Babar first appeared in bedtime stories told by mama; the boys retold the tales to papa, who caught their delight and began to draw the huge, gentle hero. Certainly the enforced fresh-air therapy kept him away from an active, day-to-day paternal role. But the books, begun in happier times when the family was together, provide more than an absent father's daily link with his sons; they present a vision of civilized life, an ideal of loving, courteous maturity. And the determined urgency of a man who knew he might not live long marks their regular production—almost one a year from to —and comprehensive subject matter: all that could happen to a family, from birth to death, does happen.
In , before his third son, Thierry, was two, Jean de Brunhoff died of tuberculosis, leaving his wife with three small sons—and seven books filled with objects and events dear to the Brunhoff family as the background for a father's affectionate counsel. The counsel was clear and thorough: Brunhoff wanted his children to acquire the experiences and develop the control necessary for bonheur. He could not be an enduring model, but he could make one from his own fatherly dreams and hopes.
It was toward the making of these ideal types that all traditional courtesy literature was directed. In his exhaustive study of the genre, John E. Mason defines courtesy broadly as "a code of ethics, esthetics, or peculiar information for any class-conscious group, and a courtesy book is a book which sets down such a code.
At its ideal best—and an ideal it was, for real life usually lagged far behind—courtesy rested on regard for and service to others before self. But "consideration for others is not inborn. It is instilled," 7 that is, "introduce[d] little by little into the mind, soul, heart,… infuse[d] slowly or gradually.
They were regarded as necessary adjuncts to education, whatever the kind though most were not actually schoolbooks, the earliest predating the custom of formal schooling. They were studied, practiced, and memorized, and their frequent admonition, "Lerne or be lewde," 9 was taken seriously by people with aspirations to gentility. They touched on every facet of behavior: religion and morality, the origin of true nobility, principles of leadership and diplomacy, domestic management, sexual ethics and the treatment of women, the nurture and education of children, travel, personal behavior, bodily care and dress, conversation, and the diversions appropriate for gentlefolk.
The roots of European courtesy probably lie in chivalry, which, blended with medieval Christianity and Renaissance humanism, produced the ideal gentleman of courtesy literature. Whether the French of Provence or the Italians and Spanish of the early Renaissance initiated the genre is not certain; nevertheless it moved northwards, and courtesy treatises translated from earlier European sources began to appear in England around , proliferating after Caxton.
Those extant have been gathered into The Babees Book , a curious but fascinating compendium of types and periods, reflecting feudal structure and the reciprocity between French and English culture; many early English courtesies were direct translations from the "Frenssche" of books like Avis aus Rois c. The French continued to stress the gallant homme and "courtliness, refinement, elegance, careful consideration of conduct in the light of social authority," which peaked in the reign of Louis XIV.
Later, when childhood emerged as distinct from adulthood, the courtesy audience was differentiated, and separate books contained advice ostensibly for children. But even then, "Most preceptual … [writers] were content to write as if they were ad-dressing adults. And very often they would in effect be writing for adults.
Treated as a small adult, the child was to be trained out of his childish ways into the moral and rational perfection of regulated manhood. The style and tone of the old courtesy books was unrelievedly didactic; they did not aim to delight but to instruct. However, their form did vary. Some courtesy writers used an allegorical framework, others a dialogue or epistolary one.
Some merely presented lists of flat dos and don'ts; others couched rules in solemn similes. Some courtesies were in prose; some were in verse designed to make memorization easier not more pleasant! The earliest, in manuscript, variously profited or suffered from a formal change when they were set in print. Continental courtesy literature was in Italian, Spanish, French, or Latin; when it was translated into English, form and style were often altered again at the pleasure of the translator. All this really didn't matter, though, for medieval editors agreed that their literary value was negligible.
With later writers like Erasmus and eventually Chesterfield, personal wit and charm alleviated the didactic tone. But traditional courtesy writers operated on no educational theory of luring the child into correct behavior by masking moral and social advice in sprightly style or story. All courtesy literature reflected its social milieu and attitudes toward youth. The earliest books resound with the status of medieval children, who were harshly treated and bartered like commodities for lucrative marriages.
Courtesy books of the seventeenth century, in proliferating number and variety, began to acknowledge childhood's unique characteristics and needs. And when Locke distinguished separate child and adult natures, recommending that children's "blank slates" be imprinted in the best way for their limited mental resources and experience, courtesies reflected his insistence on instruction with pleasure. Rousseau, less bent on imprinting than on freeing children's minds, fully "exposed" childhood as innately good, curious, open to experiential learning—and significantly different from miniature adulthood.
His thinking hastened the demise of traditional courtesy books, which were supplanted by the "moral stories" of his didactic literary disciples; and it also stimulated the increased sensitivity toward children that marks social, educational, scientific, and artistic advances in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Whatever their form or period, the books which spurred or goaded young folk to genteel behavior were barometers of childhood's place in society.
