As a child, I adored Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline books, about a little girl in Paris who lived in a convent school and got into fun adventures. I loved the rhymes and rhythms of the writing. I loved how funny and tender the books were. And most of all, I loved the illustrations (also by Bemelmans), so simple yet sweet.
Until recently, I had no idea that Bemelmans, who died in 1962, also wrote stories for adults. A number of them are compiled in When you Lunch with the Emperor, a collection of essays and illustrations by Bemelmans. The stories mostly center on his adventures working at the “Hotel Splendide” (really the Ritz-Carlton) in New York. He details the different characters he works with, his different adventures, etc., but
in reading the book, it becomes clear that Bemelmans was better suited writing for children.
Many of the stories are fun, including one in which Bemelmans and his daughter, Barbara, conspire to sneak their new dog, Little Bit, onto a cruise ship without having to keep the animal in the kennel area. Yet generally these stories don’t have the life and poetry of the Madeline books. They just don’t make the same connection.
The one area where the book doesn’t disappoint at all is in its
illustrations. Simple, broad line drawings of the various characters in his
stories, Bemelmans' illustrations are always funny and charming. They make the
book worth a look for those who love Bemelsmans’ children’s books.
But overall, even adults would probably still enjoy Madeline more than these stories.