AHL’s special collection includes two related caricature books, the 1847 book Les Fleurs Animèes by J.J. Grandville, published in Paris, and its 1849 English translation The Flowers Personified : being a translation of Grandville's "Les Fleurs Animées," published in New York. These volumes are a collection of stories illustrated with 52 hand-colored engravings of floral characters.
Les Fleurs Animèes’ storyline opens with Flower Fairy being approached by a grand procession of many types of flowers, who have come to petition her to allow them to assume human form. Their argument is as follows:
The flowers here present beg you to accept their homage, and to lend a favorable ear to their humble complaint. For thousands of years we have supplied mankind with their themes of comparison; we alone have given them all their metaphors; indeed, without us poetry could not exist. Men lend to us their virtues and their vices; their good and their bad qualities; --and it is time that we should have some experience of what these are. We are tired of this flower-life. We wish for permission to assume the human form, and to judge, for ourselves, whether that which they say above, of our character, is agreeable to truth.”
Flower Fairy tries to dissuade them but eventually agrees to their request, “Go, Deluded flowers; -- let it be as you propose. Ascend upon the earth, and try human life. ‘Ere long you will come back to me.”
What follows in Les Fleurs Animèes are the stories of the flowers’ lives as lived in human form. Corn-poppy becomes a shepherdess, Honeysuckle a goatherd, Orange-flower a marriage-maker, the Thistle a schoolmaster, Larkspur debuts at the opera, and Daisy becomes a fortune-teller.
In one chapter, the Honeysuckle flower is reincarnated as a young pretty goatherd named Chevrette. One day, Prince Charmant spies Chevrette, falls in love with her, and makes her his wife. But young Chevrette finds court life restrictive and prefers to run, jump, and play with her goats in the fields. She eventually runs away from the court. Prince Charmant is told “You are aware that the Honeysuckle is too wild, too simple-hearted, too capricious also, to get along at court. Let her stay in the country with her goats...”
Each story is illustrated, and the color plates are the highlight of these volumes. Each type of flower is depicted as a human but clothed in Victorian hats, gowns, and suits reminiscent of the petals and foliage they had in their previous flower life. In addition, the illustrations depict the flower-like people as having traits associated with their corresponding flower. Examples include “Poppy” having soporific charms and putting crickets to sleep, “Rose,” the queen of flowers, being bowed to by her beetle subjects, and “Hemlock” a poisoner, dispensing her concoctions.
Les Fleurs Animèes and Flowers Personified are available at Andersen Horticultural Library for viewing by appointment.