The Lady and the Unicorn

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm

It is the year 1490 in Paris. Nicolas Des Innocents, a painter more renowned for his miniatures, has just been commissioned to create a set of tapestries for a man named Jean Le Viste. The nobleman wants his tapestries to depict The Battle of Nancy but his wife Genevieve de Nanterre convinces Nicolas to persuade his husband of another design—that of unicorns.

“Stay a moment,” I said when she had pulled herself up clumsily and made her way to the door. “Sit and rest your feet. I’ll tell you a story.”

The girl stopped with a jolt. “You mean the story of the unicorn?”

She was the one. I opened my mouth to answer, but the girl jumped in before me. “Does the story go on to say that the woman grows big with child and may lose her place? Is that what happens?”

There are many interpretations to the story of the unicorn. One story suggests that only a virgin can tame a creature as white and as pure as a unicorn. Another suggests a tale of seduction. Nicolas, who is far from being innocent, knows the second story well as he often tells it as a prelude to his own seductions. He is also quite the bastard, leaving a trail of pregnant women in his wake. In the middle of creating the tapestries, however, unfolds another set of stories about the unicorn—one that mirrors the lives of the women in Nicolas’ life.

Everything unravels beautifully in Tracy Chevalier’s novel The Lady and the Unicorn. Based on a real set of 15th century tapestries owned by the Le Viste family, the story revolves around the weaving of these richly-dressed women, their ladies-in-waiting, small animals, millefleurs and of course, unicorns as much as it revolves around the characters who surround it. The first five tapestries are said to represent the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. The sixth tapestry has the words À mon seul désir (my one desire) on it prompting a delicious tale spun out of in-depth research and a beautiful imagination.

Truly, Chevalier remains one of my favorite writers for she can dream up stories that are amazingly simple yet complex at the same time. The settings themselves are simple enough but the characterizations are more than your regular fare of 15th century folks. There is not a lot of mystery but there is awe and enlightenment. And the story, while told from different points of view, is not disconnected from one another. In fact, the different points of view serve to give every character more depth.

The commission of the tapestry, of course, starts with Nicolas des Innocents but the story swiftly moves to Claude Le Viste—Jean Le Viste’s daughter who catches Nicolas’ eye. She is headstrong, carefree and beautiful much to her mother’s despair.

The scene then flows to Genevieve de Nanterre who wishes nothing but to escape her life and down to Georges de la Chapelle’s interesting family of weavers in Brussels where Nicolas and Leon Le Vieux travel to have the paintings transformed into tapestries.

But whether in Paris or in Brussels, Nicolas is in the middle of it all.

“I want you to think of me as your unicorn. There are times when you’re sullied, yes, even you, beauty. Every woman is. That is Eve’s punishment. But you can be made pure again, every month, if you will only let me tend to you. “

Plow you again and again until you laugh and cry.

“Every month you will go back to Eden.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Janess Ann J. Ellao, Room Full of Words. Room Full of Words said: A review of The Lady and the Unicorn: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: