I owe this post in its entirety to the kindly gentleman @Dezilvereneeuw who sent Philibert-Louis Debucourt’s reproduction work of ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ my way. This version, ‘La Rose Mal Défendue’, dates from 1791, the year Michel Garnier painted ‘The Letter’, his follow-up work to ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’.
The fantastic thing about Debucourt’s ‘Rose’ is the spin he’s put on the vignette. What’s different? First off, the lovers have been transported to the bedroom. The seduction appears to have been a fevered pursuit–our (anti) gentleman is practically yanking off the lady’s shawl. But–and this is so lovely–the lady is in possession of the rose. Is she going to give it away freely? Or will the gentleman overcome her? I do wonder; she has a coy expression. Methinks this lady doth not protest enough!
Debucourt’s foreground also mirrors Garnier’s. Almost every prop is in disarray, from the tipped chair and hat to the rumpled bedding and ribbon/sash spilling from a drawer. Interestingly, the book in Debucourt’s version is closed. @Dezilvereneeuw has pointed out that Garnier’s book is believed to be a songbook, which makes sense given the caged bird (does it sing?) and the lovers who will soon sing a song together. All and all I think I prefer the theme of Debucourt’s over Garnier’s. The 18th century was rife with depictions of women being taken advantage of, and it’s refreshing to see a lady with a bit more agency than a Pamela or a Clarissa.
What do my readers think? I’d love to hear it.
If you missed the post on Michel Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ and ‘The Letter’, find it here.
Garnier was court painter to the Duc de Chartes, later Phillipe Egalité, and was afterwards a pupil of premier peinture du roi, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre. His scenes are taken from aristocratic Parisian life and show up-to-date period fashion. Many of his vignettes, like the scenes below, focus on erotic and romantic sensibilities.
‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ is a companion piece to ‘The Letter’. One is executed in the moments prior to full seduction, just when the gentleman has been assured of his conquest. The background symbols in the ‘Rose’ indicate her impending loss of virtue. The vase on the floor is shattered. a book is splayed wide open, and a bird resides safely in its cage high up on the wall. The gentleman reaches the single blooming rose before she can demur, but her posture remains retractable. She not sure of what she’s doing, but the result is inevitable.
In ‘The Letter’, the gentleman has sent his lover a miniature portrait to gaze at in his absence. The letter, presumably, is full of excuses, as the young lady looks unimpressed by his offering. A posy of roses are set in a gilded vase, indicating multiple rendezvous between the lovers, but the lady’s dress is more somber, her hair grayer and tied with a yellow ribbon, no longer pinned with the blossoms of youth . Upon the young lady’s prompting, the older woman hunches over for a closer look and in the process knocks over an object on the tea service.
Garnier’s work has been compared with Louis-Léopold Boilly’s and Marguerite Gérard’s. Beyond being a genre painter, very little is known about his life.
In anticipation of an upcoming review I’ve been reading Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece. I’ll be posting the full review on December 16th, Jane Austen’s 237th birthday, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you an 18th century perspective that shows just how incredible the character of Elizabeth Bennet truly was.
Jane Austen started writing Pride and Prejudice in October 1796 at the age of twenty. She would no doubt have been exposed to the popular publications of the period, including the ever so entertaining Lady’s Magazine: or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex. A few years prior to Austen putting pen to paper for what was then called First Impressions, The Lady’s Magazine published in their 1791 edition “A Letter from a Father to his Daughter on Relative Duties,” part of which is excerpted below.
“Of all the weaknesses the younger part of your sex are most prone to are pride and affectation, and there are none scarce which render more contemptible in the eyes of the thinking and sensible part mankind; therefore as you value the esteem of your friends, crush them in the bud. The ingenious Mr Addison says “Pride in a woman destroys all symmetry and grace; and affectation is a more terrible enemy to a fine face than the small pox.
And yet there is no passion so universal or steals into the heart more imperceptibly than pride; at the same time, there is not a single view of human nature, under its present condition, which is not sufficient to extinguish in us all the secret seeds of pride. As nothing appears more odious and disgusting than pride and affectation, to nothing is more amiable in your sex than humility; it adds a beauty to every feature and a luster to all your action.”*
These epistolary tutelages served as continual nudges against youthful waywardness, advising sons on achievement in politics and education, and daughters on obedience and humility. Based on works they produced, writers like the young Jane Austen must have felt the thorn in these infuriatingly narrow instructions at one time or another.
Elizabeth Bennet was a character written from the breed of proud, independently-minded women who were mightily disapproved of by the majority of gentlemen (and a whole lot of gentlewomen) during the 18th century. She is, in many ways, diametrically opposed to the ideal gentlewoman and her genius, of course, is in being appealing nevertheless. As Fullerton says, “She was a highly unconventional, new sort of heroine, and it is easy for modern readers to underestimate just how astonishing she was for readers of the time.” What’s interesting is that Austen made Elizabeth THE favorite daughter of her father and despite all obstacles of temperament, she is our heroine. As Fullerton points out, according to the values of the time Jane Bennet would’ve been the appropriate choice. I think we can all say thank goodness she wasn’t Austen’s choice, as today only Elizabeth would be ours.