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Lady And The Unicorn [Hardcover]

Tracy Chevalier
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 30 2003 Chevalier, Tracy
Bewitching art experts and enthusiasts alike for centuries, the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries hang today in the Cluny Museum in Paris.

In each, an elegant lady and a unicorn stand or sit on an island of grass surrounded by a rich background of animals and flowers. Little is known about them except that they were woven toward the end of the fifteenth century and bear the coat of arms of a wealthy family from Lyons.

Tracy Chevalier takes readers back to the tapestries’ creation, giving life to the men who designed and made them, as well as the wives, daughters, and servants who exercised subtle (and not so subtle) influences over their men. Like the many different strands of wool and silk that were woven together into one cloth, the lives and fates of these people entwine in complex patterns, crisscrossing as they seek desires sensual and spiritual, temporal and eternal.

An extraordinary story exquisitely told, Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn weaves history and fiction into a beautiful, timeless, and intriguing literary tapestry that rivals in grace and grandeur the masterpiece that inspired it.


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From Publishers Weekly

Chevalier, whose bestselling Girl with a Pearl Earring showed how a picture can inspire thousands of words, yokes her limpid, quietly enthralling storytelling to the six Lady and the Unicorn tapestries that hang in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris. As with her Vermeer novel, she takes full creative advantage of the mystery that shrouds an extraordinary collaborative work of art. Building on the little that is known or surmised - in this case that the tapestries were most likely commissioned by the French noble Jean Le Viste and made in a workshop in Brussels at the end of the 15th century - she imagines her way into a lost world. We are introduced to Nicholas des Innocents, the handsome, irrepressibly seductive artist who designed the works for the cold Le Viste, a rich, grim social climber who bought his way into the nobility and cares more about impressing the king and his court than pleasing the wife who has disappointed him by bearing three girls and no sons. Le Viste's wife, Genevieve, tells Nicholas to create scenes with a unicorn but Nicholas's love of women - and especially of Geneviève's beautiful daughter Claude - inspires the extraordinary faces and gestures of the women he depicts. A great romance unfolds. What makes the tale enthralling are the details Chevalier offers about the social customs of the time and, especially, the craft of weaving as it was practiced in Brussels. There are psychological anachronisms: would a young woman in medieval times express her pent-up frustrations by cutting herself as some teenage girls do today? Yet the genuine drama Chevalier orchestrates as the weavers race to complete the tapestries, and the deft way she herself weaves together each separate story strand, results in a work of genuine power and beauty. And yes, readers will inevitably think about what a gorgeous movie this would make.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-This fanciful, engaging tale of the making of the famous unicorn tapestries is woven together as cleverly as the artworks themselves. Dynamic Nicolas des Innocents is proud of his skill as a painter and of his sexual prowess, and displays both at every opportunity. Always in need of funds, he persuades Jean Le Viste, a powerful Parisian nobleman, to commission a series of six tapestry designs of Nicolas's choosing: scenes focused on the unicorn, a fabled symbol of male virility and mysterious powers. Jean's pious wife colludes with the artist, as do her daughter and her lady-in-waiting. Nicolas courts them all. He journeys to Brussels, where his fate becomes intertwined with the family weaving the tapestries, but most of all their daughter, Alienor, whose blindness dooms her to betrothal to a brutish wool dyer. The "family" also includes the workers who assist them, one of whom, shy Philippe, secretly adores Alienor. The deadline for completion of the tapestries is moved up, and tension increases as all concentrate on the task. The major characters' reactions to their world-early 1490s France-are revealed, like the tapestries being woven, a little at a time. The French court and its aristocracy; Flemish weavers, their work ethic, and their powerful guild-all are delineated with the consummate skill Chevalier brought to Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutton, 2000).-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
A series of six tapestries depicting a lady seducing a unicorn now hang in the Musee National du Moyen Age in Paris. Although these tapestries --- created in the late fifteenth century --- are some of the most famous in the world, very little is known about their creation or their history. Tracy Chevalier, the novelist best known for writing the perennial book club favorite (and new feature film) GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, has used her rich imagination to weave together romance, humor and art history in THE LADY AND THE UNICORN.
Chevalier starts with one of the few facts that is actually known about the tapestries: they were created for the nobleman Jean Le Viste, whose family coat of arms features prominently in their design. In Chevalier's portrayal, Le Viste is a power-hungry nobleman with close ties to the king. He wants tapestries depicting the glories of war, but the artist, Nicolas des Innocents --- who specializes in portraits of noblewomen --- convinces Le Viste that a series of tapestries about courtly love will still bring glory to the Le Viste name.
Nicolas himself is a womanizer --- the novel opens from his point of view, and we quickly learn that his amorous sights are set on Le Viste's teenage daughter, Claude. Much to the reader's surprise (and delight), when Claude narrates the next section of the novel we learn that she is just as lustful as Nicolas, and her prose just as bawdy. Needless to say, when Claude's family discovers their flirtation, her mother (who wants to be a nun) must concoct a plan to keep the would-be lovers apart. Claude is banished to a convent and Nicolas is sent to Brussels to supervise the weaving of the tapestries there.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I read THE LADY AND THE UNICORN in one sitting, on a plane ride to Europe, and couldn't put it down. History has always fascinated me, and the story of Claude, nobleman's daughter. I found it amazing how Tracy Chevalier was able to take one tapestry and create an entire story about it. She builds upon what is already known to create a piece of fiction that seems almost real unto itself. I always marvel at Chevalier's works, as her language is descriptive to a fault, and doesn't assume an air of modernity which can be found in many historical novels written in the present time. I thought this was a well crafted book, the way McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD is, or perhaps the novel GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING. The writing is first-rate and right on the money. Do yourself a favor and buy this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, but scandalous! July 19 2004
By ekati89
Format:Hardcover
This is a really well-written, beautifully descriptive, accurate, and exciting novel. Don't be put off by the fact that it's about a tapestry, because it's not a technical, boring book. It's all about the people that help create the tapestry.
It takes place in 1490, in Paris, when a nobleman commissions Nicholas des Innocents to draw the designs for a tapestry. Nicholas is a bit of a womanizer; and after realizing on the 2nd page that the maid he slept with last time is pregnant, he turns around and falls in love with the nobleman's daughter, Claude. Claude can't marry him, so she is sent to a convent temporarily while Nicholas goes to Brussels to see the tapestry being made. Nicholas meets the weaver and his family, and falls in love with the weaver's blind daughter, Alienor. Although it sounds like a shallow love story, it is not. Each chapter is written by a different character; of course Nicholas, Claude, and Alienor have their chapters, but the weaver, the nobleman, and Claude's mother all have their own chapters that tell their stories and problems. Since Tracy Chevalier is such a skilled author, the chapters flow very well, even though the character voice shifts. The ending is spectacular; it ties up all of the loose ends very neatly, but doesn't give a cheesy, predictable ending.
The descriptions in the book are gorgeous; you can immediately visualize the setting of late-medieval/early renaissance Europe. They are never too detailed that they slow the plot down. One word of caution: since the descriptions go into so much detail, that means that the love scenes are rather graphic. It seems like a fairly innocent book, but don't be fooled. It's definitely not porn or even close, but there are some scenes that can be a bit shocking if you're not expecting them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Chevalier surpassed all my expectations July 18 2004
Format:Hardcover
I read this book in one sitting, on a plane ride to Europe, and couldn't put it down. History has always fascinated me, and the story of Claude, nobleman's daughter. I found it amazing how Tracy Chevalier was able to take one tapestry and create an entire story about it. She builds upon what is already known to create a piece of fiction that seems almost real unto itself. I always marvel at Chevalier's works, as her language is descriptive to a fault, and doesn't assume an air of modernity which can be found in many historical novels written in the present time.
Although The Lady and the Unicorn is, indeed, very similar to Chevalier's earlier novels, Falling Angels and Girl With a Pearl Earring, there are several things which make this novel stand apart from the rest. Chevalier perfects her art with each book she writes. The Lady and the Unicorn is historically more accurate, and extends beyond the artwork or historical milieu. Often it is tempting to wonder about something that is not known, and Chevalier toys with her subject (the tapestry and the people involved) to create a masterpiece.
In all, this is a highly enjoyable, exciting piece of literature that shouldn't be missed. Tracy Chevalier supassed my expectations of her.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars RICH AND BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED HISTORICAL FICTION
I discovered this author when I purchased a used copy of her first novel, The Girl With a Pearl Earring. I have now read almost all of her works to date. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs Leslie B Van de Laar
4.0 out of 5 stars another great Tracy Chevalier read
I enjoyed this book because I was going to France and Belgium and found the history of making the tapestries extremely interesting. Read more
Published 15 months ago by EA Dodd
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
This story is set in medieval/Renaissance France