In form and style, the Babars bear the imprint of the twentieth century with their delightful blend of pictures and words, fancy and seriousness. But in theme they echo an ideal of behavior that is structured traditionally. Of the four main types of courtesy books, the Babars are most like the practical, informal-intimate books of parental advice, directed by a particular father toward, usually, his own children and exemplified by Lord Chesterfield's famous letters to his son.
But they are also books of polite conduct, for their theory of behavior is coherent, drawn from traditional authority, and intended for a much less personal audience, like Erasmus's De Civilitate de Morum Puerilium. They are books of policy as well, for King Babar is careful to equip his royal children with principles for governing, much like James I in Basilikon Doron and Elyot in The Governor. And they are definitely books of civility like della Casa's Il Galateo , guides to personal behavior in society, reflecting not only the personal values and cultural ideals of their French creator but also the best virtues of all courtly traditions—tolerance, gentleness, fairness, respectfulness, and consideration—that lead to both self-control and self-expression.
In short, they are traditional and modern, personal and universal, instructive and pleasurable, for children and adults alike. And in this they are unique. Children's stories concerned with morals and manners appeared in the eighteenth century, as the unitary function of traditional courtesies gave way to the separate genres of moral story and etiquette book. Barbauld dressed moralsocial preachments in story—but thinly. Maria Edgeworth , probably the best writer of the lady didactics, often shows a wry wit, though a scorn for Society and etiquette, in stories like "Forester," who "was frank, brave, and generous, but he had been taught to dislike politeness"; 17 even her narratives had the inevitable lesson.
Tales bursting forth in the nineteenth century contained varying doses of morals and manners. Some writers were whimsically ironic, like Lear and Kipling, but not clearly systematic; others, such as MacDonald, Alcott, and the school story writers, were seriously concerned with morals, manners, story, and even pleasure, but their focus was not a system for behavior either.
Social effectiveness was addressed in etiquette books but usually not morality; even picture book behavior models like the Goops or today's wry What Do You Do, Dear? Systematic but negative attention is given manners in books like Struwwelpater and others of the Grobianus tradition; even Tom Sawyer teaches morals and manners by reverse precept. But there are no stories that wed the systematic content and instructive intent of traditional courtesy books with the narrative and visual organization and delight of modern children's books—until the Babars accomplish the task so naturally.
In Babar and Zephir , both the personae and the world change; it is Zephir the monkey's foyer and, though the book begins in the "real world" of Monkeyville, it soon moves into a fairyland of mermaids, monsters, and mythic-heroic rescues. The ideals implicit in the other books remain but added is a note of romance, a dose of fancy, and a distinct affirmation of love and imagination. Babar and Father Christmas , drafted in but unpublished until four years after Brunhoff's death, lacks both the sweet magic of Zephir and the serious wisdom of the other books; the author understandably seems to have run out of important advice, fresh dimensions to his characters, and indeed, energy for his art or his life.
The achievement of inward grace was a major focus of the earliest courtesy writings, such as Ramon Lull 's Le Libre del Ordre de Cavayleria c. But though not religion-based, Babar's philosophy of morality-in-optimism is clear: "Do you see how in this life one must never be discouraged? Brunhoff illustrates and further underlines his philosophy at one of the high points of the series: the elephant angels of love, health, happiness, hope, work, learning, joy, goodness, intelligence, patience, perseverance, and courage drive away the demons of fear, despair, indolence, ignorance, laziness, cowardice, misfortune, sickness, discouragement, stupidity, and anger 3, pp.
And Babar's insistence that virtue is accessible to all permeates the series. For, unlike the traditional courteous gentleman's Babar's ancestry is not noble; his wealth is no greater than anyone else's; his education is exceptional only because it is rare. But his nobility is undeniable, and it is by innate worth that he gains esteem. Right from birth, "he is a very good little elephant" 1, p. Brunhoff's gospel of optimism and his model of intrinsic, virtue-based morality offer a modern counterpart to Lull's noble goals and undeniable moral direction to youth's behavior.
Outward grace as a manifestation of the inward quality became central to the Renaissance concept of gentility. Essential to Castiglione's urbane, graceful courtier was an appropriate sense of dress: clothing should fit one's station and not be foppish or ostentatious. Brunhoff delights in dressing his elephant-king; for Babar, clothes literally make the man, and the little elephant can hardly wait: "I would like to have some fine clothes, too!
I wonder how I can get them? From the first matched outfit he buys through costumes for each occasion, suitable dress vividly separates Babar the civilized from the unclothed masses. And so Babar's greatest gift to those he loves—Celeste, Arthur, Cornelius, and his own subjects—is identity-giving clothes. Sometimes they are both splendid and appropriate, such as "beautiful rich clothes for holidays" 3, p. The most important item of clothing, though, is the hat, for it confers job identity and thus adulthood. When Babar loses his hat of office, the crown, he forfeits identity both as king and person: "No one will believe that they are actually King and Queen of the elephants," and "We are fed hay, as though we were donkeys!
There are many examples of hats as badges of maturity and position, all drawn with delicious inventiveness befitting the important item of clothing that traditionally makes a man hold his head high. Conversation as a grace, an art with its own guidelines, was cultivated by Castiglione's courtier; yet even the earliest courtesy literature stressed decorum and tact in speech for overall gentility.
