Tuesday, February 15, 2005

One of the treasures presented on earthly pursuits is The Flowers Personified: being a translation of Grandville's 'Les Fleurs Animées' by N. Cleaveland, including the wonderful, wonderful plates.

For professional reasons, I was interested to see what The Flowers Personified had to say about tobacco, and was surprised to find that it was not personified. 'A Trick of the Flower Fairy' reveals the reason:

"...the Flower Fairy was inconsolable after the departure of her companions.

In her vexation, she determined to play upon them some clever trick in her own way.

“The flowers,” said she, “have become women. As such, they cannot do without the homage of men. If I can contrive to deprive them of that, they will soon be disgusted with the earth.”

She was thinking at the time of a genius, young, handsome, and brilliant – a genius of intrigue, if ever there were one, who had suddenly relinquished all intercourse with fairies, and who, in the retirement of his grotto, had given himself up to the pleasures of smoking...

“What is the condition of woman in the East – in all those countries where opium is smoked? A plaything, and nothing more. The men, absorbed in the perpetual delights of intoxication, never think of their wives; or if they do, it is but to make them the subjects of their capricious whims. The Chinese woman has lost the use of her feet; her complexion is hidden beneath a mass of paint; her eyebrows are eradicated; and she is nothing else than a curious animal – a living screen-figure, with which her possessor amuses himself in the interval between two ecstasies. But, “said to herself the Flower Fairy, “opium is not suited to the climate of Europe. We must put tobacco in its place.

“If we teach man to smoke, he will, like the genius, drive woman away from him. This shall be my revenge.” It was thus that tobacco was invented...

For a little while the fairy believed that she had actually succeeded in her enterprise. Woman was entirely deserted; her empire had ceased to exist. Some husbands even began to talk of confining their wives in seraglios – of dislocating their ankles – of boring their noses with fish-bones – and of painting them blue.

But the women turned away the storm, and their subjugation lasted but a little while. They very soon found a way to reconquer man: they began to smoke themselves.

The Flower Fairy, if she would accomplish her object, must pull some other wire."
-- 'A Trick of the Flower Fairy' in The Flowers Personified on earthly puruits