Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grandville's Laurel

Not long ago, my dear friend (and my girls' pediatrician) Dr. Wolffe surprised me with a gift he knew I would love. It was an edition of Les Fleurs Animees, or The Court of Flora, by the inimitable illustrator J.J. Grandville. I was delighted, of course, but had to sheepishly admit to Dr. Wolffe that I was such a Grandville lover that I had an original edition from the nineteenth century! It really was beside the point though, because in Wolffe's thoughtful gift I now have a copy that I'm much more comfortable enjoying without worrying about it falling apart in my hands.

Grandville is most famous for his
tete-de-bete -- animals in human clothing -- and his similarly anthropomorphic flowers. Les Fleurs Animees is, of course, about the latter, with full color plates and allegorical commentary by Taxile Delord. But I thought I'd share this particularly heraldric selection from the book. It's Grandville's picture of the Laurel, and the story that goes with it -- a conversation between a marquis and a colonel, with a closing thought by Delord -- is on a timeless subject:

"It becomes you to talk of love," said the marquis, "you who never made love to any but the burgher's dames in the small towns where you were garrisoned. You ridicule little attentions and pretty verses, because, old fox, halbardier, and pander that you are, you never experienced their charms."

The colonel grew angry in turn: "A fine woman, like a citadel, should be carried by storm."

"No, delicate attentions win the favor of the fair."

"To vanquish the most obstinate, one needs only to show a brow wreathed with laurel."

"Not so. It is with a belt of myrtle that we must bind the Loves."

Gallantry and bravery have gone out of fashion. Ridicule has done them justice. To whom should one be gallant? To women who smoke, who drink of grog, who ride horseback, who fence, and write novels?


Shelley Noble said...

Karima, you know so much. I had never heard the term tete-de-bete before and it's one I could make good use of indeed!

When I saw the engraving here, I thought it was going to be a book about medicinal herbs with illustrations of botanical remedies and a symbol of how each one acts within the body.

Wouldn't that be amazing too!

Susan Krzywicki said...

When someone gives me something that I already have, this is what I do: I quickly think of a way that the second copy will provide a new, undiscovered function. For example, dear friends gave me a copy of the Sunset Garden Book, and I immediately conceived of a great use: I would keep their copy in the house, and use my old, grubby copy out on the potting bench, instead of having to lug it back and forth. My friends were delighted that they were being given spot of honor.

What use would that second copy of Grandville provide?