A rich Paris merchant, commissions a young portrait artist better know for his womanizing to design dramatic tapestries... Read more
Published on July 9 2007 by Toni Osborne
5.0 out of 5 stars Woven delights
Boy, I wasn't ready for this one! Tracy Chevalier's tale of an artist and his dallying with the servants is a subtle study in power plays, moray of the past, and sexy and... Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2004 by Jacques
5.0 out of 5 stars THE LADY AND THE UNICORN
Like a good deal of people I came to this book via "Girl With a Pearl Earring." Now I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Chevalier. Read more
Published on July 28 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Can't go wrong with this one
Chevalier writes much better female characters than men. Still, this book is a great read. While I liked "Girl with a Pearl Earring" slightly better, this book comes in... Read more
Published on June 30 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Chevalier does it again.
What the Girl With the Pearl Earring was to painting, The Lady and the Unicorn is to weaving. Beautifully told, through the varying viewpoints of the main characters. Read more
Published on June 29 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Form follows function
The form of this book was what was most unique about it--each chapter is told by a different character. But aside from that, the writing also stood out. Read more
Published on June 15 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly good
I have never had any interest in tapestries. Having read all the great reviews, I was curious if I'd find The Lady and the Unicorn interesting at all, or if I would be ground into... Read more
Published on June 12 2004 by semi_sweet_nell
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
This was just a great book. I read it after Tracy's Girl with a Pearl Earring. In this book, there are a cast of characters that all have a chapter or chapters told from their... Read more
Published on June 11 2004 by Sarah
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