Moreover, before leaving la Princesse d’Élide, a comédie galante, the word galant should be investigated. Although Italy’s Baldassare Castiglione wrote Il Cortegiano, France is the birthplace of both l’honnête homme and le galant homme. As I have noted in an earlier post, sprezzatura is not associated with l’honnête homme because “honnêteté” is not a stance. L’honnête homme had to be virtuous.
I should also note that the term ‘galant,’ overrides disciplines. I know the word ‘galant’ mainly from musicology classes. Johann Sebastian Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, was a founder of the galant style in music and, according to the Wikipedia entry on galant music, Johann Christian Bach took it further. Galant music is less complex than Baroque music.
However, the term galant originates in France where the galant homme was a close relative of l’honnête homme. The birth of l’honnête homme can be traced back to Baldassare Castiglione. But l‘honnête homme was not a “dandy.”
RÉCIT DE L’AURORE
Quand l’amour à vos yeux offre un choix agréable,
Jeunes beautés laissez-vous enflammer:
Moquez-vous d’affecter cet orgueil indomptable,
Dont on vous dit qu’il est beau de s’armer: Dans l’âge où l’on est aimable Rien n’est si beau que d’aimer.
[When Love presents a charming choice Respond to his flame, oh youthful fair! Do not affect a pride which no one can subdue, Though you’ve been told such pride becomes you well. When one is of a lovely age.]
Soupirez librement pour un amant fidèle,
Et bravez ceux qui voudraient vous blâmer;
Un cœur tendre est aimable, et le nom de cruelle
N’est pas un nom à se faire estimer:
↵ Dans l’âge
Dans le temps où l’on est belle,
Rien n’est si beau que d’aimer.
[Breathe freely sighs for him who faithful loves And challenge those who wish to blame your ways. A tender heart is lovely; but a cruel maid Will never be a title to esteem. When one is fair and beautiful Naught is so handsome as to love.]
“Yes, death seems to me a hundred times less dreadful than this fatal marriage into which I am forced; all that I am doing to escape its horrors should excuse me in the eyes of those who blame me. Time presses; it is night; now, then, let me fearlessly entrust my fate to a lover’s fidelity.” (Isabelle, III. i, p. 33)
Translator Henri van Laun
Oui le trépas [death] cent fois, me semble moins à craindre, Que cet hymen fatal où l’on veut me contraindre; Et tout ce que je fais pour en fuir les rigueurs, Doit trouver quelque grâce auprès de mes censeurs; Le temps presse, il fait nuit, allons sans crainte aucune, À la foi d’un amant, commettre ma fortune. Isabelle (III. i, p. 38)
L’École des maris
When Valère and Isabelle leave at the curtain falls on Act Two, Valère has let Isabelle know that he will free within three days, or three days from the moment they part.
Isabelle cannot wait three days. Sganarelle will marry her the next day. What will she do? Once again, a forced marriage justifies the means, but these are not evil means. Isabelle has to lie. Molière’s ladies are very clever.
The Final Ruse
As soon as she hears that Sganarelle will marry her the very next day, Isabelle comes up with her best ruse. She tells Sganarelle that her sister is in love with Valère and that both are locked in her (Isabelle’s) room.
Sganarelle is pleased because he can now show his older brother, Ariste, that he knows best, that he was the better brother. He has raised Isabelle by confining her to a room. He believed that by locking Isabelle in her room, he would raise a virtuous spouse. But Isabelle has learned to despise Sganarelle. He expects Ariste to find Léonor in bed with Valère. No, Léonor is at a ball.
Isabelle runs to Valère’s house, so Sganarelle is perplexed:
Au logis du galant, quelle est son entreprise? Sganarelle, seul (III. ii, p. 41) [(Aside). To the gallant’s house! What is her design?] Sganarelle, alone (III. 2, p. 36)
So, Isabelle frees herself, but although Sganarelle is surprised, his most important concern is to let his brother Ariste know that he has brought up une mondaine who is now in bed with Valère inside Isabelle’s room.
