In earlier posts, I wrote about the Celtic influence on Quebec music. For instance, Quebecers play reels. I also featured legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin playing with the late Jean Carignan, Quebec’s most prominent fiddler, in his days. We also heard an old French song, Le Navire de Bayonne, interpreted by La Nef and Les Charbonniers de l’enfer. A characteristic of La Nef and Les Charbonniers de l’enfer is enhanced rhythm. Groups may use podorythmie, a form of step dancing.
La Nef is a Montreal ensemble founded in 1991. The Charbonniers de l’enfer was founded in 1994. My last post featured soprano Meredith Hall and La Nef, interpreting Robert Burns‘ My Love is a Red, Red Rose. Robert Burns drew his inspiration from traditional music. The current répertoire of Quebec ensembles includes not only the traditional music of Quebec but also that of other cultures. Under la Nef.com (fr) or lanefeng.com (en), you will find a list of the music La Nef has recorded and possibly the music itself.
The music embedded below features both La Nef and Les Charbonniers de l’enfer. Meredith Hall is the group’s soprano.
I’ve published posts about or featuring Sir Ernest Macmillan. Sir Ernest MacMillan was, for decades, English Canada’s most prominent figure in the area of music.
Moving to Toronto
David and I had just moved to Toronto and we needed a home. While I was resting, David drove up and down the streets I liked. He saw a sign on a large tree and a lady standing by. She owned the house and she was Sir Ernest MacMillan’s niece. Yes, she would let me play the piano. I liked the little apartment very much. We moved to Walmsley Boulevard two weeks later. Andrea would be my best friend for nearly fifty years.
I have told this story, so let us hear Sir Ernest MacMillan’s “learned” version of the piece. It is learned because it has been composed and/or arranged. As interpreted by the McGariggle sisters, Blanche comme la neige belongs to folklore, or an “oral” tradition. It is as though it had yet to be composed. It is also somewhat naïve and forever renewed.
Let us return to our “learned” song. It was arranged, or composed, by Sir Ernest and is interpreted by Toronto’s Mendelssohn Choir, founded by Sir Ernest MacMillan (click on 2). We can classify this interpretation as “learned” because Sir Ernest set it to music. He also set to music “Notre Seigneur en pauvre,” a song I mentioned a few posts away. His Two Sketches on French Canadian Airs (click on 3) combines Blanche comme neige and Notre Seigneur en pauvre (Our Lord as a poor man). I do not know of a separate Notre Seigneur en pauvre. “À Saint-Malo,” French folklore, is number 4.
Interestingly, in Jean de La Fontaine’s La Chatte métamorphosée en femme(II. 18), a metamorphosis is used to show that metamorphoses are not possible, at least not altogether. In other words, in The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman, La Fontaine uses a metamorphosis, his exemplum, to demonstrate that nature is mostly immutable. A cat is cat and remains a cat, despite appearances, and a woman is a woman and remains a woman, despite appearances.
In seventeenth-century France, particularly after the Fronde, the aristocrats and honnêtes hommes[iii] who gathered in the salons of refined women gave free rein to fantasy and would eventually create children’s literature, but nature reigned supreme, not to mention Cartesian reason and absolutism. Absolutism had taken their power away from the highest- ranked aristocrats. It was a time when one had to heed Horace’s advice: “Limit your desires” (Epistles, Book I, ii, lines 55–71), but the cast of our fable seems not to have known Horace.
La Fontaine’s fable, entitled La Chatte métamorphosée en femme (II. 18), is about a metamorphosis — a cat is “successfully” transformed into a woman — the purpose of which, i.e. the metamorphosis, is to tell that a metamorphosis is not possible, which is somewhat paradoxical. The metamorphosis that has occurred goes amiss. In other words, the exemplum shows that, if taken away, what nature has ordained, le naturel, will always return. As the French proverb goes: Chassez [chase away] le naturel, il revient au galop [it comes galloping back]. So our cat has been turned into a woman, but the woman’s instincts, the core, are those of a cat. Let us read the fables.
La Fontaine: The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman
In The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman(simply click on the title to read the fable) (La Chatte métamorphosée en femme II. 18), a man so loves his cat that he wants to transform her into a woman using every trick: from tears and prayers, to charms and magic. This man succeeds in transforming his cat into a woman, but the moment she hears mice, our newly fashioned woman is crawling on the floor chasing them, but without instilling fear in the mice. Our former cat looks like a woman, so the mice have no reason to fear her in the least. Appearances are deceptive.
