If you follow us on Twitter, you might notice that we couldn't help posting bits from Jules Renard's charming and inventive collection of observations of the natural world, Histoires Naturelles or Nature Stories. They were just too delightful not to share. Where writers often seek to make the world strange in order to enable us to experience it afresh, Renard's gift is to domesticate the by-definition inhuman. His patently false imaginings of animals' inner lives paradoxically grant them their own realities—realities that Renard's writings help us to understand that we can never understand. And beyond that, they will make you gasp with the wonder of this gifted and too-little-known writer's wholely fresh way of putting into words everything he observes.
To celebrate the book's official on-sale date, we can finally let you in on some longer excerpts, accompanied by the illustrations that Pierre Bonnard drew for the 1904 edition of the book.
And if, like us, you aren't satisfied with just one book by Jules Renard, then you must run out and buy the selection of his Journals translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget and published by Tin House Books.
They’re suddenly relaxing their springs. That’s how they take exercise.
They’re leaping out of the grass like heavy drops of frying oil.
They pose, like bronze paperweights, on large water lilies.
One of them is soaking in air. Through his mouth, you could drop a coin into the money box of his stomach.
They rise like sighs, out of the mud.
Motionless, with their large eyes level with the water, they seem like growths on the flat pond.
Squatting like tailors, they’re yawning, stupefied at the setting sun.
Then, like street vendors deafening people as they yell, they croak the latest news items of the day.
They’re giving a party this evening, at home. Can’t you hear them polishing the glasses?
Sometimes, they snap up an insect.
Others are only interested in love.
I went into the wood at one end of the avenue as he was coming in at the other.
At first I thought a stranger had just come in, wearing a plant on top of his head.
Then I could see the little dwarf tree spreading out its leafless branches.
Finally the stag came plainly into sight, and we both came to a halt.
“Don’t be afraid, come closer,” I said. “I’m carrying a gun, but it’s just pretense, I’m only imitating people who take themselves too seriously. I never use it, and I’ve left the cartridges in a drawer at home.
The stag was listening to me and sniffing.
When I stopped talking, he didn’t hesitate: his legs moved like twirling twigs blown by a gust of wind. He fled.
“What a shame!” I shouted after him. “I was already dreaming that we’d go off together. I was going to pick all sorts of grass that you particularly like and offer them to you. And you’d be walking along beside me, carrying my gun on your antlers.”