In the Babar books, polished conversation is often wondrously civilized. The picture of Babar, casually graceful at the Old Lady's mantel, captures perfectly the poised elegance of a gentleman at his conversational best: "In the evening, after dinner, he tells the Old Lady's friends all about his life in the great forest" 1, p. And Babar is scrupulously polite: "Babar says to her politely: 'Thank you, Madam'" 1, p. Won't you rest under the shade of the palm trees? His introductions are impeccable: "Good morning, Mrs. Whale, I am Babar, King of the elephants, and here is my wife Celeste" 2, p.
Brunhoff's other characters are equally civil and the children pattern their conversation after these excellent examples, absorbing the etiquette and spirit of conversational art. Correct behavior in all social situations was important to courtesy writers even though standards of correctness varied with the times. He never puts his elbows on the table; he removes his hat when appropriate; he walks on the outside of the street when escorting ladies; he keeps himself limber by exercising and clean by bathing; he gets proper rest.
In addition to manners and hygiene, courtesy writers were concerned with graceful carriage, as the outer evidence of inner poise. Babar is a king and never slumps, slouches, or appears unconfident. He is able to remain composed in the face of others' bad manners and does not lose his equanimity when cannibals try to eat him, the ultimate faux pas , or when a giddy whale leaves him stranded 2. Honorable, ennobling work, serving fellowman rather than self, is an important theme to Lull, Castiglione, and succeeding courtesy writers. In the Basilikon Doron , James I of England speaks in considerable detail to his son Henry on the nobility and necessity of work and service.
Traditionally, the worthiest job was that of advisor to the king, and most courtesy literature contained advice on statesmanship and administering a kingdom. Babar is king, but he still adheres to sound principles on choosing advisors, observing ceremonies, waging war, and making peace. He announces, "I am going to try to rule my kingdom wisely" 2, p. He chooses his advisors prudently: Cornelius, his chief aide, is the oldest of the elephants and has the wisdom and stability of age and "good ideas" 1, p.
Babar loves and executes with great style all the ceremonies of statecraft: coronation-weddings 1 ; anniversary parades 3 ; cannonades announcing royal births 4. But he uses his military powers reluctantly, preferring to settle disputes with intelligence rather than force. Babar knows that "real war is not a joke" 2, p.
The war is over! How perfectly splendid! In early courtesy literature, law, medicine, philosophy, and other clearly established professions were also honorable outlets for gentlemen's capabilities. In Babar's thoroughly structured but classless monarchy, he is the king and of course very important; Cornelius his chief statesman, the Old Lady the teacher, Capoulosse the doctor, and Fandago the learned man are important.
But so are Olur the mechanic, Tapitor the cobbler, and Hatchibombotar the street cleaner. Obviously, in Babar's kingdom, there is no hierarchy of occupations but rather a mutual recognition of each job's potential value to all: "If Capoulosse has holes in his shoes, he brings them to Tapitor, and, if Tapitor is sick, Capoulosse takes care of him" 3, p. Celesteville is founded on the interdependence of honorable work of any kind, and the only disgrace is not working, because this leads to boredom, mischief, and unhappy consequences; the Gogottes, after all, "are not savage.
But they are bored" 5, p. In his courtesy books, Brunhoff extends the forms of honorable work but retains the ideal of service to one's fellowman that is implicit in traditional courtesy writing. Recreations suitable for a gentleman were catalogued unfailingly by courtesy writers. Among the many diversions of the eighteenth century, for example, the famous Letters of Lord Chesterfield to His Son suggest travel, sports, dancing, and theater. Babar embraces all of these—and more. His whole life is laced with travel, with its joys and hazards: frequent journeys between the great forest and the city, a honeymoon trip, work with a traveling circus, holiday excursions.
And he travels by every means imaginable: on foot, by red motorcar, balloon, boat, bicycle, train, helicopter, and even on skis. Babar's enthusiastic endorsement of recreation is a founding principle of Celesteville, where "the Bureau of Industry is next door to the Amusement Hall which will be very practical and convenient" 3, p. Babar himself does sports such as tennis, skiing, bicycling, and fishing, and dances at his own wedding. They are also avid theatregoers; one of the most fascinating drawings of the series shows the elephant citizens, dressed—of course—appropriately, spellbound by French classical theatre.
And just pure play is an essential recreation: digging with shells in the sand 1, pp. But there are clear limits to play, too, for when Babar "rides all the way up ten times and all the way down ten times," the elevator boy must admonish him, "This is not a toy" 1, p. Babar makes sure that life is balanced. They play, go for walks, read and dream …" 3, p. So too, Brunhoff's delighted readers participate in play as they absorb his quiet insistence on it.
Personal relationships, the day-to-day arenas for practicing virtuous, courteous behavior, were a major concern of traditional writers. The caritas that always motivated a true gentleman was manifested in all his dealings with people. He did not, either in public or in private, antagonize, gossip, or offend, but rather conducted himself with gracious civility. Writers like Sir Francis Osborn in Advice to a Son speak urgently to the need for personal diplomacy and friendship, even though in Osborn's case overtones of crass expediency creep in occasionally.
