Katharine Munzer Rogers, a Professor Emerita of English from Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, now lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She has published many articles and books on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature and, since retirement, has pursued her interests in animals and in the Oz books of L. Frank Baum.
Her latest work, the ebook Meet the Invertebrates: Anemones, Octopuses, Spiders, Ants, and Others , marks an exploration of new territory for her. Moving to Maryland after her retirement, she volunteered at the National Zoo, where she was assigned to the Invertebrate Exhibit. Up to that time, she had regarded invertebrates exclusively in terms of their effects on humans -- lobsters are good to eat, roaches swarm disgustingly over kitchen surfaces, earthworms on a rain-washed sidewalk are unoffending but nevertheless slimy and disgusting. She had devoured horror stories that made the most of huge featureless worms that ooze inexorably along the ground, or giant insects running along on too many legs, or alarmingly flexible octopus tentacles whipping out from murky ocean depths to affix people with their suckers. But after spending many hours observing the creatures in the Invertebrate Exhibit, she began to see them more from their own point of view, as animals that exist for themselves, perceiving the world in their various ways and dealing with the problems of living as all animals must. She admired the dexterous probings of the octopus's muscular, jointless arms and the equally dexterous coordination of the lobster's many pairs of jointed appendages. Meet the Invertebrates introduces readers to thirteen invertebrates, ranging from a sponge, as simple as an animal can be, to an active, efficient ant. The book explains how the animals work physiologically and offers a sampling of human reactions to them, from Victor Hugo's horror of the octopus to Maurice Maeterlinck's glowing praise of the ant's courage, generosity, and altruism. The book can be downloaded on a Kindle, iPad, or similar device.
During her teaching career and first years of retirement, Rogers wrote on literature, especially on issues relating to women. She started research on her first book, The Troublesome Helpmate: A History of Misogyny in Literature (University of Washington Press, 1966), when she was forced onto unpaid leave after becoming pregnant. The book analyzes the hostility to women that has run through the western tradition from its roots in the Bible and classical literature up to the present and that appears in major authors such as Milton, Dickens, and Lawrence; in those days, most established critics still denied that such hostility existed in mainstream authors.
Her William Wycherley (Twayne, 1972) was the first full-length critical study of the Restoration playwright who wrote the powerful comedies The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer.
Feminism in Eighteenth-Century England (University of Illinois Press, 1982) analyzes attitudes in the period when significant numbers of women were becoming successful authors. Although women remained largely devoid of legal and political rights, both the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the promotion of conventionally feminine values such as sensitivity and tenderness by the sentimental movement improved the attitudes of men toward women and of women toward themselves.
Frances Burney, the subject of Rogers's next book (Frances Burney: The World of "Female Difficulties," Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1990), illustrates the subdued, indirect feminism characteristic of intelligent eighteenth-century women. Like the heroine of her last novel, The Wanderer, Burney perceived herself as weakened by "female difficulties," but in fact handled life's trials with intelligence and resolution.
In her next book, Rogers combined her interests in literature, women's issues, and cats. The Cat and the Human Imagination: Feline Images from Bast to Garfield (University of Michigan Press, 1998; paperback, 2000) examines human attitudes toward cats from their earliest appreciation in ancient Egypt to the present. After centuries of being mere utilitarian mouse catchers, cats came to be idealized as princesses in disguise, sweet spirits of home, and agents of nemesis. Although traditionally associated with women, they now often appear as pals of men.
L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz, published by St. Martin's Press in October 2002 (paperback, 2003), is a tribute to the author who enlivened Rogers's childhood with wonderful adventures to the Land of Oz. Oz is a world filled with inventive and amusing characters, where life is endlessly exciting and where good always prevails -- and yet Baum's plain, matter-of-fact narrative makes it believable. Besides writing fourteen Oz books and other delightful fantasies, Baum turned out potboilers under four pseudonyms and tirelessly pursued success in musical theater and film-making.
First Friend: A History of Dogs and Humans, published by St. Martin's Press in August 2005 (paperback, 2010), traces the long relationship between people and their first animal friend, from the time that dogs gave us invaluable help in guarding, hunting, and herding to the present, when over ninety percent of them are kept as companions. We count on a dog's love and trust; we are confident that we understand what it is feeling and thinking and that it sympathizes with our feelings. And yet at the same time, it offers a connection with the natural world outside of human conventions and human interpretations. Some people dislike dogs, but the overwhelming majority have positive attitudes, ranging from uncritically crediting them with every virtue to realistically appreciating the many wonderful qualities that they actually possess.
