JEOFFRY: The Poet's Cat
The History Press, October 2020
Hardback, 208 pp, £16.99
Book of the Year, Times Literary Supplement
Chosen for BBC Radio 4, "A Good Read"
"For I will consider my cat Jeoffry..."
Jeoffry was a real cat who lived 250 years ago, confined to an asylum with Christopher Smart, one of the most visionary poets of the age. In exchange for love and companionship, Smart rewarded Jeoffry with the greatest tribute to a feline ever written. This book combines meticulous research with passages of dazzling invention to recount the life of the cat praised as ‘a mixture of gravity and waggery’. The narrative roams from the theatres and bordellos of Covent Garden to the cell where Smart was imprisoned for mania. At once whimsical and profound, witty and deeply moving, Soden’s biography plays with the genre like a cat with a toy. It tells the story of a poet and a poem, while setting Jeoffry’s life and adventures against the roaring backdrop of eighteenth-century London.
"Jeoffry is the greatest cat in the English language, and here are his life and times, wittily and deftly imagined, entwined with a memoir of Kit Smart, lunatic and poet, and the London he shared with Samuel Johnson and his cat Hodge. An inspired and original tale." Hilary Mantel
"A little masterpiece... one of the most beautiful and haunting books of recent times." Alexander McCall Smith
"Simply unforgettable ... Oliver Soden has written a little masterpiece ... The life and times of Jeoffry, the cat described in Smart’s famous poem, are imagined here by Soden in one of the most beautiful and haunting books of recent times. This is a book to savour, reflect upon, and give to friends ... It is beautifully written. It is gentle. It is full of historical detail and whimsy, in more or less equal measure. It is a complete treat ... a lovely, enchanting piece of work."
Alexander McCall Smith
"Delightful... the perfect chance to provide colour to the black-and-white world of William Hogarth’s prints... a particularly fine evocation of a cat’s-eye view"
Kathryn Hughes, Literary Review
"I greatly enjoyed this book ... Oliver Soden has found a really vivid "ground-level" way to capture Georgian London, and as soon as Smart comes on the scene a most moving chemistry develops between the cat who has no words and the poet who is adrift in them." Ann Wroe
"This is an intensely poignant portrait of a celebrated cat. Jeoffry’s tale is both simple, in its feline perspective of eighteenth-century life, and complex, in its vivid detail, so expertly and engagingly marshalled. It is told with vibrant pace and energy, embraces shocking violence and exquisite tenderness, and is bejewelled with a rich cast of cultural luminaries. As we follow the irresistible subject towards and through his interaction with the poet who would give him his immortality, we smell the streets and the confined spaces, we suffer the blows, we weep the tears. This beautifully written and highly affecting book is a must-read for lovers of poetry, of the eighteenth century, and of cats."
Jane Glover, author of Handel in London
"Oliver Soden has done for Christopher Smart’s cat Jeoffry what Virginia Woolf did for the Brownings’ dog, Flush. Except he’s made a much better job of it. This is a beautifully written, wise and wonderfully entertaining account of loyalty and the meaning of biography. Smart’s cat was indeed a magical being, and Oliver Soden has plucked a wealth of literary art from the cat’s life and from Smart’s unforgettable vision. I intend to give a copy to everybody I like."
"A pretty feline performance. It’s at once a sly introduction to Christopher Smart and the literary milieu of 18th-century London ...and a cat’s-eye view of 18th-century social history... It has a good deal, too, to tell the reader about cats... I found myself marvelling... that a single cat, at a distance of 250-odd years, can be reliably traced from kittenhood ... to sunset years ... All biographies adopt points of view, make suppositions, put fictional flesh on the bones of the facts the record gives us; and their test is how persuasively they do so. This one does so with great panache and not a little of the writerly flourish." Sam Leith, Spectator
"Soden’s delightful, insinuating book curls around your thoughts and tickles you with its whiskers... Soden jokes that if “Jubilate Agno” is a magnificat (a song of praise to God), the Jeoffry verses are a magnifi-cat. His own magnifi-cat recreation, bound in cloth-covers and sporting a Gainsborough kitty, would make a fine stocking filler – silk, buckled or gartered." Economist
"A heart-lifting delight; I absolutely loved it. A triumph." Alexandra Harris
"An absolute classic … Oliver Soden combines the originality of wit and concept found in Virginia Woolf’s Flush with an intimate portrayal of the humanity of a cat that T.S. Eliot understood so well. I found myself so gloriously moved and entertained by Jeoffry who has leapt purring and stretching, hunting and curling his way into my heart."
"Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat is an engrossing recreation of eighteenth-century London at its grittiest, from brothels to insane asylums, as seen through the eyes of a famous cat. The blend of scrupulous scholarship with imaginative invention is wonderfully effective."
Leo Damrosch, author of The Club
"A bracing and heartfelt scamper through Georgian London, and the life of a much-loved cat; like Jeoffry himself, this delightful book is an irresistible mixture of 'gravity and waggery'. With its supporting cast of eighteenth-century luminaries such as Handel, Dr Johnson and the bloated brothel-keeper Mother Douglas, this is a carefully researched and beautifully imagined feline biography."
Emily Brand, author of The Fall of the House of Byron
"A masterpiece of witty and learned speculative biography [...] a brilliantly enjoyable book that combines meticulous research and glorious flights of imagination. This beautifully produced little hardback is a perfect book for lovers of cats, poetry, and literary London."
Daunt Books, Marylebone
"I loved it, I adored it."
Vanessa Redgrave, A Good Read, BBC Radio 4
"This isn't a cute little book about pussycats. I think it's a very serious book that is both playful and profound: it's a little classic. I found it tremendously moving... You don't have to be a cat lover to like this book – it's about life." Dame Eileen Atkins, A Good Read, BBC Radio 4
"A ravishing object... the words themselves are pretty ravishing too... Soden's clever and vivid book is an imagined biography of this undocumented creature of the London streets.... Jeoffry's life is envisioned here with ingenuity and tact... Soden can write and knows feline liquidity and transformation..."
Min Wild, Times Literary Supplement
"It's just a beautiful picture of a cat... [although] the book is as much about Christopher Smart. Heart-breaking... I had a lump in my throat and I don't often cry at books... I learned so much from it."
Harriett Gilbert, A Good Read, BBC Radio 4
"This wonderful book... a beautiful masterpiece in both research and imagination about a cat and a poet who found companionship... I loved reading Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat. A classic."
The Last Word Book Review
"Oliver Soden has pulled off a difficult feat. His book about the life and adventures of Christopher Smart's considerable cat is charming without being twee, light but not lightweight, inventive within the bounds of respect of history... Beautifully conceived and done with wit and tenderness. A book to cherish."
Daniel Karlin, Times Literary Supplement
"Inspired by Flush, Virginia Woolf’s 'biography' of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, Soden’s book is a witty, charming semi-fictional biography of the cat that kept Smart company in the madhouse."
Tristram Fane Saunders, Daily Telegraph