Character, Control and Confession: A Three-Part Look at the Theme of Love in The Rose of Versailles
For summaries of the basic plot of The Rose of Versailles, see Deborah Shamoon’s article “Revolutionary Romance: The Rose of Versailles and the Transformation of Shojo Manga” in Mechademia 2 (2007): 3-18 and my article “Japanese Dramas Take on Gender Norms.”
To read Part 2, click here.
To read Part 3, click here.
Part 1: “Love Hurts”
A major theme of the Oscar-Andre love story in Ikeda Riyoko’s (1972-3) ベルサイユのバラBerusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles) is the loss of control of one’s emotions. In the events leading up to the pair’s (finally) becoming lovers, there are three major points at which one of the characters completely loses control of his or her emotions, risking everything in the process. While risking it all for love (cue the ’80s and ’90s pop ballads) is certainly not an uncommon theme in romantic stories, in BeruBara, the themes manifests in such a way that the act of being completely overrun by one’s emotions is the ultimate symbol of love. However, literary symbols do not exist in a vacuum; the idea of love driving a person to lose all logic and reason ties in very strongly into to Japanese and American cultural depictions of love. Thus, in this series of articles, I aim to explore this trope as it functions in BeruBara and in other media.
The first scene in which either Oscar or Andre completely loses it happens during the Black Knight storyline, which appears in vols. 2-3 of the 5-volume 2004  edition. This scene serves to illustrate Oscar and Andre’s relationship and solidify their characterization up until this point: hot-headed and blunt Oscar’s behavior is the exact opposite of Andre’s cool reservation. She mouths off to other nobles, most notably Mme. de Polignac (vol. 2, 15-16),making a few powerful enemies; starts bar fights (vol. 2 184-93); and is generally a rash and combative person. In contrast, level-headed Andre is constantly trying to prevent her from doing something stupid—with limited success.
One of the scenes that really sets up their contrasting personalities and serves as the character model that is upended in a later scene occurs during the Black Knight subplot at the end of vol. 2 and beginning of vol. 3. In the following scene, Oscar and Andre have been trying to track down the Black Knight, who has been robbing the houses of the nobility. They pursue him on horseback and nearly have him when the Black Knight hits Andre in the face with his whip, permanently blinding him in his left eye. The Knight then kidnaps Rosalie, Oscar’s ward, from the Jarjeyes home. While Andre is recovering, Oscar tries to rescue Rosalie but falls into the trap the Black Knight and his patron have set for her. Realizing what has happened, Andre ignores his injury and sneaks out of his sick bed to rescue her. He finds Oscar and Rosalie, and he and Oscar force the Black Knight to help them escape. However, when Andre breaks off from the group to distract the guards, Oscar and the Knight get into a fist-fight; timid Rosalie shoots the Black Knight in the shoulder to keep him from killing Oscar.
While the Knight is down, Oscar completely loses her temper (52-56).
“You bastard,” she says, raising her whip, “I’ll do to you what you did to my Andre!”
Andre stays her hand.
Oscar: L-let go of me, Andre!
Oscar: Let me go! I’m going do the same thing to that bastard as he did to you!
Andre: What good would that do? There’s no point!
Oscar: He permanently blinded you in one eye, Andre! Your eye… Let me go!!
Andre: Oscar, calm down! Forget about your grudge! No matter what happens, an officer can’t act on emotions!
Oscar: No matter what happens…an officer…can’t act…on emotions…
This scene is typical of the characterization up until this point. Hot-headed Oscar, without realizing why, completely loses control of herself and is prepared to avenge Andre with “an eye for an eye” before he stops her. Conversely, Andre remains calm despite having the perfect opportunity to get revenge. At this point, he doesn’t seem to care that he lost an eye; he believes that if he hadn’t come on the mission, Oscar would have lost hers instead. After all, when Oscar first decided to pursue the Black Knight, she intended to disguise herself as him, but she and Granny quickly discovered that Andre looked much more like the thief than Oscar did. Because of this, Oscar forced a reluctant Andre to help her, and Andre, despite his misgivings, followed her out of love. Oscar blames herself for what happened to Andre, but when she asks him to forgive her, he simply says, “Thank God it wasn’t your eye. I’d give one of my eyes for you anytime, Oscar” (vol. 3, 16-17).
This is the first scene in the Oscar-Andre story focusing on the theme of love’s making one lose control; the scene also exemplifies the characterization of Andre and Oscar. Although Andre loves Oscar and knows she is in love with Fersen, a Swedish count and the queen’s lover, he is able to very stoically state these facts to Rosalie (vol. 2, 130) and keep a level head about the whole matter. Oscar, on the other hand, has lost her temper again, but to an extent we haven’t yet seen in the manga. Although it is unclear to Oscar herself and to the first-time reader, this first foray into complete loss of control is the first sign that Oscar is beginning to return Andre’s feelings. One significant linguistic sign that shows up again in the manga is her use of 私のアンドレ—my Andre–when screaming at the Knight. Neither she nor Andre realizes the significance of what she said, but in a later fight scene in which she tells Fersen she has to go back and save “my Andre” (vol. 3, 346), she and Fersen both fully realize what she has said.
While this scene shows Oscar’s losing control of her emotions out of love more strongly that she ever has due to her fiery temperament, more importantly, it solidly establishes the dynamics of her relationship to Andre. That is, two key points in this scene play a crucial and ironic role in the scene in which Andre confesses love to Oscar. First is Andre’s stopping Oscar from potentially murdering the Black Knight by reminding her of her position, and, second, his ability to rationalize and keep a fairly positive attitude about losing his sight in one eye. In the events leading up to his confession, as his sight worsens and as he becomes more and more aware of their relative social positions, Andre’s sense of desperation regarding his impossible love for Oscar increases to the point that, when Andre tries to tell Oscar he loves her, his confession completely upheaves his characterization.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Andre’s (horrifyingly botched) love confession!