The Knave of Hearts

I have featured hearts in random ways for Valentine’s Day posts in the past: heart-shaped maps, the heart-in-hand motif, hearts seized by love during the Renaissance, hearts as emblems, the Queen of Hearts. This week I’m featuring one of her Wonderland associates—sort of–the knave of hearts: the title character of a beautiful book written by Louise Saunders (wife of editor extraordinaire Max Perkins), illustrated by Maxfield Parrish at the height of his powers, and published in 1925 in a large quarto encased in a black paper box with a gold printed title. This was Parrish’s last illustration commission, and he worked on the plates for three years, a labor of friendship for his (Cornish, NH) neighbor Louise. In typical Parrish fashion, the illustrations are positively luminous and their colors deeply saturated, but they also bear a sense of whimsy and the “everday,” as he supposedly featured items from his own household. The text presents a play, commencing with a raised curtain and involving tarts, of course, and not only is the title character—clad in “Parrish blue”—not a knave at all, but a chivalrous hero, whose theft is a plot designed to mask the shaky baking skills of the beautiful Lady Violetta.

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The Knave: All my life I have had a craving for tarts of any kind. There is something in my nature that demands tarts—something in my constitution that cries out for them—and I obey my constitution as rigidly as does the Chancellor seek to obey his. I was in the garden reading, as is my habit, when a delicate odor floated to my nostrils, a persuasive odor, a seductive, light brown, flaky odor, an odor so enticing, so suggestive of tarts fit for the gods—- that I could stand it no longer. It was stronger than I. With one gesture I threw reputation, my chances for future happiness, to the winds, and leaped through the window. The odor led me to the oven; I seized a tart, and, eating it, experienced the one perfect moment of my existence. After having eaten that one tart, my craving for other tarts has disappeared. I shall live with the memory of that first tart before me forever, or die content, having tasted true perfection.

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The Knave of Hearts: An alternative Wonderland in a book by Louise Saunders with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.


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