Ah je te promets bien, que je n’ai pas envie, De te l’ôter l’infâme à ses feux asservie, Que du don de ta foi je ne suis point jaloux, Et que si j’en suis cru, tu seras son époux, Oui, faisons-le surprendre avec cette effrontée, La mémoire du père, à bon droit respectée; Jointe au grand intérêt que je prends à la sœur, Veut que du moins l’on tâche à lui rendre l’honneur; Holà. Sganarelle à Isabelle (III. iii, p. 42)
[Oh, I can assure you I do not want to take from you a shameless girl, so blinded by her passion. I am not jealous of your promise to her; if I am to be believed, you shall be her husband. Yes, let us surprise him with this bold creature. The memory of her father, who was justly respected, and the great interest I take in her sister, demand that an attempt, at least, should be made to restore her honour. Hulloa, there!(Knocks at the door of a magistrate).]
Sganarelle (III. 4, p. 36)
Sganarelle does knock on the Commissaire‘s door, who happens to be with a notary. How convenient, a contract can be signed that will restore Léonor’s honour. Sganarelle then knocks on his brother’s door (III. v).
Votre Léonor où, je vous prie est-elle? Sganarelle à Ariste (III. v, p. 44)
[Where is your Léonor, pray?] Sganarelle to Ariste (III. 6, p. 37)
Pourquoi cette demande? Elle est comme je croi, Au bal chez son amie. Ariste à Sganarelle (III. v, p. 44)
[Why this question? She is, as I think, at a friend’s house at a ball.] Ariste to Sganarelle (III. 6, p. 37)
Sganarelle then tells his brother that Léonor is in bed with Valère.
L’énigme est que son bal est chez Monsieur Valère. Que de nuit je l’ai vue y conduire ses pas, Et qu’à l’heure présente elle est entre ses bras. Sganarelle à Ariste (III. v, p. 45)
[The riddle is that her ball is at Valère’s; that I saw her go to him under cover of night, and that she is at this moment in his arms.] Sganarelle to Ariste (III. 6, p. 38)
Ariste cannot believe what he has heard. Appearances are deceptive and Ariste would never have forced Léonor into a marriage.
L’apparence qu’ainsi sans m’en faire avertir, À cet engagement elle eût pu consentir, Moi qui dans toute chose ai depuis son enfance, Montré toujours pour elle entière complaisance, Et qui cent fois ai fait des protestations, De ne jamais gêner ses inclinations. Ariste to all (III. v, p. 47)
[Is it likely she could thus have agreed to this engagement without telling me? me! who in everything, from her infancy, ever displayed towards her a complete readiness to please, and who a hundred times protested I would never force her inclinations.] Ariste to all (III. 8, p.38)
In Scene Seven, Valère enters the house and tells that he has made a commitment to Isabelle.
Enfin quoi qu’il advienne, Isabelle a ma foi, j’ai de même la sienne, Et ne suis point un choix à tout examiner, Que vous soyez reçus à faire condamner. Valère à tous (III. vii, p. 48)
[To be brief: whatever be the consequence, Isabella has my solemn promise; I also have hers; if you consider everything, I am not so bad a match that you should blame her.] Valère to all (III. 8, p. 40)
Sganarelle is so certain that Valère is in bed with Léonor that he signs a contract that makes Valère the husband of the woman who might be in his lodgings. The notary leaves a blank space for the name.
In Scene Eight, Léonor returns from the ball rather disappointed. Ariste wants to know why she has played a trick on him. Sganarelle learns that she wasn’t with Valère, Isabelle was, who, by contract, is now married to Valère.
Ariste is surprised. Why did Léonor not discuss this matter with her? Their friendship goes back to childhood.
Léonor tells Ariste that she would marry him the very next day, if he asked. The discussion is over.
Je ne sais pas sur quoi vous tenez ce discours; Mais croyez que je suis de même que toujours, Que rien ne peut pour vous altérer mon estime, Que toute autre amitié me paraîtrait un crime, Et que si vous voulez satisfaire mes vœux, Un saint nœud dès demain nous unira nous deux. Léonor à Ariste (III. viii, p. 51)
[I know not why you speak to me thus; but believe me, I am as I have ever been; nothing can alter my esteem for you; love for any other man would seem to me
a crime; if you will satisfy my wishes, a holy bond shall unite us tomorrow.] Léonor to Ariste (III. 9, p. 41)
In the final scene, Isabelle apologizes to Léonor for having used a stratagem that could, temporarily, dishonour her sister. It was despair. Isabelle did not want to be forced into a marriage with Sganarelle. She might have killed herself. In fact, she had found a good man who will marry her and, ironically, Sganarelle himself has signed the marriage contract. Again, in L’École des maris, irony is Molière’s main literary device.
