Robbins cites the environments of London, the British nonsense tradition in poetry and T.S. Eliot’s own conversion to the Anglican faith as sources and inspiration for the 54 cat names that appear in his “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
“The volume as a whole contains 54 cat names, frequently revelatory of feline personalities or traits,” Robbins said. “Quite a few are whimsical multi-syllabic nonsense names such as Coricopat, Bombalurina and Jellylorum. I propose that Eliot’s naming process reflects instead his acquired British tastes.”
Robbins said she first became interested in this topic in the late 1990s.
“I first became interested in T. S. Eliot’s cat poems when I taught a special topics course on literature about cats — affectionately known as ‘Kitty Lit’ — at Dakota Wesleyan University,” she said. “Eliot was one of the featured authors, along with (Edgar Allan) Poe and (Mark) Twain and other writers who chose cats as their subject matter in significant works.”
She added that her own appreciation for cats had influenced this particular professional endeavor.
“Eliot himself was a cat person,” she said. “In a number of letters to friends from the 1920s and 1930s, he offers advice about appropriate names for their pets as well as tips for their care and feeding.”
Her students at Louisiana Tech are also often getting a taste of her scholastic pursuits.
“In my British survey course, I assign either ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ or ‘The Waste Land,’ but I have been known to slip in a cat poem or two,” she said. “I believe critics are too quick to dismiss Eliot’s cat poems as ‘fluff’ when weightier issues are present, including themes featured in more highly regarded works.”
Robbins said her new project focuses on the names and naming practices of British novelist A.S. Byatt, who does not name cats, but people and places.