But Babar's public demeanor is always commendable, motivated by a genuine love of his fellowman. He is careful to resolve quarrels; after winning the war, he signs a treaty with the rhinoceroses 3, p. He exemplifies the prudent moderation in financial matters advised by many courtesy writers, avoiding both stinginess and extravagance.
Babar is fair to his subjects, dispensing equally not only his honeymoon gifts—"He gives a gift to each elephant" 3, p. In his private, foyer life, friendship is important to Babar. As a baby, he plays with his peer-friends; as a youth, he treasures the friendship of the Old Lady, "who has always been fond of little elephants" and "gives him whatever he wants" 1, pp.
Babar is courteous and agreeable to all but, like traditional gentlemen, chooses his closest friends from his social equals, in this case Celesteville's professionals. Philophage" 3, p. One should note that Brunhoff is not perpetuating class distinctions based on snobbishness here but rather, as Mead notes, the French tendency to choose friends from a circle close to the foyer pp.
A traditional viewpoint, exemplified both in courtesy literature and in French social mores of the time, is seen in Brunhoff's depiction of women. Like the ideal courtesy gentleman, Babar was always gracious to ladies, as a sign of respect for their own gentle sakes and for their potential as mothers. And so he names his city after Queen Celeste and rules equally with her; he rewards the Old Lady, his first friend and patroness, for her brave war service and entrusts the children to her teaching. But the roles women play in the Babar books remain traditional ones: wife, mother, teacher, nurse, helper, quiet daughter, or lost princess.
Care in choosing a wife, usually prominent in most courtesy books, is also implicit in the Babars: Celeste is an equal, Babar's childhood friend who has all the potential for becoming a good mother.
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Though Brun-hoff's perspective on women may be neither current nor popular, his perceptions are entirely consistent with his age, cultural background, and personal ideals. His attitudes should not be airily dismissed as chauvinistic but should be viewed, rather, as traditional; it is a subtle but valid distinction that must be made even for children today. And belief in abstract ideologies never causes Babar to be cruel or insensitive in his concrete relationships with people.
Nurturing children was a concern that engaged all courtesy writers. Erasmus devoted an entire Latin primer for schoolboys, Dde Civilitate de Morum Puerilium , to the subject of the moral, educational, physical, and social upbringing of nonaristocratic youth. And in De Pueris Statim ac Liberaliter Instituendis , he urged parents to "bestow especial pains upon [the child's] tenderest years. Baby Babar himself is loved, rocked, sung to, and played with; Babar's own children are longed for—"Oh, how hard it is to wait for one's heart's desire!
In fact, Babar and His Children becomes almost a manual on how to hold, feed, cradle, and dress babies, and on how to keep them from choking, catching cold, or falling out of trees. The environment is full of gentility, love, and warmth, as Erasmus advises; the parents are openly affectionate—Babar "embraces his wife tenderly" 4 —and provide unfailing models of behavior.
Yet discipline is administered, not harshly as most courtesy writers advised but firmly and consistently, with explanations. Arthur and Celeste's mothers "are very happy to have them back but they scold them just the same because they ran away" 1, p. Education is an important aspect of nurture; what, where, how, and from whom children learned were matters of concern to courtesy writers. Babar's own schooling is private, quite traditional in method and subject: "A learned professor gives him lessons. Babar pays attention and does well in his work. He is a good pupil and makes rapid progress" 1, p.
His children have more progressive schooling under the ideal tutelage of the Old Lady: "Lessons are never tiresome when she teaches" 3, p. Although they learn in a progressive classroom with plenty of "discovery" experiences available, they still master traditional sums and letters, "for, that's what we study for," says Zephir 3, p.
A school is just part of the Bureau of Industry, one of Celesteville's two main public buildings; the rest is devoted to the library and the workshops. For Brunhoff, as for Erasmus and most other courtesy writers, the physical and educational nurture of children merits careful concern. Jean de Brunhoff's parental advice echoes that of earlier courtesy writers with two major exceptions: his empathy for childhood and his regard for emotions.
As if recalling the spirit of his own boy-hood, he relives the motor sprinkler incident: "When Arthur and Zephir meet him, they quickly take off their shoes, and run after the car, barefoot. When sweet-toothed Zephir falls into the vanilla creme, Brunhoff dwells with childlike delight on the moment 3, p. Babar punishes both excesses but understands that "Arthur and Zephir are mischievous, as are all little boys" 3, p.
And when Arthur, distracted by a passing parade, forgets his babysitting responsibilities, Brunhoff lives Arthur's point of view: "Arthur is very glad to be trusted," but "Arthur is frightened and runs after them," and finally, when all is safe again, "Arthur is ever so pleased" 4. Brunhoff's obvious empathy with children's prankishness and thoughtlessness, but also with their curiosity and bravery, gives his fatherly advice the weight of still-fresh experience. Courtesy books almost uniformly urge restraint of emotions—do not laugh too much or too loudly; do not cry; do not show fear—making the gentlemanly ideal seem impossibly far from a child's realization.