The play ends on the prospect of a double marriage. “Tout est bien qui finit bien.” (“All’s well that end well.”) As for Sganarelle, he is hoisted by his own petard.
The main figure in this play is irony. Sganarelle himself makes it possible for his ward, whom he wishes to marry to meet Valère and to know that he is sufficiently honourable for her to take refuge in his house. But, once again, we have seen the jaloux as is own victim. Molière’s jaloux is his own victim. Sganarelle is Sganarelle’s worst enemy. He signs a contract that will allow Isabelle to marry Valère, which is how Molière expresses an inner drama. It is also interesting to note that Ariste doubts very much that Léonor is in bed with Valère. He is right in trusting her. Léonor may be forty years younger than Ariste, but he has brought her up gently. He has trusted her. The carte de Tendre proposes different kinds of love. If honnêteté there is, Ariste and Valère qualify. They are also examples of the galant homme, the gentleman.
Italy is the birthplace of refinement. Yet it could be that the Grand Siècle’s main achievement is l‘honnête homme. Salons were created in 17th-century France and they endured. Préciosité went too far, which is what Molière mocked. Molière did not mock women. On the contrary. When Isabelle realizes that a lie can be put into the service of a good end, she uses a lie and shows resolve. Isabelle’s life would be taken from her if Sganarelle married her. She would be his possession, his slave. There’s no evil in what she does. Nor does Molière vilify Sganarelle. Sganarelle boasted, which farce does not allow.
Molière mixes plot formulas. In L’École des maris, he uses the “all’s well that ends well,” the traditional happy ending of comedy. However, it is not, at least not immediately, a happy ending for Sganarelle. Ariste deflates a boasting Sganarelle, a farcical element. But ironically, Sganarelle approves of Valère. He finds in him an honnête homme and feels sorry for him, which is good news for Isabelle. She can trust Valère by Sganarelle own standards and testimonial. All the ruses confirm that Valère loves Isabelle. Sganarelle stands between Isabelle and Valère. He is the obstacle to a marriage between the young lovers, while promoting their marriage. He is the person Valère needed in Sganarelle’s household.
Sganarelle therefore combines several several comedic functions. He is the go-between in a love story, the senex iratus, or blocking character, in the same love story, not to mention the father, albeit a pater familias.
In an earlier post on the “The Oak and the Reed,” I commented on this line, the moral of the “The Oak and Reed:” ‘Je plie, et ne romps pas.’(‘I bend, and do not break.’) This line illustrates La Fontaine’s uncanny ability to tell what he is not telling (dire-sans-dire). In fact, it was long believed that this fable expounded the importance of humility and little else:
“Written in the autocratic time of Louis XIV of France, this was so successfully achieved that it appeared to teach the value of humility at the same time as suggesting that rulers may not be as powerful as they think themselves.” (“The Oak and the Reed” [I.22], Wikipedia)
La Fontaine as a Protégé of Nicolas Fouquet
La Fontaine had been a protégé of Nicolas Fouquet/Foucquet (January 27, 1615 – March 23, 1680), the Superintendant of Finances, from 1653 until 1661, the year Louis XIV became King of France. After 17 August 1661, the day Louis XIV attended a fête at Vaux-le-Vicomte, Fouquet’s magnificent castle, Louis XIV accused Fouquet of embezzlement. Fouquet was convicted and condemned to banishment, a sentence Louis XIV himself, then aged 22, commuted to life imprisonment, at Pignerol (now Pinerolo, Italy), a sadder fate than banishment. La Fontaine had written his “Élégieaux Nymphes de Vaux,” in the vain hope of obtaining a degree of clemency towards his former patron, Nicolas Fouquet. He also wrote “Le Songe de Vaux.”
As a university teacher, I often taught La Fontaine’s “Chêne et Roseau” and would ask my students to provide a moral for La Fontaine’s fable. What did “Je plie, et ne romps pas” (I bend, and do not break) mean?
