Max Beerbohm's "The Pervasion of Rouge" (also known as "A Defence of Cosmetics") indirectly criticizes society and their obsession with cosmetics by sarcastically defending its use. He starts his essay by immediately addressing the audience. "Nay, but it is useless to protest. Artifice must queen it once more in the town." The overly convincing tone in this opener continues throughout the essay as Beerbohm describes the attitude of women and men alike toward the art of cosmetics. Although his sarcastic tone pervades the essay, Beerbohm holds true to his argument. He supports the facial paintings and the curls of women. However, this artificial optimism is one of the many hints of the complex nature of his defense of cosmetics.
After all, the old prejudice is a-dying. We need not pry into the secret of its birth. Rather is this a time of jolliness and glad indulgence. For the era of rouge is upon us, and as only in an elaborate era can man, by the tangled accrescency of his own pleasures and emotions, reach that refinement which is his highest excellence, and by making himself, so to say, independent of Nature, come nearest to God, so only in an elaborate era is woman perfect. Artifice is the strength of the world, and in that same mask of paint and powder, shadowed with vermeil tinct and most trimly penciled, is woman's strength.
1. In the quotation, when Beerbohm mentions the "old prejudice," to what does he specifically refer?
2. Why would he call the era elaborate? Do you think he uses the word to establish a connection between the time and function of cosmetics?
3. In the last sentence of the quotation, Beerbohm equates artifice with women by using the word strength. What irony does he produce by calling attention to this relationship?
4. The word Nature is capitalized in the sentence. Do you think this was intentional? And if so, what purpose does it serve, or more simply put, does it make a difference in terms of what it stands for, what it means, and how its effects in the message?
Last modified 7 April 2005