But Babar displays all the honest emotions that arise from life. He often shows or speaks words of affection, a tender instance being when he bids farewell to the Old Lady and envelops her frailness in his great bulk: "He will never forget her" 1, p. He is anxious before the birth of the children: "Babar is trying to read but finds it difficult to concentrate; his thoughts are elsewhere. He tries to write, but again his thoughts wander.
Babar cries, too, not only when he is young and loses his mother but when he is older and sad. And he acknowledges anguish and near-despair when he is a mature king: "What a dreadful day…. It began so well. Why did it have to end so badly? How long this night seems, and how worried I am! Through Babar's heart-felt, natural displays of emotion, Brunhoff tells children that feelings are a part of living and of dying.
Babar is, undeniably, enterprising, which according to our zeitgeist is good; he is also anachronistic and, according to the same zeitgeist, that is not so good. Yet it is Babar's sturdy out-of-timeness that makes him impervious to superficial values and thus inspiring to children. Jean de Brunhoff knew, just as the old courtesy writers did, that the beau ideal was backward-looking in attempting to recapture the best values of a time gone by; he also knew that it was future-oriented in its possible attainment.
But above all, he realized that it had to be introduced in the present, for his own foyer a present fraught with absence, illness, and threats of impending war. The best ideal that Brunhoff could offer his own children had to blend anachronistic tradition and Utopian dream in a modern continuum of advice and enchantment. And so, just as early courtesy writers had done by their letters of parental advice, Jean de Brunhoff, through the delightful adventures of a noble, gallant, and courteous elephant-king, systematically instilled his ideals of manhood in his own three sons—and in whatever other children care to draw from his precepts.
Most editions did not retain the original, expensively large size app. White Cambridge: Harvard University Press, , p. Certainly not the most recent look at the meanings and substance of courtesy, this work is still the most encyclopedic, spanning all centuries and varieties of the genre. Oxford English Dictionary , s.
Hall's Two Trifles The phrase was the title of an alliterative ABC courtesy poem and was found in the text of many other early courtesy works as an admonition to teachers and students. Stratman's Middle English Dictionary defines lerne laeren as both "teach" and "learn"; lewde laewed is simply "unlearned" or ignorant. The Babees Book , ed. Frederick J. Furnivall ; rpt. New York: Greenwood Press, Knopf, , pp. For a close look at medieval "childhood," see H. Sloane's book cf. Samuel F.
Pickering, Jr. Gina Luria, ed. The books are cited in order of their family development: Babar , 1; Travels , 2; King , 3; Children , 4; Zephir , 5; Father Christmas , 6. I do not include the nonnarrative A B C of Babar , or, like Babar's Anniversary Album , any stories of Laurent de Brunhoff, as the latter add nothing fresh to the courtesy structure. Brunhoff's most powerful antiwar statement is the picture of utter devastation that evokes newsreels of ravaged fields in France, and the heartbreaking words under it: "A few broken trees!
Is that all that is left of the great forest? There are no more flowers, no more birds" 2, p. Both Harry C. New York: Burt Franklin, , p. Like Babar and His Children , this is more advice to parents or prospective ones than to children. Whereas Ann Haskell calls this empathy "a literary pact, based on integrity between author and audience" and supports my notions of the Babars' order and universal appeal "this is literature from which no age group is excluded" , she does not recognize the link between the series and courtesy writings.
The reign of King Babar is one of the most successful political ventures of the twentieth century. Created by Jean de Brunhoff in seven books in the s, 1 his world is fictional, but his hold on the minds of children and adults—and the market they command—is quite real. The success of the Babar books has been enormous, both in France and in the English-speaking world. Brunhoff clearly concocted a world of both immediate and enduring appeal.
What then is the nature of that appeal? Surely it is in part psychological in the narrow sense. Contained in the simple yet suggestive pictures and the cool, clear narrative, one finds a world designed to please and absorb the child. Trouble is not at all absent from the kingdom of Babar.
There are scenes calculated to induce anxiety: the shooting of Babar's mother; the accidental poisoning by mushroom of Babar's royal predecessor; abandonment on a tropical island and the subsequent attack of cannibals; war with the rhi-noceroses; the snake that bites the Old Lady; the fire that injures Cornelius; the rattle that almost chokes Flora; and so on.
But these troubles always seem to dissolve. Moreover, as Roger Sale has pointed out, the incidents are brief and narrated with a peculiarly adult, reassuring, cool tone. Many are the gratifications for the child to see: ample opportunity for play; the companionship of mischievous monkeys; the pleasures of a school that is never dull; and the authority of adults who sometimes scold but always forgive in pleasant ways.
This is probably enough. Still, Babar is about more than children's fears and wishes. It is adult in more than tone. The central character is not a child but a young adult elephant who goes to the city, gets married, has children, and, quite simply, works very hard. The Babar books are as much about adult responsibility as about childlike gratification.
