Mary's luncheon at Oxbridge is truly awesome. The food is amazing, the conversation is interesting and witty, even the cigarettes are good. It's like Thanksgiving dinner, but without the weird uncle.
There's only one tiny thing that mars the afternoon:
A cat without a tail. The sight of that abrupt and truncated animal padding softly across the quadrangle changed by some fluke of the subconscious intelligence the emotional light for me. It was as if some one had let fall a shade. Perhaps the excellent hock was relinquishing its hold. Certainly, as I watched the Manx cat pause in the middle of the lawn as if it too questioned the universe, something seemed lacking, something seemed different. (1.7)
Wait, we think we've got this one. This tailless cat symbolizes some kind of larger lack that Mary can't quite put her finger on—although it has something to do with World War I.
See, before WWI—according to Mary—men and women went to luncheon parties humming Tennyson and Rossetti's poetry under their breath. The cat is "abrupt and truncated": in other words, a symbol of post-war writing and also women's experience.
To be honest, this seems like a bit of a curve ball. We're talking about women, and all of a sudden—boom!—diatribe about the state of culture generally. Is there a way they're connected?