She returned to cats with Cat (2006), a contribution to Reaktion Books' Animal series. In this richly illustrated book, she considers Oriental as well as Western attitudes toward cats. For centuries, cats have been treasured companions in Japan and Thailand. Cat includes four illustrations from an unpublished manuscript of the Tamra Maeo Thai, a classical handbook that exhorts its readers to treat propitious cats with proper care and deference. Cat has been translated into four languages.
Being interested in food as well as animals, she contributed Pork: A Global History (2012) to Reaktion's Edible series. Pork, the most widely eaten meat in the world, is the most versatile of meats, ranging from the rich, delicate succulence of a roast loin to the dry, salty assertiveness of ham and bacon.
Rogers has also compiled five anthologies for Penguin USA: the Meridian Classic Book of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century British Drama (1979), Selected Writings of Samuel Johnson (1981), the Meridian Anthology of Early Women Writers: British Literary Women from Aphra Behn to Maria Edgeworth (1987, with William McCarthy), the Meridian Anthology of Early American Women Writers: From Anne Bradstreet to Louisa May Alcott, 1650-1865 (1991), and the Meridian Anthology of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Plays by Women (1994). The last makes available little known plays by seven English and American women, including an American Revolutionary propaganda piece by Mercy Otis Warren and The Witlings, a hilarious and previously unpublished comedy by Frances Burney.
She is married to Kenneth Rogers, retired President of Stevens Institute of Technology and retired Commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has two grown children, a dog, and a cat.
The Cat and the Human Imagination -- "sheer catnip for the intellectual feline lover -- implies that whether we consider it a symbol of the home, a paragon of independence, an agent of evil or a cherished friend, the cat will remain in our cultural imaginings for centuries to come."
Zoe Helena Rice in The New York Times Book Review (October 25, 1998)
L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz
"Rogers is a fine interpreter of [Baum's] stories; she shares Baum's aesthetic and especially his sense of humor... a strong and sympathetic portrait."
Brooke Allen in The New York Times Book Review (November 17, 2002)
Listed by the The New York Times among the Notable Books of 2002.
"In the introduction to this marvelous book, L. Frank Baum's creation of Oz is praised by Ray Bradbury's short story "The Exiles"....Within the pages of this enlightening biography, Rogers traces Baum's path with vigorous insight....The outstanding charm of this book is Rogers' wonderful chapter detailing the creation of 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.'"
Charles Trent Alling in The Tampa Tribune (November 17, 2002)
"In this well-researched biography, Rogers ... not only brings to life a genial and multitalented man but also provides a thorough and judicious account of his voluminous writings."
Merle Rubin in The New York Sun (November 27, 2002)
"As Rogers aptly shows in this insightful biography/analysis, Baum ... was far more than a one-hit wonder.... Her analyses are enlightening and engaging -- she quite possibly could spark renewed interest in his work."
Publishers Weekly (August 26, 2002)
"Katharine M. Rogers ... takes up the subject of canines in her entertaining and very informative First Friend: A History of Dogs and Humans. Ms. Rogers is impressively thorough, covering dogs from earliest times until now and leaving very few sources, artistic, historical and literary ... untouched.... But best of all, the author knows and respects dogs."
Steve Goode in The Washington Times (September 18, 2005)
"This graceful and charming study by the author of The Cat and the Human Imagination should please social historians as much as dog lovers. Rogers has researched the role dogs have played in society from ancient civilizations to the present. Her careful analysis is buttressed by literary references throughout the centuries.... Rogers well understands and portrays the symbiotic relationship between people and their dogs."
Publisher's Weekly (June 6, 2005)
"Katharine Rogers has written an engaging account of the canine's evolving role in our society. This is a must-read book for anyone who was ever fortunate enough to have once been owned by a dog. This crisply written new book brims with both warmth and charm."
Tucson Citizen (August 11, 2005)
"It requires a wealth of knowledge and some ingenuity to write a book about cats that has a fresh approach and provides unusual information, which has not been repeated from innumerable previous publications. But... this is what Katharine Rogers has achieved in Cat.... this book ... is written with great empathy and understanding of the attitudes to cats by peoples from many different parts of the world."
Juliet Clutton-Brock, Anthrozoos
"Beautifully illustrated.... A perfect read for ailurophiles."
The Guardian (January 20, 2007)
"Katharine Rogers's elegant survey of the way humans have seen and thought of home-based felines."