The view of adult life offered in the books is, therefore, reassuring but complicated. It is also quite social and political. Unlike the central characters of many children's books, Babar himself creates much of the world in which he works and loves. In most classic children's books, the central character stumbles into a world ready-made for adventure, anxiety, gratification, and triumph: the river of Rat and Mole; the barn of Charlotte and Fern; the wonderland of Alice; the Oz of Dorothy; the Boston Common pond of Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack; and so on.
The world of these books exists before the story starts, inviting and shaping the fantasy that follows. But Babar builds and nurtures a world before our eyes, especially in the central book, Le Roi Babar , which gives us the style of his reign. Paradoxically, he seems to create an adult world out of a more childish one. Our glimpse into the world of the elephants before Babar is brief. We know that they had a king. We know that they had a distant history and a folklore, since Cornelius teaches a song to the children that dated back to the time of the mammoths.
We also know that Babar brings many innovations. Indeed, his major qualification for kingship is his experience in the city of humans and the knowledge he brings back. Here again, the world of Babar seems to move against the grain of the logic of fantasy of most children's literature. Not only does he create a world instead of stumbling on one, he also creates a sophisticated, somewhat urban world where once there had reigned apparent rural simplicity.
The assumption seems to be that the primitive stage of the elephants was a naive urdummheit, a pleasant stage not to be regretted but to be overcome by the work of a be-nevolent legislator. Babar is a gentle Lycurgus, though he does not disappear once his work is done.
What, then, are the elements that make up the social and political world of Babar? First, hierarchy and deference. The king functions benevolently in a world that respects his authority and trusts his wisdom. Age is venerated. Honor goes to General Cornelius—the oldest and wisest of elephants—and to the Old Lady—nurse, governess, teacher, and storyteller. The children are occasionally mischievous, but they know their place and respond to authority. The family is also central. The pleasures and duties of family life work through the various stories.
Babar en famille depicts this side of life most fully, but the value of family prevails throughout. For in spite of newfound royalty, Babar is actually the perfect bourgeois, a citizen-king in a derby hat and green suit. Like his kingdom, his family is created before our eyes. We begin with radical desolation, the shooting of Babar's mother by the hunter, but the family is then gradually reconstructed. Babar finds an almost perfect substitute for his mother in the Old Lady, who, though she cannot replace his mother, brings with her the wisdom and resources of the city.
Courtship and marriage to cousin Celeste culminate the first book. Cornelius rapidly becomes a wise and aged grandfather who, though not related by blood, is always present on family occasions. Then comes the birth of the triplets—Pom, Flora, and Alexander. With these children Babar does everything the ideal father should do: he plays in the nursery, goes on picnics, celebrates Christmas, rescues Alexander from trouble.
I would not know how to get along without them anymore. Turning from the family to Celesteville as a whole, one is struck by the balance of work, play, and festivity. Our first view of the new city, the symbol of Babar's civilization, shows a world of play beneath a hill on which are perched four buildings. On the far right is Babar's house, larger than the rest but still modest, symbol of the nature of his rule.
On the far left is that of the Old Lady, symbol of age, continuity, urbanity. The world of play is not new; indeed our first view of Babar among other elephants in Histoire de Babar shows children at play much as they are in the world of Celesteville. The "work" of Babar's world is real enough but, as one would expect, quite pleasant. The palais du travail , dominated by school and library, has at one end the ateliers , the workshops. It begins with the tools brought by the camels laden with goods from Babar's honeymoon. The tools are first used in an enterprise of cooperative building, as the elephants build Celesteville to the accompaniment of the Old Lady's phonograph and Babar's trumpet.
With the opening of the city come the various crafts. Babar creates a nicely harmonious craft society.
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The elephants serve one another in a serene world of mutual service, a Panglossian republic of work: "When Capoulosse had holes in his shoes, he took them to Tapitor, and when Tapitor was ill, Capoulosse attended him. If Barbacol wanted to put a statuette on his mantelpiece, he told Podular, and when Podular's jacket was worn out, Barbacol measured him for a new one.
All the elephants eat Fandago's fruit and laugh at Coco's clownish antics. We soon learn that elephants work only in the mornings; in the afternoons "they play, go for walks, read, dream. Celesteville has many occasions to celebrate the values of the kingdom. King Babar may not have had some of the perverse motives of his royal predecessor Louis XIV whose gardens and theater he imitated , 9 but he surely saw the value to social solidarity of keeping people dancing and parading in each other's company.
Babar reviews the great parade perched atop a wooden horse, which was, appropriately, shaped by Podular the sculptor, painted by Justinian, and mechanized by Olur. Beneath the reviewing stand are Celeste and the Old Lady. Lining the streets are the crowd, the king's guards, and young elephants dutifully aligned in scout uniforms another of Babar's imports. The parade is colorful and resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned parade of guilds, grouped according to trades: soldiers, farmers, bakers, sculptors and painters, sailors and fishermen, mechanics and drivers, and so on down the line.
