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The Eagle and the Beetle

Jean de La Fontaine, translated by Gordon Pirie, 7 February 2008

... An eagle once swooped down to catch A rabbit, who made off with due dispatch Towards his lair. It wasn’t near, And he despaired of getting there In time, when going past a beetle’s hole, He thought: ‘Why not?’ And in he shot. Don’t ask me how a beetle’s hole Could possibly accommodate a rabbit. It couldn’t; and the eagle, landing there, could grab it And extract it by the tail ...

Bon Garçon

David Coward: La Fontaine’s fables, 7 February 2002

Complete Tales in Verse 
by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by Guido Waldman.
Carcanet, 334 pp., £14.95, October 2000, 9781857544824
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The Fables of La FontaineWisdom Brought down to Earth 
by Andrew Calder.
Droz, 234 pp., £36.95, September 2001, 2 600 00464 5
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The Craft of La Fontaine 
by Maya Slater.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 255 pp., $43.50, May 2001, 0 8386 3920 8
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... La Fontaine’s permanent place in the schoolroom has made him the most widely read of all French writers. Children take his menagerie of talking flora and fauna in their stride. Grown-ups, however, worry about his howlers (grasshoppers don’t eat worms) and mutter about the ambiguity of his moral lessons. Lamartine winced at his cynical promotion of self-interest, and for Rousseau the method employed by the fox to relieve the crow of its cheese was as much an advertisement for flattery as a warning against flatterers ...

A Gutter Subject

Neal Ascherson: Joachim Fest, 25 October 2012

Not Me: Memoirs of a German Childhood 
by Joachim Fest, translated by Martin Chalmers.
Atlantic, 316 pp., £20, August 2012, 978 1 84354 931 4
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... bag containing 13 books (the usual suspects plus Ernst Jünger, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Jean Paul) across the battlefields. When he was finally captured and sent to a temporary camp in France, his first punishment was having to hear the loudspeakers around the fence blasting out Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ fortissimo for nine days and nights ...

Why are you so fat?

Bee Wilson: Coco Chanel, 7 January 2010

Perfumes: The A-Z Guide 
by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.
Profile, 620 pp., £12.99, October 2009, 978 1 84668 127 1
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Chanel: Her Life, Her World, The Woman behind the Legend 
by Edmonde Charles-Roux, translated by Nancy Amphoux.
MacLehose, 428 pp., £14.99, June 2009, 978 1 906694 24 1
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The Allure of Chanel 
by Paul Morand, translated by Euan Cameron.
Pushkin, 181 pp., £12, September 2009, 978 1 901285 98 7
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Coco before Chanel 
directed by Anne Fontaine.
July 2009
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... like Audrey Tautou, the latest face of Chanel No. 5, who also plays the young Coco Chanel in Anne Fontaine’s Coco before Chanel. So far as one can tell, Chanel was never fully contented (she boasted that she did not require ‘that daily dose of poison, recently invented, that we call happiness’ and her restless scissors were always ...

Badger Claws

Julian Barnes: Poil de Carotte, 30 June 2011

Nature Stories 
by Jules Renard, translated by Douglas Parmée.
NYRB, 165 pp., £8.99, March 2011, 978 1 59017 364 0
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... while her money allowed him to become the largest shareholder in the cultural monthly Mercure de France when it was founded in 1889. His most famous work remains Poil de carotte (1894), the recognisably autobiographical tale of a red-headed boy growing up in a village much like his own. Its continuing power comes from ...


Michael Hofmann: Shirley Hazzard, 6 May 2021

Collected Stories 
by Shirley Hazzard.
Virago, 356 pp., £16.99, November 2020, 978 0 349 01295 7
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... stories offer introspection and revelation – but rarely together. In an essay (on Jean Rhys), she quotes La Fontaine: ‘Misfortune is a kind of innocence.’ And the obverse, too, one could say: innocence is a kind of misfortune. In an unusually abstract passage, she writes: ‘Knowledge ought to arise ...

More Fun to Be a Boy

Lorna Scott Fox: Haunted by du Maurier, 2 November 2000

Daphne du Maurier: Haunted Heiress 
by Nina Auerbach.
Pennsylvania, 216 pp., £18.50, December 1999, 0 8122 3530 4
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... unattached but lonely John find himself forced into the complex identity of his alter ego, Count Jean de Gué, but his physical resemblance to de Gué’s mother and daughter bestows a past and a future on him, drawing him into the human chain. Taken to extremes, such permeability leads to the parasitical ...

Always There

Julian Barnes: George Braque, 15 December 2005

Georges Braque: A Life 
by Alex Danchev.
Hamish Hamilton, 440 pp., £35, May 2005, 0 241 14078 1
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Landscape in Provence 1750-1920 
Montréal Musée des Beaux ArtsShow More
Derain: The London Paintings 
Courtauld InstituteShow More
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... two painters had their first joint show – a posthumous one – only last summer, at the Musée de Lodève. It proved a display of unintentional cruelty. The most compelling Fauve paintings were all by Braque; but while this was just a stage in his development (though a fondly remembered one – fifty years later he bought back his own The Little Bay at La ...


Nicholas Penny, 12 December 1996

Grands Décors français 1650-1800 
by Bruno Pons.
Faton, 439 pp., £130, June 1995, 2 87844 023 4
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The Rococo Interior 
by Katie Scott.
Yale, 342 pp., £39.95, November 1995, 0 300 04582 4
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by Marianne Roland Michel, translated by Eithne McCarthy.
Thames and Hudson, 293 pp., £60, March 1996, 0 500 09259 1
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... with modern ideas of luxury and comfort than those decorated in any other historical style. De Troy’s famous painting, The Reading from Molière illustrated on the dust-jacket of Katie Scott’s study of the rococo interior, seems to epitomise an ideal of polite but informal and mixed society which is still current. However, those who feel at ease ...

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