April 25, 2020

V is for Victuals

        (My theme for this year’s A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.)

There was an old woman, and what do you think?
She lived upon nothing but victuals and drink!
Victuals and drink were the chief of her diet,
And yet this old woman could never be quiet.

        I feel that this old woman and I have a lot in common.  I, too, count victuals and drink as the chief of my diet.  This verse belongs to a class of nursery rhymes that state truisms, although this one goes on with the further information that the old woman never shuts up.  It definitely sounds like it’s putting a negative spin on her, which seems a little harsh.
        I am mildly amused by the truism, as intended, but it does seem a little difficult to illustrate in an interesting way.  What can you really do except show an old woman eating?  This first illustration also tries to get at her constant chattering, not only with the open mouth (which could also be for eating, of course), but also with the parrot.  She seems to be conversing with the cat, as well.  (If that is even a cat.  It almost looks more like a huge rat.)  The second illustration gives the woman a delightfully enthusiastic expression as she tucks in, a servant bringing on the next course.  The third illustration shows the woman surrounded by vast quantities of meat.  These
all seem to want to emphasize the amount of victuals the woman is feasting on, as though she’s unusually gluttonous.  This again seems to be an unfair negative spin, as she may be unusually garrulous, but as far as I can tell her diet is no different from any other mortal’s.
        Do you think there’s some intrinsic connection between eating food and talking a lot?  (There’s certainly a strong correlation between eating no food and not talking.)
        A final note for impressionable children: Make sure your victuals include a much higher ratio of vegetables to meat than these pictures show.

[Pictures: Wood engraving from Mother Goose’s Melodies, published by C.S. Francis and Company, 1833 (Image from Internet Archive);
Color wood block print by Walter Crane from The Absurd A.B.C., engraved and printed by Edmund Evans, c 1874 (Image from Internet Archive);
Illustration by J.F. Goodridge from The Original Mother Goose Melodies with Silhouette Illustrations, 1878 (Image from International Children’s Digital Library).]

13 comments:

Frédérique said...

I like the second illustration, more joyful than the other. But I don't get the point of this rhyme.

Kathe W. said...

oh my the first image is probably the most actual rendition for the poem. The second is certainly more attractive ,but I think that eating machine woman matches the first image. Have a lovely day and I'll be back on Monday!

John Holton said...

Them are some vittles, ain't they?

I think when people eat, they relax, and when they relax, they naturally feel like talking. The poem itself says nothing about how much she eats, or that the woman is necessarily obese. Maybe because she lives only on food and drink everyone assumes she's huge...

Wes Ikezoe said...

Amusing, entertaining, and enlightening as always. I can hardly wait for the next letter.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I’with John! This is why people enjoy going out to dinner in groups. If you just sit and eat, what’s the point?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Frédérique, the point of the rhyme is the joke (admittedly a very mild joke) that you're setting up like you're going to have some great story or revelation, and then you say something completely obvious that everyone knows. There are several others in a similar vein.

John and Sue, I definitely agree that good meals and good conversations go together! When you consider that it seems really odd that in all these illustrations the woman seems to be dining alone, with only pets to talk to in the first, and probably not conversing with the server in the second.

Jade Li said...

It's funny that her mouth is open in all 3. Is victuals dead animal food? It sure looks like it in the pictures. I like the expression on her face in the 2nd one.

J Lenni Dorner said...

That second image has something hanging on the wall that, umm... well then, there you go. Odd with a children's rhyme.

I love how you wrote up this post though! It was the most fun one I've read today.

J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

Anne M Bray said...

Um, don't we all live on victuals and drink? I am confused. Haha.

Jenny said...

I'd never heard this rhyme, and the first illustration distressed me a bit :-) I am a meat-eater, but it's imperative for me to include vegetables in my victuals!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Yes, victuals simply means "food". So, why is the Old Woman portrayed as some sort of unusual glutton?
Why do all the illustrations show so much meat?
What sort of sausage is that thing on the wall that's distressing J?
Why is the Old Woman shown alone when we're all more likely to talk when we're eating with others?
SO MANY QUESTIONS! lol

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I am not sure what else you could live on other than victuals and drink...

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Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Maybe a tea party? Women eating, drinking, talking...

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