Dapper musketeers march in the middle, with their motto and surely that of Celesteville , "One for all, all for one. To be sure, near-tragedy strikes soon after: a snake bites the Old Lady and fire ravages the home of Cornelius. The two symbols of age and experience are endangered. The skill of firemen and doctors save them, but behind that skill are very old-fashioned values.
After the two mishaps, and before he knows all will be well, Babar dreams. Unlike Pharaoh's dreams, his is transparent in meaning, as the forces of misfortune fear, despair, indolence, ignorance, cowardice, laziness, sickness, misfortune, anger, stupidity are routed by the forces of happiness love, health, joy, hope, work, learning, patience, perseverance, courage, intelligence, goodness.
Such then is Brunhoff's world that he creates for his king. Even when he drew his Babar characters in a situation outside the land of the elephants—as he did in his A B C de Babar —the tone and values remain the same. Here he paints elephants in places and situations unrelated to Babar's land of elephants, in order to squeeze in as many objects that begin with the relevant letter.
The signals, though, are all the same: scenes of idyllic bourgeois domesticity G, L, T ; social rites that emphasize deference and solidarity D, E, M ; easy coexistence of old things such as carriages, farms, and monasteries with new-fangled factories, steamboats, and cars U, V. There is still trouble even in the land of the alphabet. We see an elephant with a wooden leg in I-J ; quarreling bowlers in Q ; an injured skier in S. But here, as in the land of Babar proper, troubles seem to melt away in a world that is curiously realistic, yet always caring and ultimately benign. So inviting, so real in its way, it is hard and perhaps disconcerting to remember that Celesteville was ultimately created not by Babar but by Jean de Brunhoff, not a mythical elephant but a French artist of the s.
Brunhoff created Babar during a period of long and ultimately terminal illness, largely absent from his family and his native France while he tried to recuperate in Switzerland. Hence the Babar stories are childish fantasies for children and those adults who become like children again as they read. They are in part personal fantasies of a separated father.
Hence the knowing tales of fatherhood and domesticity and the concern for the domestic side of life grew in the later books. But they are also social tales, very adult fantasies for other adults. For the Babar tales are also about personal and social integration. The period of the late s and s was especially trying for French society and politics. But depression did come, and with it the inevitable social disruption, violence, and political volatility.
France oscillated among a variety of unstable Third-Republic options, and most notably plunged from an experiment in left-wing socialism —38 to right-wing fascism —44 in short order. Those economic and political troubles only aggravated longer-standing difficulties associated with the transition to modernity: rebellious youth; the transition from craft to factory labor; the growth of cities and abandonment of the countryside; the disappearance of old traditions and the failure of new ones to command affection and loyalty, and so on.
It is a sort of French Utopia. It has much specific reference to France—the gardens and theater of Versailles; the enemy rhinoceroses who look suspiciously like German soldiers of World War I ; the guild parades that resemble those processions of craft groups compagnonnages that still endured into the twentieth century; bicycles, balloons, and sports popular since the s; the scout troops; and the domestic Christmas scenes, among others.
Though Babar's kingdom is nowhere in particular—a dreamworld—Brunhoff keeps in close symbolic touch with the realities and anxieties of his own France. Indeed Babar's kingdom seems, in many ways, an incarnation of a popular French social concept of that time—solidarism. Solidarist thinkers looked for a world in which individual initiative would be rewarded and the fruits of modern technology might be harvested, but also where individuals and groups recognized the need for organic interdependence. Hierarchy would remain, but it would be a hierarchy suffused with a sense of social responsibility and mutual care.
In other words, solidarists wanted to overcome a world of competition and class conflict with a world of voluntary interdependence. Such a vision of society was not the exclusive property of either right or left. The s, the age of Babar, gave these dreams a special poignancy. Babar's solidarism is itself just one incarnation of the worries about modernity in a more general sense.
The first volume of Brunhoff's utopia appeared not long after that modern anti-utopia, Sigmund Freud 's Civilization and Its Discontents They are both, in very different ways, about the same thing—the pressures of modernity and the barriers to personal and social satisfaction in a modernizing world. Freud's work is concerned with why that dream must remain largely only a dream; Brunhoff's with how we might still at least dream it with our children.
Freud's successors in the world of ego-psychology, of whom Erik Erikson is the most prominent, have continued to worry through this difficulty. A world of class conflict, loose parental and social authority, and rapidly changing conditions is a difficult one in which to construct an identity. While social dislocation may not cause personal anxiety, a disordered world is a difficult one in which to work out the problems inherited from childhood.
Babar's kingdom is a good place to be a child and , unlike the world of most chil-dren"s books, a good place to be an adult. With its deferential politics, clear patterns of work, ample provision for play, and substantial doses of care and love, the problem of identity and adaptation are easily resolved. Insofar as we burden children's books with interpretation—and we do so gingerly and perhaps at some risk—we tend to look for hidden agendas. The most popular and easy to find are the folkloric roots of tales in earlier times, the didactic attempts to socialize children, and the psychological appeal of tales to the most atavistic of childhood fantasies.
