Summary and book reviews of The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

The Lady and the Unicorn

By Tracy Chevalier

The Lady and the Unicorn
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2004,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2005,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Nicolas des Innocents

The messenger said I was to come at once. That's how Jean Le Viste is—he expects everyone to do what he says immediately.

And I did. I followed the messenger, stopping just briefly to clean my brushes. Commissions from Jean Le Viste can mean food on the table for weeks. Only the King says no to Jean Le Viste, and I am certainly no king.

On the other hand, how many times have I rushed across the Seine to the rue du Four, only to come back again with no commission? It's not that Jean Le Viste is a fickle man—on the contrary, he is as sober and hard as his beloved Louis XI once was. Humorless too. I never jest with him. It's a relief to escape his house to the nearest tavern for a drink and a laugh and a grope to restore my spirits.

He knows what he wants. But sometimes when I come to discuss yet another coat of arms to decorate the chimney, or to paint on his wife's carriage door, or to work into a bit of stained glass for ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Lady and the Unicorn is based on real tapestries of the same name. Does the knowledge that The Lady and the Unicorn is based on real events and people affect your reading? If so, how?

  2. The novel is structured around the making of the tapestries, from their conception to their completion. The lives of the people involved in their creation are altered. What does this suggest about the interconnectedness of life and art?

  3. In The Lady and the Unicorn, each character has a different understanding of the function of art. Is it, as Claude believes "to imitate life" or is it as Nicolas des Innocents suggests, "to make things more beautiful than they are?"

  4. In Girl with a Pearl Earring and in...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times Book Review - Wendy Smith

Although the premise of ''The Lady and the Unicorn'' superficially resembles that of 'Girl With a Pearl Earring', the more important similarity lies in their author's ability to populate a period setting with subtly rendered, surprisingly complex characters.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

Tracy Chevalier's approach to fiction is so methodical that she threatens to turn writing about art into a science. Her latest novel, like her Girl With a Pearl Earring, selects a masterpiece and then weaves a story to describe its provenance

Publishers Weekly

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....If any of Chevalier's novels has a chance to match the success of Girl with a Pearl Earring, it's this one.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

... a luminous tale about a set of medieval tapestries known as the Lady and the Unicorn sequence.... Chevalier meticulously describes the complex process of creating a tapestry, from its conception to the moment it is pulled off the loom. The story she weaves is as lush as the tapestries she describes, and her colorful characters leap off the page. A romantic, beautiful book.

Kirkus Reviews

Marvelously imagined and sharply constructed, with a good feel for the people and the era a fascinating portrait of the intersection of life and art.

Reader Reviews
Jacky LORETTE

Mary Tudor - Suffolk, the mysterious Lady of The Lady and the Unicorn ?
Mary Tudor - Suffolk, the mysterious Lady of The Lady and the Unicorn ? You will see, with The Lady and the Unicorn, we are far from the simple interpretation usually known of the Five Senses ! The tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn were ...   Read More

Darmanian Le'Phayle

Le Paris C'ontre
DAR ABRAHAMOVICH! Magnificent! Splendid! The alliteration can't be beaten! The imagination blows one's mind! Everyone has to read this.

veronica

This is the third book of Tracy Chevalier's that I've read and I've loved all of them. (Girl With a Pearl Earring and Falling Angels) She has such a unique writing style. I highly recommend her books!

Charlie

This is a great book.I loved it from the start to the finish. In fact it was so good, I couldn't wait for lunch times to come round or to get home from work, so that I could pick up the book and get submerged once again in this 15th century medieval ...   Read More

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