In his parody of the sage writings of his contemporaries, “The Pervasion of Rouge” (text), Max Beerbohm mocks the aesthetes through his satirical speech on the power of cosmetics. From the beginning of the essay, Beerbohm defines the role of women in society as an actionless role, explaining that "they had a certain charm, and they at least had not begun to trespass upon men's ground," having not yet stepped into man's area of expertise: action. Beerbohm expands on this argument towards the middle of his essay, presenting a humoristic view of women in society that, if taken seriously, proves quite sexist:
Artifice's first command to them is that they should repose. With bodily activity their powder will fly, their enamel crack. They are butterflies who must not flit, if they love their bloom. Now, setting aside the point of view of passion, from which very many obvious things might be said (and probably have been by the minor poets), it is, from the intellectual point of view, quite necessary that a woman should repose. Hers is the resupinate sex. On her couch she is a goddess, but so soon as ever she put her foot to the ground—lo, she is the veriest little sillypop, and quite done or. She cannot rival us in action, but she is our mistress in the things of the mind. Let her not by second-rate athletics, nor indeed by any exercise soever of the limbs, spoil the pretty procedure of her reason. Let her be content to remain the guide, the subtle suggester of what we must do, the strategist whose soldiers we are, the little architect whose workmen.
In this passage Beerbohm presents his comic viewpoint on women: they are to be present (and look appealing) and available for consultation without ever taking an active standpoint. Indeed, Beerbohm believes women to have an important role in their passive nature, a role reserved to them by Artifice. Behind painted masks their minds are free to think and create but outside they must forever reflect nothing but beauty. In criticizing woman Beerbohm uses fake terms such as "sillypop" and "veriest," these made-up words adding to the sardonic tone of the passage and the overall ridiculousness of the belief.
Beerbohm, who published "The Pervasion of Rouge" in 1894, was born into a world where women were allowed to own and inherit property and funds. Perhaps aware of the direction in which women's rights were headed, this speech seems to promote a more equal treatment of women, and precedes the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 by less then 40 years.
What types of devices does Beerbohm utilize in the above passage to create humor?
Does "The Pervasion of Rouge" successfully mimic the style of the Aesthetes and Decadents?
How does "The Pervasion of Rouge" compare to "The Decay of Lying" in terms of style: are there generalizations that can be attributed to the writing style of the aesthetes?
- “The Veriest Little Sillypop” — Decadence and Women in “The Pervasion of Rouge”
- "Little Sillypops" or Strong Women?
- Madame Rachel’s Costly Arabian Preparations [on mid-Victorian cosmetics]
Last modified 23 April 2010