Nature Stories

Jules Renard, translated by Douglas Parmée
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Nature Stories
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Julian Barnes writes:

A year before publishing Histoires naturelles in book form, Renard compared his approach to that of Buffon, the 18th-century naturalist (and grand seigneur to Renard’s country lad). ‘Buffon described animals in such a way as to please humans. Whereas I want to please the animals themselves. I would like my book, if they could read it, to make them smile.’ This makes Nature Stories sound cuter than it is. There is not a streak of sentimentality in Renard, and the world of Jemima Puddle-Duck is far away; bunnies here are flopsy only when in the mouth of a gun-dog. Animals are given their full reality and dignity, strangeness and purpose. Buffon and other traditionalists also liked to impose on the natural world a hierarchy reflecting that of human society: thus the horse is nobler than the donkey, the swan posher than the goose. Renard, by contrast, is a socialist among the animals. He looks at disregarded or unattractive beasts with understanding: he rehabilitates the bat, and thinks the pig’s squalor our fault rather than his – ‘If they cleaned you up, you’d look fine. If you neglect yourself, it’s their fault.’

(LRB 30 June 2011)

Published by New York Review of Books Classics
10 March 2011
Paperback
ISBN: 9781590173640