At first, they saw a fable about “the value of humility.”
They also said that it was about the mighty. They could break.
Third, they commented on the underlying structure of fables and farcical comic texts, the formulaic “deceiver deceived” (“le trompeurtrompé”). People who allow themselves to boast, even moderately, are punished.
However, they did not see that “The Oak and the Reed” was about human behaviour and, in particular, about the importance of flexibility. He who bends does not break. The meaning of La Fontaine’s fables does not jump off the page.
“Je plie, et ne romps pas.” (I bend, and do not break)
Earlier in the history of this fable, this moral, “I bend but do not break,” was expressed more explicitly. According to Wikipedia, such was the moral of Avianus‘ (400 CE) telling of this fable, and the moral of earlier Greek retellings. It is the moral expressed in Geoffrey Chaucer‘s (c. 1343 – 25 October 1400) Troilus and Criseyde, (II.1387-9) [EBook #257].
A reed before the wind lives on, while mighty oaks do fall.
In footnote 28 of Gutenberg’s version of La Fontaine’s Fables, classified as [EBook #7241], American translator Elizur Wright and J. W. M. Gibbs, editor, state that “[t]he groundwork of this fable is in Æsop, and also in the Fables of Avianus.” Flavius Avianus lived in the 5th century CE (the 400s) and translated 42 Æsopic fables. Famous translator and printer William Caxton (ca. 1415~1422 – ca. March 1492), translated “The Fables of Avian” into “Englyshe.”[i]
Two Traditions: Phædrus and Babrius
Phædrus (Latin) and Babrius (Greek)
Yet, it should be pointed out that, although Flavius Avianus‘ translation was in Latin verse, his main source had been Babrius who translated Æsop’s Fables into Greek. It could be, therefore, that Babrius’ moral was more explicit. European sources of Æsopic fables were either the Latin translation by Phædrus‘ (c. 15 BCE – c. 50 CE) or Babrius‘ Æsop’s Fables. In fact, Avianus became a source to fable writers as did Névelet, whose Latin translation of Æsopic fables La Fontaine used, the Mythologia Æsopica Isaaci Nicolai Neveleti, Frankfurt, 1610. (See lafontaine.net.)
According to Wikipedia’s entry on “The Oak and the Reed,” flexibility was the teaching of the RabbinicTalmud and the moral of earlier versions of “The Oak and the Reed,” all of which are rooted in “Near Eastern dispute poems.” The Talmud‘s “Be pliable like a reed, not rigid like a cedar” is attributed to Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar. The same moral is expressed in a Chinese proverb “A tree that is unbending is easily broken,” and the saying goes back to the Tao Te Ching. (See The Oak and the Reed, Wikipedia.)
In France, l’honnête homme is the perfect gentleman and courtier and he is, furthermore, as he seems. There is very little, if any, sprezzatura, a form of studied carelessness, about “l’honnête homme.” “Honnêteté,” in its literal sense, that of “honesty,” militates against the idea of a mere façade. I should think there were exceptions, but, in theory, l’honnête homme was well-educated (but not pedantic), had fine manners, dressed well, spoke well, never boasted and avoided all extremes, favouring modération.[ii]
Bernard Salomon‘s woodcut of “The olive tree and the reed” from a French collection of Æsop’s Fables in rhyme (Lyon 1547)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Oak, the Cedar and the Olive tree
Trees have been rigid for a very long time, but they have not been oak trees consistently. The Talmud features a cedar and fabulists Gilles Corrozet (1547), Gabriele Faerno (1564) Giovanni Maria Verdizotti used an olive tree. As for Swabian translator Heinrich Steinhöwel, he also used an olive tree. His 1480 translation of Æsopic fables is rooted in Avianus, Babrius (Greek) and Romulus (a 5th-century Latin-language fabulist). Romulus may be a legendary figure, which may also be the case with respect to Æsop himself.
I must close, but the above illustrates the depth of “The Oak and the Reed,” its age, not to mention its universality. It is not only about the doomed pride of the mighty, but also about the flexibility humans require to function in society, under Louis XIV especially. As for the ambiguity of its moral, it illustrates La Fontaine’s mute eloquence and may point to the Latin source of this fable. However talkative animals, trees and willows can be in literature, they do not speak. La Fontaine himself gave everyone the impression he was absent-minded and he was often referred to as a “bonhomme.” After Vaux-le-Vicomte, the fall of Nicolas Fouquet, he let animals, trees, willows and, at times, humans retell a fable that had been told for centuries and, perhaps, millennia.
