The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation

Written by Ophelia Field
Review by Geraldine Perriam

In the late 1690s, a bookseller named Jacob Tonson began a scheme of paying young writers by feeding them in return for the first publishing option on their works. Field claims that Tonson defined the shape of modern publishing. His partner was Christopher (Kit) Cat, a pie-maker. The book begins with the funeral (reburial) of Dryden in 1700, sketching details of the various Kit Cat members, such as Congreve, Addison and Vanbrugh. There is a wealth of detail (occasionally too much?) and given how few papers have survived from the club itself, this is a real achievement. The book also gives a fascinating slant to the Whig political agenda and the central role played by the Kit Cats but, as the author says, it is also a book about “being a writer.” As well, it is a history of The Spectator and its influence on the political scene. While it is a book about men, the author does include the wives and families of the Kit Cats in an exploration of the members’ private lives. An excellent book for contemporary detail and personalities.