Brain Pickings

The Cat and the Devil: Rare Illustrations from James Joyce’s Little-Known Children’s Story

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Gerald Rose’s wonderful drawings depicting Joyce himself as the satanic protagonist of his irreverent children’s book.

My obsession with vintage children’s books was propelled into full swing a few years ago with the discovery of The Cat and the Devil, a charming 1981 picture-book based on a letter James Joyce wrote to his grandson Stephen on August 10, 1936, and illustrated by celebrated French artist Blachon. (The obsession has since escalated with more such lesser-known children’s treasures by famous “adult” authors, including Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, James Thurber, Carl Sandburg, Salman Rushdie, Ian Fleming, and Langston Hughes. But it turns out the Joyce gem was preceded by an even more magnificent UK edition illustrated by Gerald Rose, tragically out of print and nearly impossible to find but still surviving at some public libraries. For those not fortunate enough to track down one of the few remaining copies, here are Rose’s utterly delightful illustrations to feast your eyes on — doubly delightful for portraying Joyce himself as the devil:

The story ends on a mischievously Joycean note:

P.S. The devil mostly speaks a language of his own called Bellsybabble which he makes up himself as he goes along but when he is very angry he can speak quite bad French though some who have heard him say he has a strong Dublin accent.

Another Joyce feline story, The Cats of Copenhagen, also based on a letter to Stephen, was recently discovered and posthumously published in 2012 as one of the year’s best children’s books. For some modern-day cat love of equal literary and artistic delight, see the hopelessly wonderful Lost Cat.

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