28. The groundwork of this fable is in Æsop, and also in the Fables of Avianus. Flavius Avianus lived in the 5th century. His Æsopic Fables were written in Latin verse. Caxton printed “The Fables of Avian, translated into Englyshe” at the end of his edition of Æsop.
29. This fable and “The Animals Sick of the Plague” [I.7] are generally deemed La Fontaine’s two best fables. “The Oak and the Reed” is held to be the perfection of classical fable, while “The Animals Sick of the Plague” is esteemed for its fine poetic feeling conjoined with its excellent moral teaching. [EBook #7241]
[ii] If you can read French, you may wish to visit Larousse’s site: honnête homme.
Patrick Dandrey, (2nd edition) La Fabrique des Fables (FR) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1992).Marc Fumaroli, Le Poète et le Roi. Jean de La Fontaine en son siècle (FR) (Paris: Le Fallois, 1997).
Jürgen Grimm (various articles)
A dying queen asks her husband to seek another spouse as beautiful as she is. The widowed king falls in love with his daughter who is as beautiful as her mother, hence the fairy tale‘s classification as “unnatural love.” However, Donkey-Skin seeks supernatural help provided by a fairy godmother. The princess is told that she must ask her father to provide her with lavish gowns, three as it turns out, and to kill his gold-defecating donkey. The father obliges and Donkey-Skin flees covered in the skin of the dead donkey.
After she escapes, Donkey-Skin starts working as a peasant. But a prince sees her through a key-hole when she is trying on one the lavish gowns her father has given her. This is an example of kairos, which means that the prince sees Donkey-Skin at the opportune moment. He falls in love to the point of being sick. In literature, French 17th-century literature in particular, writers have often depicted love as an illness.
The remedy that will heal the prince is not the skin of a wolf Isengrin’s age, but a cake Donkey-Skin has baked. She therefore bakes the cake and inserts her ring into the batter. So we now remember the foot-that-fits-the-shoe motif, Cinderella’s foot. The prince goes in search of the woman whose finger fits the ring and finds her. Donkey-Skin is returned to her regal self.
Réunion de dames by Abraham Bosse 17th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the time Perrault wrote his Tales of Mother Goose(Contes de ma mère l’Oye), children’s literature was in its infancy. Charles Perrault was an habitué (a regular) of Salons and fairy tales are associated with Préciosité‘s main objectives: the refinement of language and manners, and the “Querelle des Femmes,”the 17th-century debate about women. Woman considered themselves as “précieuses.” At first sight, it therefore seems puzzling that the story of a princess resisting the incestuous advances of her father should be accepted in literature befitting fine gathering places. But such is not the case.
The Debate about women and Perrault’s Style
According to the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, Donkey-Skin is, indeed, part of the “Querelle des femmes,” the debate about women. Donkey-Skin exposes an abuse against women, which may explain its acceptability. Salonniers and salonnières also enjoyed the suspense. Finally, the tale might owe its acceptability to the rules governing fairy tales. Fairy tales have a happy ending so readers know that Donkey-Skin’s plight will end. However, I should think that the manner in which the tale is told is its subject matter. Peau d’Âne is an exquisite versified tale. It is Salon literature.
In other words, although Donkey-Skin is pursued by an incestuous father, the tale is told by an excellent writer. Perrault (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) was born to a wealthy bourgeois family and elected to the Académie française, in 1671. For two decades, he worked at court as Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s secretary. He mingled in Salons with other honnêtes hommes,[i] gentlemen who, by and large, were as they seem[ii], quite an achievement in 17th-century France. Finally, at the close of the 17th century, Perrault would lead the Modernes in the famous Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes.[iii]
Yet, in the Aarne-Thompson-Üther classification system, Donkey-Skin is listed as type AT 510B, [iv] i.e. unnatural love, rather than a type that could be called the flayed animal, such as The Lion, the Fox and the Wolf (AT type 50). The incestuous love of a father for his daughter does not seem appropriate entertainment for small children or the audience of Salons. We have seen, however, that it is acceptable. Moreover, it mirrors other motifs and types style redeems it.
