The Seven Lady Godivas is an adult illustrated novel – written and illustrated by Dr Seuss – that was originally published in 1939 and then republished in 1987. The novel tells the story of seven Godiva sisters, none of whom ever wear clothing. Wacky, scandalous and oddly unerotic despite the sketches of the nude ladies scattered all over the book, this novel would still make you wonder if you ever actually outgrew Dr. Seuss.
“You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink”
I am sure you have heard of this, but did you know that it is one of “horse truths”?
Enter Dr Seuss with his adult illustrated novel The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family. The novel that was first published way back in 1939, provides an account of seven lady Godivas in 11th century Coventry in attempt to explore (horseplay around) the origins of celebrated proverbs – “horse truths” in Seuss’ lingo.
He declares very early on in the book that ‘there was not one but seven lady Godivas and their nakedness was not actually a thing of shame” referring to the English woman Lady Godiva from the early 11th century that rode naked on the streets to gain a remission on Earl’s (her husband’s) exploitative tax practices.
Wacky, scandalous and oddly unerotic (despite the sketches of the nude ladies scattered all over the book), this novel would still make you wonder if you ever actually outgrew Dr. Seuss.
It’s interesting to note that the novel wasn’t successful when it was first launched way back in 1939. In fact, only 2500 copies from the initial print run of 10000, were sold, leading to Seuss calling it his ‘greatest failure’.
Sometimes the abundance of the sketches of the nude ladies does seem like a cheap titillating tactic, but believe me, this book is more than that.
You just got to put your ‘horse sense’ to work.
The Seven Lady Godivas: Summary and Plot Analysis
Lord Godiva of Coventry has deep admiration for his seven daughters, who do not wear clothes because ‘they chose not to disguise what they are’. He summons them to the castle to bid them goodbye before his departure for the battle of Hastings on a horseback which leaves the sisters nervous considering that the beast hasn’t been tamed yet.
Rightly so, they are proven right in a few moments when the horse Nathan throws him off itself – leading to the man’s instant death.
The sisters vow to study and chart horses and refrain from marriage till each one of them have a horse truth, a truth that makes horses safe for posterity.
This leaves the ‘Peeping’ brothers, the ones dating the seven lady godivas with nothing but a long wait ahead of them. The sisters set off for the truth one after the other and through a series of adventures and misfortunes, eventually come to an understanding about how this majestic beast operates.
Every proverbs that you may have heard till date, including ‘don’t put a cart before a horse’, ‘never change horses in the middle of the stream’ and so on… you would be truly amazed to see how Dr. Seuss has spun up stories around the proverbs to make sense of them.
Want to read The Seven Lady Godivas?
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Why I Love The Seven Lady Godivas
On the surface this book might seem like a very simple tale, maybe even a little sleazy looking at the illustrations, but beware, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Dive a little deeper and there are parallels that we can draw between the horse truths and our own, and how each of the godiva ladies and their adventures to find the horse truths, have a hidden message somewhere.
Sometimes serious and sometimes downright funny. Consider Dorcas Godiva for example, she thinks she must research her subject extensively and approach it a scientific way to pave a straight forward but sure shot way to get to her horse truth fast.
After trying a variety of options with the horse cart and being engaged in the “in the greatest horse-and-tree conflict that Coventry has ever known.”, she comes to realize – ‘never put a cart before a horse’.
So many times, in our lives we are so focused on the results that we end up underplaying the importance of our means to get there, only to realize in the aftermath that our mad race screwed up our priorities somewhere along the way.
Consider Arabella Godiva on the other hand, in her quest to uncover her horse truth, she overworks her horse so much that he ends up becoming a drunken bum. And when she stages an intervention by making him drink water from the pump, guess what?
The horse says-“I’ll die before I touch it.” And he does.
Does it remind you of a friend or a loved one that was completely unresponsive to your pleas to ‘do it in moderation’?
How many times have you felt the frustration of ‘sermon’-ing when there was no
response on the other sides.
The characters themselves are a window to the variety of people that we meet in our daily lives and depending on our preferences, we associate with.
Consider Lord Godiva, a liberal but an unprepared moron, Teenie Godiva, an overweight and a curious lady that took her chances even when the going was grim, Dorcas Godiva, uncertainty-averse and a meticulously prepared woman, Hedwig Godiva , an incredibly loyal , dedicated and tenacious woman that didn’t take short cuts, and wanted to do things the right away.
They all remind us of someone… or maybe ourselves.
We all have a little godiva in us, don’t we?