Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

I never really did like 18th Century Style July 17, 2010

Yesterday, I saw Inception. And yesterday, my mind was blown. So, I took the day to sit around, contemplating how awesome that film was and how on earth I can get someone to take me to see it again.

And again.

I love movies that make you think and are sort of puzzles in themselves. And that fight scene? You know the one I’m talking about if you’ve scene the film. I’m adding that to my list of best moments of cinematography.

Don’t ask me what the others are because I’m already wasting too much time blabbing on about this fabulous fantastic movie. But one of them is the chase in the woods from The Piano. There.

Oh, and –

Okay - I'm finished but I want my imagination to think of things like this! (no, the picture doesn't move so don't wait for it to)

Anyway – yesterday I planned on talking about the style that men take on in Powder and Patch. It’s a fair enough topic because, really, the dress that is popular is made to sound incredibly feminine in the book. And before you make the whole ‘that’s period’ argument – I realize that, but the way that it was written, the attention that is brought to the clothing is interesting.

My hypothesis – in a nutshell – is that Philip is more like the romantic hero ‘man’ in the beginning, goes through the transformation into a French … I don’t know what, those were the parts you could skip the dialogue because pages would be spent on stockings and ribbons and fabric … and Cleone realizes that she doesn’t want a little French doll, but the Philip that she knew before – the ‘romantic hero’ with un-powdered hair and what not.

While it’s clear from the beginning (there’s even a proposal of marriage met with the fact that Philip isn’t proper – not that Cleone doesn’t love him), that Philip and Cleone are in love and what not – there is a rival. This rival, Bancroft, represents the ‘change’ that Philip must undergo to have Cleone – hopefully – realize he is fit to marry.

“The Apparition [Bancroft] wore a coat of palest apricot cloth, with a flowered vest of fine brocade, and startling white small-clothes. Red-heeled shoes were on his feet, and his stockings were adorned by sprawling golden clocks. He carried an amber-clouded can and a jewelled snuff-box, while ever and anon he raised a cobwebby handkerchief to his aristocratic nose. He minced down the street towards the market-place, followed by the awe-stricken glances of an amazed population.” p. 23

In contrast – this is Philip:

“Philip’s coat was made for comfort; he would have scored the stockings of Matthew Trelawney. He even refused to buy a wig, but wore his ownbrown hair brushed back from his face and tied loosely at his neck with a piece of black ribbon. No powder, no curls, unpolished nails, and unpainted face – guiltless, too, of even the smallest patch – it was, thought Cleone, enough to make one weep. Nevertheless, she did not weep, because, for one thing, it would have made her eyes red, and another, it would be of very little use. Philip must be reformed, since she – well, since she did not dislike him.” p. 15

Heh – I like the last line there. It makes the narrator endearing – and the character of Cleone easy to understand. I like clever little lines like that.

Anyway, you can obviously see the contrast between the two men. Bancroft, is, as we will learn with Philip, educated in French design. Philip ends up, after all, going to France to get his … ‘education’ I guess we’ll call it.

Oh, and for reference – a patch was a bit of fabric used to hide pock marks on the face and whatnot – if my research is somewhat reliable. See – this is why I like my 19th century. Sure, they were crazy in themselves … all those hair broaches and such … but patches? Huh.

Anyway – Philip’s aim is pretty much to become Bancroft. So he goes to France, learns how to dress and talk in a really very annoying manner and returns. Of course, inside, Philip hasn’t changed – he just wants to make Cleone ‘realize’ what she’s asking of him and what she really does want.

Here’s a bit of Philip’s transformation:

“Under his deft hands Philip squirmed and screwed up his face. He complained that the haresfoot tickled him, and he winced when the Marquis pressed two patched on his face. When Francois dusted his cheeks with powder he sneezed, and when a single sapphire ear-ring was placed in his left ear he scowled and muttered direfully.” p. 55

Yeah … give me the other male protagonists any day. We, as readers, are let in to what Cleone’s gotten wrong. I think that’s key into how this fashion is portrayed. Sure, it’s the rage, but it doesn’t fit Philip – and it doesn’t fit Cleone.

And how to we know this? The final ‘revelation’ so to say – the locket Cleone keeps (that we learn of only in the last two chapters of course) contain something:

“‘Is it not? Ah, Cleone! Tell me, my dearest, what is in your locket?’

‘Something I meant to burn,’ she murmured.

‘But did not?’

‘No – I could not.’ She fumbled at her bosom and drew out the trinket. ‘See for yourself, Philip.’

He opened it. A rolled lock of brown hair fell out and a town scrap of parchment. Philip turned it over.

‘Yours till death, Philip,’ he read. ‘Cleone, my love.’

She buried her face on his shoulder.

‘Your – hair – your poor hair!’ she said.” p.183

So – simple enough. She wants the old Philip back. He teases her of course saying that it is all cut off (yeah, but it will grow back the reader fills in) and that he’s going to write a sonnet about her eyes (that has to be a joke, too, since he’s back to being Philip-Philip).

So it’s pretty much – change for me, oh wait, I liked you better before, why did I ask you to change, that’s what I really wanted and was too blind to realize it.

But it’s also interesting to see that the change is a highly feminine one – one that could easily fit into the whole ‘Romance genre’ – the well built men and what not. Could you imagine someone like … the male protagonist of Viking in Love dressing up like this? No, of course not.

There’s some sort of male ideal at work here. One that’s not as prevalent in the other novels as much as it is here – it’s something we sort of take for granted in those books. The men are already built up as these paragons of masculinity, ready to ravish his love at any minute (I say his ‘love’ because I’m going on a search where the female role – or even the male role – is played by the same sex – plus, it will give me a good fuel to let me rant on about why we need to allow same sex marriage – the fact that it is only allowed in a few states is absolutely ridiculous – love is love be it between a man and a man or a woman and a woman – it’s no one’s place to say that’s wrong – ANYWAY! Save that for that time …).

So – Philip, we’re to assume I believe, goes back to his usual ‘country’ ways that make him more appealing to Cleone. He’s dipped into a sort of feminine sexuality but Cleone saw that damage that did – she wants a man and in the end – well, I think we should believe that that’s what she gets.

Just like every other heroine we’ve read so far.

Huh. Look at that.

So ... is this why it's a 'Romance Novel'

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Heyer, Georgette. Power and Patch. Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc., 1930.

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