Monday, June 30, 2014

Melusine, or never on a Saturday

Apologies for absence on the blogging front; a visiting sister and other distractions are my partial excuse.  I have, however, deadline cleaving as ever, on this the last day of June and final day for submission, managed to make something other than knitting and complete my offering to Clive Hicks-Jenkins' latest Artlog challenge, and made a puppet complying with the theme of myths and legends.

I chose the mythical figure of Melusine, who is something of a favourite of mine. I was determined to make her from old felted jumpers, old t-shirts, scraps of wool and other textile and knitting related materials which were waste or which I had already, and knowing I would leave the making of her quite late and be short of time, and that sewing to any kind of perfectionist standard often discourages and deters me from finishing things, I would deliberately make her in a rough and improvisational manner. In fact on researching the story, I learned that one of the best known versions of it from the Middle Ages was that of Jean d'Arras, and was part of a cycle of stories designed to be told by ladies at their spinning and needlework, which seemed appropriate.

The tale goes that Raymond of Poitou, founder of the House of Lusignan, came across a beautiful woman, Melusine, in the forest one day.

Instantly smitten, he proposed marriage, and she was happy to consent, only exacting the condition that he should never seek to find her on a Saturday. She bore him many fine children and brought him much wealth but of course, in myth as in life, if you make someone promise things like that the one thing they want to do is break the taboo and find out.  Raymond had to go looking, and found Melusine at her Saturday ablutions (sometimes simply in the bath at home, sometimes in a forest pool or spring, the kind of place associated with her).

Oh dear, she was all serpentine from the waist down, and, many of the tales say, with a double tail!

Raymond was shocked, as was Melusine.

Then she was furious.

But also deeply saddened. Jean d'Arras has her say the words:

Ah! Raymond, the day when I first saw you was for me a day of sadness! Alas! for my bane I saw your grace, your charm, your beautiful face. For my sadness I desired your beauty, for you have so ignobly betrayed me. Though you have failed in your promise, I had pardoned you from the bottom of my heart for having tried to see me, not even speaking of it to you, for you revealed it to no one. And God would have pardoned it you, for you would have done penance for it in this world. Alas! my beloved now our love is changed to hate, our tenderness to cruelty, our pleasures and joys to tears and weeping, our happiness to great misfortune and hard calamity. Alas, my beloved, had you not betrayed me I were saved from my pains and my torments, I would have lived life's natural course as a normal woman, I would have died in the normal way, with all the sacraments of the Church, I would have been buried in the church of Notre-Dame de Lusignan and commemorative masses would have been observed for me, as they should. But now you have plunged me back into the dark penitence I have known so long, for my fault. And this penitence, I must bear it until Judgement Day, for you have betrayed me. I pray God to pardon you.

And she showed such remorse that there is no heart in the world so hardened it would not have relented.

Though some say she forgave him his curiosity and for seeing her, but couldn't do so when later in a public row he called her a serpent.  

She resumed her serpent form and disappeared back into the forest, never to be seen again.  But she got to found the royal house of Luxembourg first, anyway.

She appears in many stories and images, too many to link to here, but I'm still enjoying following up lines of research about her, and is perhaps unusual in being an indigenous French myth, of which there aren't too many.  She's an admirably feisty woman, certainly. 

Many thanks to my lovely sister for puppeteering, and to Tom for tolerating the puppet Melusine in the house, as she totally creeps him out!


Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Melusine is rocking with the snaky red locks and that fabulous blue, double-tail. It's quite a 'come hither look she's giving us. though her tantrum looks awesome! I think Tom must be so turned on by her that he thinks it safer to keep his distance. Men can be like that!

You are not the only one to have chosen the legend of Melusine as nspiration for the Puppet Challenge. In both incarnations she's definitely a girl to be reckoned with.

Jean said...

She's fabulous, especially lolling in the wash-basin. How talented you are, Lucy!

marja-leena said...

Wow! Melusine is new to me and I'm delighted to meet this temperamental siren. Great job, Lucy!

Ellena said...

She is so very seductive, flame-haired and all....
My thumbs are up for your well-done project, Lucy.

Roderick Robinson said...

Thank Tom for legitimising my misgivings. This historical detail is all very well but Melusine is - in the end - a marionette and thus doomed to freak me out too. I wonder why. It must be something to do with one entity controlling another; that without your fingers Melusine flops around as if suffering from one of those terrible neural degeneration diseases. Oh dear, am I raining on your parade?

Stravinsky gets it right in Petrushka. The crowd watching the action is initially engaged then horrified when things turn out badly. They drift away. The showman, desperate for his collection, says: Look, these aren't real people, just straw and stuffing. As if anyone drawn to the animation would be comforted by that.

It seems I've passed on the gene. Many years ago, VR walking Ian, our very young grandson, through the pedestrian area in Kingston, came upon a puppet display. Then noticed that Ian was taking a very long way round, getting as far as possible away from the stringed folk.

There's a link too with clowns, I think. The adult assumption that they're supposed to be funny and therefore must be funny. Children often react quite differently, and that initial reaction can stick.

I'm embarrassed that we're so far apart here, Lucy. Please go out and photograph some Dyna-Panhards to make things right again.

Lyse said...

Voilà une belle légende, j'ai vu les ruines du château de Mélusine dans le Poitou.
Ta Mélusine est goulue , et très féminine , tu la représente avec une poitrine généreuse . Quelle belle imagination !

the polish chick said...

sorry, i'm with tom. i do like the snow one, though!

but the tails are fabulous!

Jean said...

Gosh, I had no idea about this antipathy to string puppets, which seems to be kind of like antipathy to spiders... I had several Pelham puppets and loved them as a kid, so clearly never suffered from this.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

She is very scrappy and rough really, but I wanted to see what appeared making her from scratch with little planning and what came to hand.

The aversion to puppets, and indeed dolls, of various kinds seems to be quite widespread. One of Rilke's Duino Elegies contains much about his dislike and ambiguous feelings about them and what they might represent. Personally I hate ventriloquists' dummies, though I can't imagine anyone is very repelled by soft toy glove puppets. Clowns are invariably creepy too, as Stephen King exploited in 'It', which I think might also have had overtones of Ronald McDonald.

Lyse - les petits boutons qui agissent des mamelons sont les rested de ceux que j'ai mis sur le petit pull en coton que tu as dèja vu!

Rouchswalwe said...

Like Jean, I had several Pelham puppets and I must say that I am enchanted by this Melusine. Seems that Goethe had something to say about her, too.

Your puppet is very cool with the lips slightly off center. The double tail and rough edges. We need a theme song for her ...

Francesca said...

What a fantastic expression she has! x