Rose of Versailles – episodes 5-13

May 1, 2006 on 12:36 am | In Rose of Versailles | 1 Comment

I really can’t blame the French for rising against their oppressive bourgeois class. With these episodes we become acquainted with the poverty of 18th century France, which makes the nobility seem all the more sickeningly vapid and decadent.

Rose of Versailles moves with alarming speed; in the first twelve episodes, more than five years have passed. These episodes cover the death of Louis XV, the rise to nobility of a tricksy young peasant named Jeanne, the introduction to the court of Swedish nobleman Count von Fersen, a new plot by Duke de Guemene to rid himself of Oscar, and very briefly the introduction of Robespierre as a dissident voice.

In these early stages, Marie Antoinette is depicted as a thoroughly innocent woman, but such naivete is not befitting a queen. With this, the pertinence of France’s state is brought to the fore and we can for the first time realise the level of destitution that the back streets of Paris has fallen into. Ignorance is proven not to be an excuse for allowing such widespread horror to continue unabated.
There is one scene which is perhaps exaggerated: Duke de Guemene pretends to pardon a child for stealing from him, but then shoots the child in the square to make an example of him. If the life of a peasant means that little to the nobility, then think what a peasant might do once he or she overcomes the idea that the nobility are somehow better than them (I’m actually inclined to think that you don’t have to consider this hypothetically, as the French Revolution kind of actually happened).

Oscar is shown not to have an ignorance about these issues, but rather a troubled vague understanding that becomes deeper with each of her forays into the field. Her trip to the Jarjeyes’ country estate was most enlightening, and did not seem overly dramatic as it presented an entirely plausible situation (more plausible than all of the assassination plots, and those are most likely true as well).
The fact of the matter is that 96% of France’s population are in unlivable conditions, and the problem that Rose of Versailles stumbles upon at this point is that several of the issues facing French society in the 18th century still exist to a lesser extent today; that’s guaranteed to make one feel bad.
I felt that the the most “offensive” scene in the series so far is Marie Antoinette’s realisation that Countess de Polignac did not have money enough to make regular appearances at Versailles; Marie Antoinette reacts by agreeing to sponsor the woman and bringing her to Versailles full time. She acknowledges the “embarrassment” of being poor and rectifies it in this instance. Look at the streets, Marie Antoinette! It’s not her fault, of course, because the court of Versailles breeds nothing but myopia.

There’s a lot more ground to cover, particularly in regards to Jeanne. Jeanne was a poor girl who had been told by her mother that she was born to the Count Valois. Jeanne thus conjures a scheme to get “in” with the aristocracy, amazing in its sheer simplicity (I mean, any poor person could have executed it). Like that, she’s deserted her mother and sister. When her sister Rosalie asks for assistance some years later, the change in Jeanne raised several questions that I’m not sure that Rose of Versailles intends to answer: does becoming a part of the nobility make you a bad person? Certainly not. I think that Jeanne always had the capacity for badness, but never the resources to pull it off; it’s simply that the people with more money have better facilities and opportunities.
For someone who once lamented the fact that nobility was a matter of timing rather than of true birth, it was surprising to see how much Jeanne had changed: how many old ladies can you throw into a fire before they add up and come back to haunt you?
(side note of hilarity: Jeanne gets angry at her manipulated fiancée because he didn’t knock before entering the room and walked in on her smiling evilly).

Dezaki’s skills are put to good use to make several characters thoroughly sympathetic: I was surprised when the narration announced that Countess du Barry would lose her head in the revolution because she had left on a such a defeated note that emphasised the fact that she was a woman. Then I remembered that in less than nine episodes she had poisoned or otherwise killed at least five people. Normally I don’t give unforgivable people forgiveness, but Dezaki opened that door. For that I thank him.

On the whole, Rose of Versailles is highly provocative and has at once inspired me to study the French Revolution and leave it alone so that I don’t “spoil” history for myself. At any rate, it’s making for what promises to be a bizarre series of articles with me analysing historical events and characters as if they were fictional.

1 Comment

  1. I used to watch this religiously when I was young! It aired on french public TV and had quite an impact (along with Grendizer and Captain Harlock). The french dubbing was excellent.

    I don’t know why but I really felt sympathetic toward Jeanne, who was more interesting than boring Rosalie. Well, she’s not really a bad person to me, more like ambitious and playing by the rules. The most tragic to me was that young noble girl who loved Oscar.

    Comment by eurys — May 1, 2006 #

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