Monday, November 4, 2013

Where did the Cheshire Cat come from?


The Cheshire Cat  is a fictional cat popularized by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, known for its distinctive mischievous grin. But where did Lewis Carroll get the idea for the Cheshire Cat?

The phrase appears in print in John Wolcot's  Pair of Lyric Epistles (1792): "Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin."

Dairy farming

A possible origin of the phrase "Grinning like a Cheshire Cat" is one favoured by the people of Cheshire, which boasts numerous dairy farms; hence the cats of Cheshire grin because of the abundance of milk and cream.

Cheese molds

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says grinning like a Cheshire cat is "an old simile, popularized by Lewis Carroll. It has been said that cheese was formerly sold in Cheshire molded like a cat that looked as though it was grinning." The cheese was cut from the tail end, so that the last part eaten was the head of the smiling cat.
Grinning Cheshire Catt, St Wilfrid's Church
Grappenhall, Cheshire
The cat carving in St. Nicolas Church

Church carvings

There are many reports that Carroll found inspiration for the name and expression of the Cheshire Cat in the 16th century sandstone carving of a grinning cat, on the west face of St. Wilfrid's Church tower in Grappenhall, a village adjacent to his birthplace in Daresbury, Cheshire.

Lewis Carroll's father was Rector of Croft from 1843 to 1868, and Carroll lived here from 1843 to 1850. Historians believe Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat in the book Alice in Wonderland was inspired by a carving in Croft church.

In 1992, members of the Lewis Carroll Society attributed it to a gargoyle found on a pillar in St. Nicolas Church, Cranleigh, where Carroll used to travel frequently


Joanne Cage said...

I guess the cheese carving was at least part of his inspiration. If I remember right, the Cheshire cat disappeared from the tail forward, till the last thing seen was the grin.

Ramey Channell said...

You're right, Joanne! I had forgotten about that disappearing thing!

Ramey Channell said...

In Alabama we say "Grinning like a possum!"