In Max Beerbohm's piece "The Pervasion of Rouge," the author, in one delightful passage, refutes Ruskin's connection of the external to the internal. Although Ruskin uses his criticism of architecture (and What is architecture but a cosmetics of structure?) to expose what he sees as flaws in the general conduct and values of Victorian society as a whole:

And now that the use of pigments is becoming general, and most women are not so [110/111] young as they are painted, it may be asked curiously how the prejudice ever came into being. Indeed, it is hard to trace folly, for that it is inconsequent, to its start; and perhaps it savours too much of reason to suggest that the prejudice was due to the tristful confusion man has made of soul and surface. Through trusting so keenly to the detection of the one by keeping watch upon the other, and by force of the thousand errors following, he has come to think of surface even as the reverse of soul. He seems to suppose that every clown beneath his paint and lipsalve is moribund and knows it (though in verity, I am told, clowns are as cheerful a class of men as any other), that the fairer the fruit's rind and the more delectable its bloom, the closer are packed the ashes within it. The very jargon of the hunting-field connects cunning with a mask. And so perhaps came man's! anger at the embellishment of women — that lovely mask of enamel with its shadows of pink and tiny pencilled veins, what must lurk behind it? Of what treacherous mysteries may it not be the screen? Does not the heathen lacquer her dark face, [111/112] and the harlot paint her cheeks, because sorrow has made them pale?

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 pencilled, is woman's strength.

In these two paragraphs, how does Beerbohm make the sage look ridiculous? Let us count the ways —


Does Beerbohm, at any time, use a grotesque in this passage? Or is he just clowning around?

How does his aside about the clown both provide humor and rebutt Ruskin's arguments?

Why does Beerbohm use such loaded words in this passage: harlot, tristful, cunning, heathen...?

By the use of these words is he trying to arouse the ire of those who would find woman untrustworthy?

Or by using overtly sexual language, is he perhaps trying to embarrass his audience or those who he wishes to parody?

Victorian Web Overview Aesthetes & Decadents Max Beerbohm

Last modified: 12 March 2001