La Fontaine, however, does not tell us the rest of the story, i.e. what happens to the cat-woman. He simply writes a moral according to which one cannot change: “Old habits die hard.” It is as Horace wrote:
Limit your desires (Horace, Epistles, Book I, ii, lines 55-71)
A jar will long retain the odor of what it was
Dipped in when new.
The Delights of Nature (Horace, Epistles,Book I. x, lines 1-25)Drive Nature off with a pitchfork, she’ll still press back,And secretly burst in triumph through your sad disdain.
Æsop: Venus and the Cat
La Fontaine’s narrative resembles its source, Æsop‘s fable entitled Venus and the Cat or The Cat and Venus. This time, however, the cat herself wishes to be metamorphosed into a woman because she is in love with a man. Roles have therefore been reversed: the man is a cat. Consequently, La Fontaine’s fable is a mirror image of its sources which would be, first, Névelet or Isaaci Nicolai Neveleti’s Mythologia Æsopica (Frankfurt, 1610), a retelling of Æsop, and, second, Æsop’s own Venus and the Cat.
In Venus and the Cat, our enamoured cat so wishes to become a woman that she asks Venus, the goddess of love, called Aphrodite in Roman mythology, to turn her into a woman. The goddess Venus obliges but, when night falls or “one day,” curiosity leads her to the bride’s chamber where she places a mouse in the middle of the room. The woman leaps out of bed and goes chasing after the mouse. Contrary to La Fontaine, Æsop provides a full narrative, leaving little to the imagination. A disappointed Venus turns the woman back into a cat, which seems a form of punishment. V. S. Vernon Jones’ translation of Venus and the Cat is as follows:
Gutenberg (EBook #11339) V. S. Vernon Jones,TranslatorG. K.Chesterton, IntroductionArthur Rackham, Illustrator
“A Cat fell in love with a handsome young man, and begged the goddess Venus to change her into a woman. Venus was very gracious about it, and changed her at once into a beautiful maiden, whom the young man fell in love with at first sight and shortly afterwards married. One day Venus thought she would like to see whether the Cat had changed her habits as well as her form; so she let a mouse run loose in the room where they were. Forgetting everything, the young woman had no sooner seen the mouse than up she jumped and was after it like a shot: at which the goddess was so disgusted that she changed her back again into a Cat.”
Æsop(c. 620–564 BCE)
La Fontaine’s Moral: Horace, Epistles Book I. x, 1-25
The editor of my copy of La Fontaine, Fables et Contes is quite right. The moral of La Fontaine’s fable is linked with Horace’s first book of Epistles or Letters. However, it is related to both Book I, ii, 55-71, and Book 1, x, 1-25. We may in fact have a translation for “Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop[,]” which would be: “Drive Nature off with a pitchfork, she’ll still press[.]” (HoraceEpistles, Book I, x, line 24). The two relevant morals are the above-mentioned Horatian:
A jar will long retain the odor of what it was
Dipped in when new.
Drive Nature off with a pitchfork, she’ll still press back,And secretly burst in triumph through your sad disdain.
Æsop’s Moral: “Nature will out”
In La Fontaine’s version of Æsop’s Venus and the Cat or The Cat and Venus, the moral is largely implicit, yet clear. However, some translations of Æsop’s version and the source of La Fontaine’s fable end with an explicit moral. As he concludes his 1887 Cat and Venus, author-translatorGeorge Fyler Townsendwrites that “Nature exceeds nurture.” Similarly,Joseph Jacobs‘ 1894 The Cat-Maiden ends on the proverbial:“Nature will out.”[iv]
Alishman does not include La Fontaine’s Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman in his list of fables classified as Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 2031. Type 2031’s chief fable is The Mouse Who Was to Marry the Sun. La Fontaine’s cat is changed into a woman and the mouse, into a woman, but this motif is that of another fable by entitled The Mouse metamorphosed into a Girl (IV.7), published in La Fontaine’s 1678 collection of fables, his second volume of fables a volume that reflects the influence of Le Livre des lumières ou la conduite des roys(The Book of Enlightenment or the Conduct of Kings), a French translation of fables by Bidpai, originating in the Sanskrit Panchatantra(Pañcatantra)and Arabic Kalīlah wa Dimnah, written by Persian scholar Ibn al-Muquaffa’. This one fable is in fact taking us all the way to Japan.