But the division between the child's fantasies and the adult's is only one of convenience. Brunhoff offers a vision of an elephant-child who grows up, in spite of obstacles, with ease, trust, and initiative, and who nurtures a society that makes it easy for others to do the same. In that sense the delight of children and the affection of adults are not so much different "levels" of reading as two versions of what has become a perennial modern dream. Quotations will be from paginated English editions; French editions are unpaginated. The Babar tales are briefly mentioned in several works on children's literature but, curiously, never really dwelled upon.
Sale's brief remarks, scattered through his book, are the shrewdest we have. The essay by Ann Hildebrand in this volume adds, like this essay, a perspective on the place of the Babar books in wider French social traditions. In this sense, he resembles albeit in a childish way the Legislator envisaged by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Du Contrat social , Book II, chapter 7, who enters a crude, uncultured world and sets it going. The Babar tales, in their concern for personal identity and social integrity, are, as we will show below, Rousseauian in a larger sense.
Here, as elsewhere, Babar's values are largely of the modern bourgeois. The literature on decadence in modern life in France is quite wide. See especially K. Scouting—of which Brunhoff seems to have been fond—was also a response to the problem of discipline for youth.
Baden-Powell's invention found much support on the continent. See J. Babar's society seems to contain in itself an almost perfect depiction of the social world envisaged by Erik Erikson as ideal for human growth and identity, providing amply for stages of trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, and solidarity, generativity, and integrity. School Library Journal 34, no. PreS-K —In recognizable de Brunhoff style, the story of Celeste and Babar's new baby "girl" [in Babar's Little Girl ] is told in a leisurely and understated manner, typical of tales spun for sleepy children in the nursery.
The plot develops slowly, winding through Isabelle's birth, first steps, birthday party, and moves, finally , into an adventure. Isabelle wanders away and ends up in the home of eccentric characters Boover and Picardee for an afternoon of yoga, poker, jazz, and a delightful return flight via hang glider.
An argosy of fables/English fables
Children may identify with the exasperation Isabelle's brothers and sister feel in dealing with a new and daring sibling, and may learn something about not wandering off, but there is little else to excite children who aren't already fans of Babar and his family. New York, N. When Jean de Brunhoff transformed his wife's story into a picture book, he was 30 years old, a mature painter, a husband and a father. He could not have known that his homemade book would become an international children's classic or that creating six more would be so artistically satisfying it would occupy the rest of his life.
Even within a life so short as his, however, the stories fall into two clear groups: the early stories in which Babar's world is created and the later ones in which it is confirmed and generated. The first flush of Jean's genius vitalizes the three stories that establish Babar's character, his physical world, and the themes both de Brunhoffs will sound. In fact, these stories are the heart of the Babars, the most interesting to thoughtful readers and students of the elephant utopia, and basic to an appreciation of the saga. In the beginning, a mother and father created a picture book story for their young sons, the eldest of whom now calls it "a masterpiece.
It introduces themes, settings, and characters that will endure for three generations; its unerring economy and beauty of word and picture will be the model for two painters' best art; its story about the beginning of a family will enchant sons, daughters, and parents far beyond the summer world of Chessy.
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His name is Babar. His mother loves him very much. But all too soon, after only three pages in fact, the idyll ends. The lovely ride and Babar's safe babyhood are ended; the tranquility of his life is shattered. The shocking suddenness of the mother's death upsets some, particularly adult, readers. He asked his tall aunt, the Ostrich, why her tail-feathers grew just so, and his tall aunt the Ostrich spanked him with her hard, hard claw. He asked his tall uncle, the Giraffe, what made his skin spotty, and his tall uncle, the Giraffe, spanked him with his hard, hard hoof.
And still he was full of 'satiable curtiosity! He asked his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, why her eyes were red, and his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, spanked him with her broad, broad hoof; and he asked his hairy uncle, the Baboon, why melons tasted just so, and his hairy uncle, the Baboon, spanked him with his hairy, hairy paw.
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He asked questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or touched, and all his uncles and his aunts spanked him. One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes this 'satiable Elephant's Child asked a new fine question that he had never asked before. He asked, 'What does the Crocodile have for dinner? By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird sitting in the middle of a wait-a-bit thorn-bush, and he said, 'My father has spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my aunts and uncles have spanked me for my 'satiable curtiosity; and still I want to know what the Crocodile has for dinner!
I am going to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the Crocodile has for dinner. Then he went away, a little warm, but not at all astonished, eating melons, and throwing the rind about, because he could not pick it up. He went from Graham's Town to Kimberley, and from Kimberley to Khama's Country, and from Khama's Country he went east by north, eating melons all the time, till at last he came to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, precisely as Kolokolo Bird had said.
Now you must know and understand, O Best Beloved, that till that very week, and day, and hour, and minute, this 'satiable Elephant's Child had never seen a Crocodile, and did not know what one was like. It was all his 'satiable curtiosity. Then the Elephant's Child grew all breathless, and panted, and kneeled down on the bank and said, 'You are the very person I have been looking for all these long days.
Will you please tell me what you have for dinner?