The Flayed Wolf
Let’s recall Reynard the Fox, rooted in the Sick Lion tale or The Lion, the Fox and the Wolf (AT type 50). Reynard has overheard Ysengrin the wolf tell the king that Reynard has failed to join other courtiers who are at their sick king’s, the Lion, bedside. Reynard visits the king later and tells Noble that he has travelled everywhere in search of a cure. To be cured the king must wrap himself into the skin of a wolf, the age of Ysengrin.
It would therefore seems reasonable to link tales where a character is covered in the skin of another animal with the tale Aarne-Thompson have listed as AT type 50: curing a sick lion. Tales intersect and may border on other types. Although the Aarne-Thompson index classifies Donkey-Skin under its unnatural love category, Peau d’Âne does mirror the flayed-animal type, under any name. In fact Peau d’Âne also mirrors Goose who laid golden eggs (Æsop’ Fables, Perry Index 87) and Jean de La Fontaine‘s “La Poule aux œufs d’or” (V.13). Like the goose, the king’s donkey is aurifère, an endless source of gold.
Also at play is tradition. Perrault’s Donkey-Skin is perhaps ageless. It was probably transmitted through an oral tradition and too widely known to be left aside. Before Peau d’Âne entered a learned tradition, i.e. a written form, a fairy tale was sometimes referred to as a “Peau d’Âne.”[v] Moreover, Jean de La Fontaine expressed his love of Peau d’Âne(VIII. 4) in his second recueil or collection of fables:
Si Peau d’Âne m’était conté,
J’y prendrais un plaisir extrême.
If one should tell that tale so queer
Ycleped, I think, “The Ass’s Skin,”
I should not mind my work a pin.
The world is old, they say; I don’t deny it;
But, infant still
In taste and will,
Whoever would teach, must gratify it.
According to Marc Soriano,[vi] Perrault used many sources before writing his Peau d’Âne in perfect verse. The tale is not altogether a rewriting of Giambattista Basile‘s (c. 1575 – 23 February 1632) l‘Orsa IT (The Bear), (Il cunto de li cunti overo le trattemiento de peccerille [The Tale of Tales or Entertaiment for Little Ones]) or Pentamerone. Nor is it a polished version of a tale by Giovanni Francesco Straparola (c. 1575 – 23 February 1632), the author of the Facetious Nights or Piacevoli Notti. It is Perrault‘s Donkey-Skin and one of the first fairy tales belonging to children’s literature. Perrault’s tales has set the tone. He has become the model.
So, eloquence and tradition have redeemed unnatural love. That would be my first conclusion. As suggested above, folktales enjoy a degree of immunity, not only as fiction but as part of a cultural heritage that has profound roots and crosses borders. Peau d’Âne is not altogether cleansed: the donkey is still “aurifère,” i.e. it defecates gold, and Peau d’Âne‘s father’s love remains a transgression. However, even in the most refined social circles, one does indulge, occasionally, i.e. a tad, in scatological humour, told correctly. Moreover, by the time Perrault wrote his fairy tales, Préciosité was no longer the ridiculous fashion depicted in Molière‘s Les Précieuses ridicules(1659). Finally, not only does Perrault’s Donkey-Skin mirror many texts, but it is pared down and presented in verses, not the easier prose. Style transcends “unnatural love.”
However, I will end this post by introducing a new element. Let me quote Donkey-Skin’s fairy godmother who suggests that Donkey-Skin not contradict her father while nevertheless refusing his advances: “Mais sans le contredire on peut le refuser,” (“[b]ut you can avoir the necessity without displeasing him”) which is what Donkey-Skin does, thereby displaying that, with a little advice, the worldly wisdom of fables, she can negotiate her way out of her father’s incestuous requests. Her fairy godmother tells Peau d’Âne that incest, without naming it, is a “great sin,” (une faute bien grande), but her entire statement reads as follows:
Écouter sa folle demande
Serait une faute bien grande,
Mais sans le contredire on peut le refuser. Peau d’Âne
“For, my dear child,” she said to her, “it would be a great sin to submit to your father’s wishes, but you can avoid the necessity without displeasing him.”
