Like Caryn Thurman, I came to Cats (the musical) late, after studying and teaching the more “serious” works of T.S. Eliot. While Thurman’s interpretation is not necessary for us to understand and appreciate Cats, it’s still an appealing thought.
It’s also worth noting that Grizabella is one of the only characters in Cats that does not appear in Old Possum’s Book. This may be too big a stretch (as if calling the cute and perky Mr. Mistoffelees a Christ figure wasn’t already too big a stretch) but I wonder if Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn didn’t invent this character to represent Vivienne Eliot, T. S.’s tragic first wife, who was considered brilliant and glamorous when Eliot married her, and lived out her last years in a mental asylum. Webber and Nunn may at least have had this connection in mind, and there probably weren’t many worthier candidates for salvation in either the real or fictional T. S. Eliot canon. —Caryn Thurman