Kelsey's Reviews > The Lady and the Unicorn

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
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Apr 20, 2008

really liked it
Read in May, 2008

Tracy Chevalier
The Lady and the Unicorn
New York: Penguin, 2004
250 pp. $23.95
“The Lady and the Unicorn,” written by Tracy Chevalier, is a historical fiction novel about medieval French tapestries which depict a woman seducing a unicorn. Although not much is known about the tapestries, Tracy Chevalier has written an excellent love story based on the few known facts. Jean Le Viste, a French nobleman, commissions a Parisian painter, Nicolas des Innocents, to create a set of six tapestries. Set in France, the story travels between Paris and Brussels, where the tapestries are being weaved. Meanwhile Nicolas becomes caught between three women, yet the one he loves most is Claude, the daughter of Jean Le Viste. However they are separated by society, prohibited to even walk on the same side of the street together. Because of pressures from family, Claude undergoes an emotional transformation throughout the novel.
Being the first born, Claude plays a crucial role in securing the Le Viste name around the Court. Jean Le Viste was not born to noble status, rather he earned his way in. To maintain the family name Claude must marry into another royal family, causing her parents to shelter her from ineligible men. Nicolas des Innocents is popular with the ladies and becomes very fond of Claude during several encounters at the Le Viste household. When Jean Le Viste’s wife, Genevieve De Nanterre, sees that Claude has fallen in love with Nicolas, she does everything in her power to isolate them from each other. She states, “Claude knows only too well how valuable her maidenhead is to the Le Vistes-she must be intact for a worthy man to marry her” (Chevalier 56). But to ensure Claude will not lose her maidenhead, Genevieve De Nanterre banishes Claude to the convent until she is to become betrothed.
While at the convent Claude spends numerous months in solidarity, reflecting on her love for Nicolas. There she lives modestly, sleeping on a straw mattress surely not fit for a queen. Though joining the convent is truly her mother’s dream, not Claude’s. Genevieve De Nanterre thinks, “It would be a mercy to let me enter a convent” (51). Genevieve dreams of entering the convent someday, and to be free from her loveless marriage. When Claude is welcomed back home for her engagement party, she stubbles upon Nicolas. Nonetheless he has already noticed she is not the same person she used to be, recalling, “Her eyes were still like quinces but they were not as lively as they had been” (239). Claude’s stay at the convent had mellowed her soul and all enthusiasm had been lost.
“The Lady and the Unicorn” is an exciting tale of secret love. Chevalier does an exceptional job combining French vocabulary, French culture, and imagery to portray a reliable account of what might have been during the time period. The emotional changes Claude faces during the story sheds light on pressures felt from family and society and the different standards noblewomen are held to.
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03/05/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by Jane C O'Keefe (new)

Jane C O'Keefe This is the best summary and review I've read about this novel! Thai you!!

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