Twelve year old Alice Pleasance Liddell made quite a point of daily visiting her favorite garden. One sunny Saturday afternoon, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, local scholar and friend of her family, happened to have noticed her. He bade her go farther into the maze than she’d ever before presumed to attempt.
“You see, young friend,”-Alice was twenty years his junior-the gentleman exclaimed, “There are all manner of delightful surprises to be found in there.”
Naturally she expected merely to find merely a more colorful variety of flora and fauna. She was quite taken aback at what was in store for her.
I’ve always thought it would be so nice if Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quijote could meet Charlotte Bronte’s (Currer Bell’s) Jane Eyre. Bronte’s character was, virtually entirely, a rewritten version of the Cinderella story. Instead of a wicked stepmother and three wicked ugly stepsisters, she had a wicked aunt-in-law and three wicked ugly cousins. The unfair treatment she got was by way of the deliberate abuse they chose to heap upon her. By way of a variety of entirely mundane misadventures and hardships, she eventually married Mr. Edward Rochester, and they lived quite happily ever after. Cervantes’ Don, however, fell prey to all sorts of delusional fantasies that led to his trouble. That’s in the nature of the picaresque novel His Dulcinea of El Tobozo, in reality the homely peasant girl Aldonza Lorenzo, was as much of a distortion as everyone and everything else he dealt with. It’s quite a lopsided tale of courtly love. If the Don and Jane were ever to be properly introuduced, it would lead, I should suppose, to quite a colorful episode. The Don, quite aware of the fact that he is at all times obligated to treat a lady with absolute respect, would make every possible effort to be quite the gentleman in Jane’s company. Although she most certainly isn’t very comely of appearance, he may never notice. It’s quite possible that he may think she’s as lovely as he considered his Dulcinea. The pair would be driven to distraction because of all the distinctions between Counter-Reformation Spain and Victorian England. There would be significant religious differences. He’s quite the staunchly orthodox Catholic and she’s a demure Quaker lady. He may give her a bit of a speech pointing out to her all the problems with the errors of the Protestant Reformation. If he gets his hands upon Mrs. Reed and the Reed cousins there could be quiet a lot of big trouble. He’d have to be a bit tactful with Mrs. Reed, Eliza and Georgianna, but he’d really have to put Master John into his place. Sancho Panza would have to spend a lot of time keeping him in check. In Jane’s mundane world, where propriety is an absolute necessity at all times, the Don simply doesn’t fit in. She, however, politely accepts all his idiosyncracies, knowing quite well that he’s ultimately a gentleman. He could tell her all his tall tales and keep her petting Rozinante and Dapple. Jane understands what it’s like to be misunderstood and mistreated. At least hers is quite a practical approach to life. She could give him some pointers about how to deal with things in a more tactful and profitable manner. She would marvel at his and Sancho’s total lack of social skills. I should suppose that throughout their first meeting, the Rochesters and their new Spaniard friends would be quite taken aback at each other in seemingly insurmountable ways. After a while, however, both sides would be quite capable of accepting the fact that all could ultimately work out. The Spaniards would add color and excitement to the relationship, and their English friends, Mr. and Mrs. Rochester, could provide the voice of civility and etiquette. Such an extreme lack of compatibility could even be enjoyable.
I have no idea of which work of art could possibly turn out to be my very favorite but I’ve always really liked Edouard Manet’s “Music In the Tuileries Gardens”. The original is in the National Gallery in London. One day recently I happened to have been walking past a copy of it and something awfully seriously odd happened.
It’s an Impressionist painting set in 1862, about a decade before the beginning of La Belle Epoque, in the French Tuileries Gardens, between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. Concerts were performed there twice each week and were frequented by the fashionable elite of the Second Empire.
As I passed it by, my attention was quite struck by how unusually real it suddenly seemed. I walked a little closer and was instantaneously a part of it. Somehow I understood the people even though all spoke only French and no English. Manet and his slightly younger brother Eugene introduced themselves. Then I met Charles Beaudelaire. Along with Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, he wrote some of nineteenth century France’s most intense poetry. Novelist and poet Theophile Gautier, along with flower-painter Ignace Fantine-Latour and composer Jacques Offenbach were also there as well as several other Frenchmen who were then prominent in the world of the arts.
Although I’ve read several of Rimbaud’s poems, I’ve never been significantly familiar with his work. I’m only vaguely knowledgeable about some of Manet’s paintings too. Besides that I’ve never known anything whatsoever about any of the others. This was quite a chance for me to expand significantly my literary and artistic horizons.
They explained to me that The Tuileries Gardens had been created for Catherine de Medici who, after the death of France’s King Henry II, wanted to move her home to the Louvre Palace. The Gardens were opened to the public in 1667 and became a public park after the French Revolution. As everyone knows I’ve always been quite a bookworm. Since I’ve always been quite been interested in history and the arts, I couldn’t help being entirely mesmerized, though equally stunned, by my experience. Throughout it all, though, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat uncomfortable. It occurred to me that someone might ask a few questions about the outsider. This wasn’t exactly New York in 2014 and I couldn’t expect to blend in.
I made sure I gave them my absolutely undivided attention in order to ensure that I could get as much out of the experience as possible. There were people there of all age ranges and both sexes. I learned a lot that day about all the styles, habits and mannerisms that characterized that segment of French society in the early 1860’s. Unfortunately I didn’t have my video camera with me. Imagine how interesting that would have been.