April 9, 2020

L is for Lean and Licked

        (My theme for this year’s A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.  Don’t forget that you can find the Master List of A-Z participants here.  There’s lots of good stuff to explore!)

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so, between the two of them,
They licked the platter clean.

        Jack and Rosie could never agree on ground beef, but were otherwise extremely happy.
        This is one of my favorites, but it does irk me severely when husbands have names and wives don’t, so I named Mrs Sprat “Rosie.”  I later found one of the older versions of the rhyme that has lots of verses, and which gave Mrs Sprat the maiden name Joan Cole.  (Does she descend from royalty?)  Oh well.  I like "Rosie" better anyway.
        Sometimes you’ll see illustrations in which the Sprats look hostile towards each other, like this second one.  I’m amused that it shows Mrs Sprat actually licking the platter, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that a very angry-looking Mr Sprat is shoving her head as he tries to pry the platter away from her, chair kicked over in the scuffle.
I disagree with this interpretation; I think it’s clear that these two complement one another.  It makes me think of my husband and me, who, although we’re certainly not diametric opposites, do have lots of differences.  In my illustration I tried to arrange the whole composition in opposites of light and dark to celebrate this.
        Jack is pretty much always depicted skinny, and his wife fat, and I didn’t disagree in my illustration (at least partly because my husband happens to be tall and skinny).  You can see a particularly extreme version in the third illustration, which is delightfully different from the usual table scene.  (Remember that you can always click on the pictures to see them bigger.)
However, it occurs to me that you could rearrange cause and effect, and argue that if Jack
could eat no fat it was because he was on a diet trying to lose weight, while skinny Rosie was
on a weight-gaining diet.  The one thing about Jack’s appearance that we should be consistent on is that he should be quite short, since “Sprat” is (or was at the time) a nickname for someone short.  Nevertheless, most illustrators seem to make him tall and skinny, although he seems somewhat shorter in the oldest illustrations.
        I end with a couple of older illustrations that I particularly like.  In one the Sprats are quite modishly dressed and clearly live in a very genteel home, with neoclassical fireplace and
elegant table spread.  The other is too small to have much detail, but I think Rosie has a particularly pleasant expression, putting us a little closer to the happy couple I always imagine.
        How do you imagine this couple: incompatible opposites or perfect complements?
        A final note for impressionable children: Don’t lick your platter at the dining room table; it’s more polite to carry it into the kitchen before licking it.

[pictures: Jack Sprat & His Wife Rosie, rubber block print by AEGN, 2001 (Image from my book);
Wood engraving from Mother Goose’s Melodies, published by C.S. Francis and Company, nineteenth century (Image from International Children’s Digital Library);
Illustration from Mother Goose’s Complete Melodies, published by M.A. Donohue, c 1886 (Image from Hathi Trust);
Wood block print from Nursery Rhymes published by W. Walker and Son, 1830 (Image from Internet Archive);
Wood block print from A Collection of Nursery Rhymes published by Oliver & Boyd, c 1820 (Image from Presscom).]


Kathe W. said...

Fun post! And as for licking the platter we used to let the dog do that! Cheers!

Sue Bursztynski said...

An interesting variety of pictures! Well done on yours. I do like that smiling Jack, and can’t help wondering what sort of creature he is.

JazzFeathers said...

REally enjoyed this post. I never imagined a fiw lines could be dissected this way. There's a lot to infer from only a few lines.
I also like the illustrations a lot. Yours is really beautiful.

The Old Shelter - Living the Twenties

Jenny said...

I've always thought this poem was so mean to Mrs. Sprat. I'm glad you gave her a name and a pleasant expression! And the Sprats are holding hands :-)

Kristin said...

I never knew sprat meant short. Interesting. I always thought they were perfect couple, eating everything between them.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I think this is a rhyme about a happy marriage. And I like Rosie better too! :D

The Multicolored Diary

Frédérique said...

Haha, love your final note ;))
L is for Landscapes

Jade Li said...

I love how you did it. Yours looks like a happy home. I always thought of them as complementing each other, where their varied diets left no waste.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Kristin and Jade, you're right about the importance of not wasting anything. My mother, for one, would certainly approve!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I like your illustration the best :-)

An A-Z of Faerie: Galno