WRITING CAN BE a very lonely affair, since the very act of having to concentrate on the fiction or non-fiction being created usually prohibits frequent interaction or conversation. Fortunately, although most spouses would resist sitting on your lap purring all night as you write the Great American Novel, many cats have provided just that comfort for their creative owners, while dogs, birds and even a bear offered companionship and inspiration to other famous literary names.

Take, for instance, the great Charles Dickens. This prolific, larger-than-life author kept a large raven, Grip (short for Grip the Knowing), who, in addition to entertaining Dickens in real life, appeared as a colorful character in his novel Barnaby Rudge. Since ravens, like parrots, can mimic human speech, both the real bird and his fictional namesake were talkative.

Dickens loved and wrote about his bird so often it’s believed it may actually have inspired the great Edgar Allen Poe—who reviewed Barnaby Rudge as a critic—to write his immortal poem, The Raven. Grip achieved an even more tangible immortality when Dickens preserved his remains, displayed today in the Rare Books Collection of the Philadelphia Public Library.

Another prolific literary genius, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, doted on his beloved cats, admitting, “I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, ‘cunningest,’ and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.”

Twain’s bond with his feline friends was so strong it was once noted, “Twain would call the cats to ‘come up’ on the chair, and they would all jump up on the seat. He would tell them to ‘go to sleep,’ and instantly the group were all fast asleep. They would remain so until he called ‘Wide awake!’ when in a twinkling up would go their ears and wide open their eyes.”

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning doted on her spaniel, Flush, while fellow poet Lord Byron got around the rules about keeping dogs or cats in his college lodgings by having a tame bear—whom he’d walk about on a leash.

Jack Kerouac, author of the iconic Beat bible On the Road, provided an intimate look at his relationship with Tyke, a cat he’d raised from a kitten, in his novel Big Sur.

“I loved Tyke with all my heart, he was my baby who as a kitten just slept in the palm of my hand and with his little head hanging down, or just purring for hours, just as long as I held him that way, walking or sitting…and even when he got big I still held him that way, I could even hold that big cat in both hands with my arms outstretched right over my head and he’d just purr, he had complete confidence in me.”

As for me, I’m confident the love between writers and their inspiring animal familiars will continue as long as the written word prevails…and cats continue to purr.

DEBORAH GUARINO