Polly Faber is the grand-daughter of Geoffrey Faber who started the famous publishing company in London, and this story is based on the real cat who made himself at home in the offices during wartime. Morgan is mentioned in one of his letters as ‘a large, black heavy and affectionate cat, who fastened himself on this establishment’. T S Eliot, who was one of Faber’s editors, in his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, includes the poem Cat Morgan introduces himself which is rather different from the others, finishing with this verse: ‘So if you ‘ave business with Faber – or Faber -/I’ll give you this tip, and it’s worth a lot more:/You’ll save yourself time, and you’ll spare yourself labour/ If jist you make friends with the Cat at the door.’
Polly Faber invents a back story for Morgan the cat to explain how he came to find his home there when already a few years old, and the idea that his family could have been bombed is all too plausible, meaning that he had to learn to survive on the street. On the run from trouble one day, he hears mice in a basement room, and goes down a chimney to reach them, but then can’t get out, and he goes to sleep on a desk in a pile of paper. In the morning the cleaner tries to sweep him out, but just behind her is T S Eliot, who picks up one of his poems, complete with sooty pawmarks, and rather likes the removal of some words: ‘a saucer of milk is in order’, and that was it: Morgan stayed, mostly to keep down the mice who had been nibbling at the precious store of paper, which was rationed in wartime. His bowl is labelled ‘Morgan’, and he is given the title ‘Resident Mouser and Door Cat’. At the front door, he sees the hopeful authors coming in and out, and, so the story goes, decides to help the editors decide whose work to publish. If he is stroked behind the ears, or given a snack, that person earns his approval: he sits in the editor’s office until the manuscript is accepted. Authors get to know this and take advantage, and his fame spreads. That much is based on fact, and mentioned in Eliot’s poem.
The next part of the story, where street life in the Blitz for his cat friends has become very dangerous and Morgan decides to evacuate more than twenty local kittens to the countryside, may be more fanciful, but it’s fun. Writers who don’t smell of Dog find themselves going home with a kitten in their coat pocket or otherwise hidden in their belongings, and Morgan’s training on how to be a good Book Cat, destroying bad writing, or batting a crumpled piece of paper back to the author for further consideration, produces results. Author and poets should occasionally be distracted and stretch their legs, e.g. to feed the cat, or, if they’ve had a Rejection Letter, their cat should be very soothing. Morgan is glad to hear about improved submissions for publication, but, understandably, occasionally has to miss out on titbits when the writer is feeding a cat at home. Morgan is just happy that so many kittens are happily settled.
This is a delightful book, much enhanced by Clara Vulliamy’s profuse illustrations in two-tone, and appealed even to this non cat-person, (though definitely a book-person). It is, as you might expect from a book about Faber itself, beautifully produced.