Appreciate Crafty Literary

An extract on Cocker Spaniels

From The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery… >>>

From The Elegance of the Hedgehog (French: L’Élégance du hérisson), a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery. Published in English, September 2008.


Neptune belongs to the Badoises, or more precisely, to Mademoiselle Badoise, who is studying for her law degree in Assas, and who organizes soirées with other cocker spaniel owners studying for law degrees in Assas.

I am very fond of Neptune. Yes, we appreciate each other a great deal, no doubt because of that state of grace that is attained when one’s feelings are immediately accessible to another creature’s. Neptune can sense that I love him; his multiple desires are perfectly clear to me. What charms me about the whole business is that he stubbornly insists on remaining a dog, whereas his mistress would like to make a gentleman of him. When he goes out into the courtyard, he runs to the very very end of his leash and stares covetously at the puddles of muddy water idling before him. His mistress has only to give one jerk to his yoke for him to lower his hindquarters down onto the ground, and with no further ado he will set to licking his attributes. The sight of Athena, the Meurisses’ ridiculous whippet, causes Neptune to stick his tongue out like a lubricious satyr and pant in anticipation, his head filled with phantasms. What is particularly amusing about cocker spaniels is their swaying gait when they are in a playful mood: it’s as if they had tiny little springs screwed to their paws that cause them to bounce upward—but gently, without jolting. This also affects their paws and ears like the rolling of a ship, so cocker spaniels, like jaunty little vessels plying dry land, lend a nautical touch to the urban landscape: utterly enchanting.

Ultimately, however, Neptune is a greedy glutton who’ll do anything for a scrap of turnip or a crust of stale bread. When his mistress leads him past the garbage can room, he pulls frenetically in the direction of said room, tongue lolling, tail wagging madly. Diane Badoise despairs of such behavior. To her distinguished soul it seems that one’s dog should be like the young ladies of antebellum high society in Savannah in the Confederate South, who could scarcely find a husband unless they feigned to have no appetite whatsoever.

But instead, Neptune carries on as if he were some famished Yankee.