One is therefore reminded of Puss in Boots, a fairy tale in which a very clever cat takes his master from rags to riches using his savoir-faire, a more natural recourse than magic. Donkey-Skin will oppose her father “sans le contredire,” (without contradicting him), which is also savoir-faire, not to mention empowerment.
“Partly because of the influence of the salons and partly as a result of disillusionment at the failure of the Fronde, the heroic ideal was gradually replaced in the 1650s by the concept of honnêteté. The word does not connote “honesty” in its modern sense but refers rather to an ideal aristocratic moral and social mode of behaviour, a sincere refinement of tastes and manners.” (honnête homme, Britannica)
[ii] “honnête homme”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 23 May. 2013
<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/271056/honnete-homme>. [iii] According to the Modernes, the literature of France had reached an apex and could now serve as a model. The Anciens, led by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, who, with François de Malherbe, shaped French classicism, versification in particular, did not share this view.[iv] Christine Goldberg, “The Donkey-Skin Folktale Cycle (AT 510B),” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 110, No. 435 (Winter, 1997), pp. 28-46. [v] See G. Rouger, ed. Contes de Perrault (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1967), p. 153. [vi] Marc Soriano, Les Contes de Perrault, culture savante et traditions populaires (Paris : Gallimard, coll. ‘Tel’, 1977 ), 113-124.
Under the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715), the Sun-King, Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) published twelve books of fables. The first book was published in 1668; the second, in 1678; and a collection, in the 1690s, shortly before La Fontaine’s death.
Fables, as you know, date back to Antiquity. Let us mention, first, Vishnu Sharma‘s Sanskrit Panchatantra (Pañcatantra [Five Principles]), 3rd century BCE or much earlier times: 1200 BCE. Its Arabic version, entitled Kalīla wa Dimnah (750 CE), was written by Persian scholarIbn al-Muqaffa. For most most of us, however, fables are Æsop’s Fables (c. 620-564 BCE) and they belong to an oral tradition. Æsop, if there ever lived an Æsop, was probably a freed slave from Samos, Greece.
Fables are usually looked upon as children’s literature because most feature animal protagonists. Some fables may be intended for children, but others encompass the wordly-wisdom a prince should acquire. Moreover, fables may feature plants or human beings speaking with animals. The latter are called libystic fables.
When reading “Le Chêne et le Roseau,” one may be reminded of Virgil’s Georgics (1st century BCE), but this fable is mostly a La Fontaine fable. As mentioned above, it was published in 1668 and is the last fable (number XXII) of La Fontaine’s first book of Fables. La Fontaine published a second book of Fables in 1678-1679, and a third book, in 1694 or somewhat earlier.
In “Le Chêne et le Roseau,” the Oak tree boasts to the Reed that he is strong and could protect the humble Reed from powerful winds. The Reed’s response is that “he bends” in the wind, “and does not break:” “Je plie, et ne romps pas.” As the two, the Oak tree and the Reed, are conversing, a devastating wind fells the Oak tree. As for the Reed, he is whipped back and forth by this ferocious wind, but survives.
Fables are lessons presented in Horatian (Horace, 1st century BCE) fashion:“Prodesse et delectareˮ (To Delight and to Instruct, or plaire et instruire). So, a lesson or lessons can be drawn from “The Oak and the Reed,” (La Fontaine [I.22])lessons for the prince.
Usually, my students would respond that the oak tree is punished for boasting, which is a correct answer. Destiny being fickle and life, fragile, one should not boast.
I would then remind them of the Roseau ’s statement: “Je plie, et ne romps pas.ˮ Not all of them could grasp readily that La Fontaine’s fable contained another lesson, one that could be useful for the prince or the man at court.
The lesson is simple. If one is flexible, chances are one might survive and perhaps blossom in the ruthless halls of the power.[i]It could be that nothing has changed, that one must still accept compromises or otherwise be totally ineffective and unhappy in any office to which he or she is elected, or has chosen.
Ideally, the prince acts according to a set of principles. He knows, for instance, that he must serve his people, so he listens. He also knows how to serve his people. But, rigidity is an extreme that precludes listening and militates against both reasoned and reasonable leadership.