A fellow named Phil made a comment on my site. He said he looked to see if I had written about Macavity the cat, but he couldn’t find a story. I didn’t have a story about Macavity, though he missed my offering of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which includes the poem. I decided a spotlight on Macavity was in order.
Wikipedia gave a definition of Macavity. Here it is: Macavity is a fictional character who is described in a poem in ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,’ by T.S. Eliot. This character also appears in “Cats,” the musical by Audrey Lloyd Webber. The lyrics in the musical are identical to the words in the book.
In “Old Possum’s…” the poem is entitled, “Macavity: The Mystery Cat.” Here is the first stanza:
Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw —
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime — Macavity’s not there!
The name Macavity is a pun formulated by T.S. Eliot on the names of several characters in other works of literature. Also, the word “cavity” can be defined as a hole or an absence of something. In the poem, Macavity is described as “not there” at the time or location of the crime.
Macavity, aka the “Hidden Paw,” was well-known as the Napoleon of crime. He is too clever to leave any evidence of his guilt. Elliot says, he’s broken every human law; he breaks the law of government.
Macavity modeled after a master criminal
Macavity was modeled after Professor James Moriarty, the master criminal in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. In the poem the description of Macavity was very similar to the description of the criminal professor. He is described as a ginger cat who is very tall and thin with sunken eyes, and he “sways his head from side to side with movements like a snake.”
The poem describes him as a close parallel to Professor Moriarty. “His brow is deeply lined in thought. His head is highly domed; his coat is dusty with neglect; his whiskers are uncombed.”
The Secret Service is after Macavity. However, even when they decide that Macavity is behind a crime, they can’t catch him, as “he is a mile away” or “engaged in doing complicated long division problems.”
Eliot describes Macavity’s misbehavior in ways that could describe an ordinary cat, such as a stealer of milk. However, he is also likely responsible for major crimes. He is referred to as “a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.”
Many misdeeds have been attributed to him. These include stifling Pekes, vandalism, theft, cheating at cards, and espionage. He is also the leader of an organized crime ring. He apparently can levitate, as he “breaks the laws of gravity.”
In the musical, “Cats,” Macavity tries several times to scare the cat tribe. In the process, he abducts Old Deuteronomy. He tries to abduct another cat, and two cats come to her defense. They draw Macavity off in a dramatic cat fight.
Macavity also appears to be able to perform some kind of hypnotism. When two cats sing about him, they do so sensually, suggesting that there is a familiarity between them.
Macavity’s Influence Spreads to Other Quarters
Now, Macavity has slipped into other aspects of society. MysteryReaders International presents the Macavity Awards annually in several best mystery categories.
Polish author Maciej Wojtypzko’s children’s books feature a character named Macavity the cat. This mystery cat is a criminal mastermind who loses a game of chance with dog detective Kajetan Chrumps. Afterward, he is persuaded to become the detective’s assistant.
Gillian Roberts’ schoolteacher detective Amanda Pepper features Macavity the cat in several of her books.
In 1995 the New Jersey punk band Gimp honored the cat with an album cover. The album was titled, “Smiles for Macavity.”
While still the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was compared to Macavity. David Heath, a Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House, called Brown “the Macavity of the cabinet.” The belief was that Brown was not there when there was dirty work to be done.
Several bus drivers from West Midlands, United Kingdom, gave the name Macavity to a white cat in their area. The cat would use the local bus service regularly on his own. The cat had white fur, one green eye and one blue eye. He wore a purple collar. The cat’s owner and his real name were unknown.
T.S. Eliot, Macavity’s creator, was a poet extraordinaire
The author of the collection of poems known as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Thomas Stearns Eliot,
(1888 – 1965) is considered one of the 20th century’s major poets. Eliot was also an essayist, publisher, playwright, and literary and social critic. His most well-known works include The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Four Quartets.
On November 4, 1948, Eliot won the Nobel Prize in literature. This honor was bestowed due to his profound effect on the direction of modern poetry.
He was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He was often isolated in his youth, and developed a love of literature. After he learned to read, books became his passion and his friends.
He moved to England in 1914, settled and married there. He became a British subject in 1927 at age 39. At that time, he gave up his American passport.
Though he moved to England, Eliot lived in St. Louis for 16 years in the house where he was born. When he left there, he wrote a friend that the “Missouri and Mississippi have made a deeper impression on me than any other part of the world.”
Eliot was a student of languages from his youth. Early in his education, he studied Latin, Ancient Greek, French and German. He studied philosophy at Harvard College from 1906 to 1909, earning his Bachelor’s after three years.
Before his move to England, Eliot moved to Paris in 1910 and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. He returned to Harvard. When the First World War broke out, he ended up at Oxford.
Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, a Cambridge governess, on June 16, 1915. It was not a happy marriage. Vivienne had health issues, and the couple became increasingly detached. They finally separated in 1933.
He taught in a number of places to earn extra money. He wrote book reviews and taught night classes. He even worked in a bank at one point.
In 1927, he became a British citizen, and then became a warden of his parish church. He identified himself as an Anglo-Catholic, proclaiming himself a “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion.”
In 1957 at age 68, Eliot married Erme Valerie Fletcher, who was 30. He knew her well, as she had been his secretary since 1949.
In the early 60s, Eliot worked at the Wesleyan University Press as an editor. His health was failing, and in January 1965, he died in his home in Kensington in London.
The book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, was published in 1939. (Old Possum was Ezra Pound’s nickname for him.) The poems were written in the 30s in letters to his godchildren. They were selected and published originally in 1939, with a cover illustration by the author They were quickly republished in 1940.
Here;s another taste of the poem. This is the last stanza:
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place — MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!
If you would like to read the full poem, your are in luck. I have several alternatives for you. I will offer a full version of the poem in a children’s edition, and a board book of the story for the littlest tots. How cool is that? If you’d like the complete book of “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” click on the book title and follow the link to the post where I offer it.
Phil, I hope you see this post. Thank you very much for the Macavity suggestion.
If you would like your own copy of Macavity, or if you would like a book for your youngster, see the offers below. If you want the complete book, click on the link at the beginning of the story to take you to the post where you can order it. Meanwhile, consider these:
by Faber & Faber Children’s Books
I’d be delighted if you ordered one of these books, or the full version of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. If you do, please note that as an Amazon affiliate, I may earn a small commission from your purchase. Thanks!