Edward the Conqueror

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"Edward the Conqueror" is a short story written by Roald Dahl and first published in the 31 October 1953 issue of The New Yorker.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The story is about a man (Edward) and his wife (Louisa). A long haired silver cat is nearly burnt in the bonfire that Edward set up for the autumn leaves, but his wife rescues it. After the couple unsuccessfully attempts to send the cat back to its home, Edward decides that if the cat does not leave by the coming afternoon, he will ask the police to make sure it is returned home.

While Louisa is admiring the cat’s color, she notices that it has warts on his face. After she is done admiring the cat, Louisa begins to play one of her daily concerts (a solitary pleasure that also seems to be one of her greatest passions). She chooses some pieces by Vivaldi, Schumann, Liszt and Brahms. Immediately, the cat reacts strongly, and even appears to be “appreciating the work.” The cat seems to be especially enthralled when Louisa plays Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets and Der Weihnachtsbaum, but less impressed with Schumann's Kinderszenen.

Louisa becomes convinced that the cat is the reincarnation of Liszt, and informs her husband. Edward isn't convinced, even when his wife shows him Liszt's reaction to the piano music. Edward believes the cat’s reactions to simply be a trick it was trained to perform, and refuses to take part in his wife’s excitement (it is implied that he is not as fond of music as Louisa). Louisa decides to go to the library to find out more about both Liszt and reincarnation. The book she checks out on reincarnation is very assertive about how long it takes one to be reincarnated (longer if your social status is higher). The book also says that you can't come back as a lower form of animal—a fact Louisa chooses to ignore as it would seem to contradict her cat previously having been Franz Liszt (also, for Liszt to come back so soon he would have to be classified under "unskilled labourers"). Finally, it mentions historical figures who were, it suggests, reincarnations of one another (Epictetus, for instance, came back as Ralph Waldo Emerson). Despite her incredulity, Louisa appears to believe what she is reading. She greets Edward returning from his work by saying, "Listen, my dear, did you know that Theodore Roosevelt was once Caesar's wife?"

When she gets back from the library she calls for Liszt and examines him. She notices that the cat’s warts are positioned on its face in exactly the same positions as the warts on Liszt’s face were. She even notices that the cat seems to dislike one particular Chopin scherzo (the only piece of Chopin's that Liszt himself didn't love). By this time, Edward has become noticeably antagonistic to his wife’s belief (perhaps spurred on by jealousy). Her plans are to tell the world, after which she believes that all the world's musicians will want to come and meet her cat. Edward thinks that her plans will make the two of them look like fools.

Louisa decides to cook a fancy dinner for the cat, and refuses to let her husband sway her. When she returns from the kitchen, she sees Edward coming in from the garden with black smoke, wet trouser cuffs, and long scratches from his wrist to his knuckle - the implication being that he has thrown the cat on the fire. Louisa is horrified and falls into hysterics as Edward tries to calm her down.

Television adaptation[edit]

When this story was adapted for television in a 1979 episode of Tales of the Unexpected (Season 1, Episode 7),[2] the ending was slightly changed. As Louisa deduces her husband has thrown the cat on the fire, she grabs a knife and it is implied she attacks him. However, the cat enters the house through a window, fine after all.


  1. ^ Roald Dahl (31 October 1953). "Edward the Conqueror". The New Yorker. p. 28. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Tales of the Unexpected: Edward the Conqueror". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 22 January 2015.