______________________________[i] René Groos et Jacques Schiffrin, La Fontaine, Fables et Contes (Paris: Gallimard, collection La Pléiade, 1954), p. 688.
[ii]Epistles are letters. Horace was born on 8 December65 BCEand died on 27 November8 BCE.[iii] “honnête homme.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 27 Jul. 2013.
<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/271056/honnete-homme>. [iv] To read other translations of Æsop’s fable, click on The Cat and Venus. Arthur Rackham(19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939)
As we have seen, Reynardthe Fox is a literary work which, despite its dating back a very long way, will not only inspire other authors, but also prove central to Western jurisprudence. His judgment is a masterpiece. As a lawyer, Reynard doesn’t meet his match until Barry C. Scheck (born 19 September 1949), one of the lawyers, the dream team, who managed to save O. J. Simpson from a lengthy stay in prison. In Molière’s Tartuffe (1664-1669), Tartuffe is a pious individual who knows how to take sinfulness away from sin, in which he is very precious to a pater familias, or heavy father, Orgon, who wants to be a tyrant. Dom Juan (1665) also turns into a faux-dévot. Both Tartuffe and Dom Juan use the same ruse: they fake devotion.
However, we have not mentioned folklore. Folklore is an oral rather than written
tradition. Many tales have been handed down by storytellers and there are times when one doesn’t know where to draw the line between the oral and the written traditions. The Ysengrimus (c. 1150) and Reynard the Fox are literary works. But Reynard the Fox incorporates tales that have been handed down by word of mouth: tales of ruse and cleverness.
Reynard is a rascal, but he rates very high on the EQ scale (emotional intelligence). In fact, in his role as Columbo, Peter Falk resembled Reynard. He knew how to trap his suspect, except that he never caused a wolf to be flayed and survive his injuries. This happens in comics only.
So, some of the content of Reynard the Fox is material that has belonged and sometimes returns to an oral tradition. Moreover, Reynard the Fox contains motifs that recur. In the Mi’kMaq Glooscap, we find a rabbit who loses his tail, which explains why rabbits have short tails. Such tales are called pourquoi (why) tales. Besides the severed tail motif recurs in the Roman de Renart itself, during the siege of Maupertuis. In A. A. Milne’s (author) and Ernest H. Shepard’s (illustrations) Winnie-the-Pooh, Eyeore loses his tale, but gets it back.
Classification of Folktales
Anti Aarne and Stith Thompson[i] have collected folktales from around the world and made a répertoire of elements such recurring motifs. It was quite the undertaking, but we have a repertoire of motifs and related elements. Other scholars have found the narreme, the small unit of a narrative. And still others have focused onarchetypes, such as the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte:il dottore, the braggart soldier, or soldat fanfaron, clever domestics, zanni, etc. But as Stith Thompson, “the scholar runs the risk of too subtle analysis.” (p. 7)
Animals as Superior to Humans
Having reflected on folklore, motifs, narremes, archetypes, etc. I would also like to emphasize that, in animal tales, animals are not only humans in disguise but also superior to humans. Noble is King and Renart a connestable, an important officer, the origine for the word constable. As for the people (vilains), they are mere peasants. It is therefore a topsy-turvy world, or, as Jill Mann notes, a “world-upside-down.”[ii] However, what is particularly ironic in Reynard the Fox is that he “talks” himself away from the gallows. Letting animals talk is just fine, but Reynard’s barat is eloquence and persuasive. The King’s wife, Fière (proud), actually believes that Reynard is remorseful.
The Siege of Maupertuis and the Continuing Judgement
Yes, having returned to Maupertuis, instead of leaving for the Crusades, Maupertuis, Reynard’s castle and fortress is besieged by the animals he has fooled. Reynard is once again about to be executed when he decides to put on the mask of a devout individual. Fière, the lion’s wife, is again deceived and Reynard remains at Maupertuis.
[i] Stith Thompson, The Folktale (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1977 ), p. 7.
[ii] Jill Mann, “The Satiric Fiction of the Ysengrimus ” in Kenneth Varty, editor, Reynard the Fox, Social Engagement and Cultural Metamorphoses in the Beast Epic from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), p. 11.