Today, I made myself a simple omelette for lunch. As I took the egg from its plastic container, an object with the colour of Egyptian sand and which reminded me irresistibly of the head of a bald man, I was jolted into the recognition of the intimate relationship the egg has with beauty. The egg has a simple, minimalist architecture and it seems to have perfect symmetry. Upon its surface, each egg has a unique stamp of features, its claim to variety. These claims to beauty are, of course, exploited in the famous Fabergé eggs which many people will think of in this relation, but I was myself reminded of Roald Dahl’s fascination with the aesthetic delight of the humble egg.
Roald Dahl had a collection of 172 birds’ eggs which were lovingly preserved in a glass cabinet with ten drawers. His collection ranged from a tiny wren’s egg to the eggs of hawks, gulls and carrion crows. Each had its own unique blend of colours and speckles. Dahl collected some from sheer cliff faces, others from the tops of tall trees. He wrote that he could always remember vividly how and where he had found each and every egg. A few months before he died, he added that he thought egg-collecting was “an enthralling hobby for a young boy and not, in my opinion, in the least destructive. To open a drawer and see thirty different very beautiful eggs nestling in their compartments on pink cotton-wool was a lovely sight.”
I wonder what lead Dahl to his mania for collecting eggs. The egg is clearly symbolic. It represents a perfect whole. It represents fertility, potential, new beginning, life. In many mythologies, gods and the world take birth within the egg. But, as Dahl himself writes, the egg also represents beauty. Dahl’s pursuit of the egg, his pride in his collection, the full signification of these things is lost in time. Yet, marvelling upon Nature’s construction of this wonderful, functional object, so fragile but so successful over the course of millions of years of evolution, I could not but think of the complicity of beauty in its capturing of Dahl’s desires.