“Encore un moment!” The Role of the Comtesse Du Barry in Rose of Versailles

The Comtesse, scheming her way up the social ladder.

The story of Rose of Versailles is a well-known one (as is its influence in other successful series like Revolutionary Girl Utena), partially ripped from the scandalous and eventually bloody headlines of the French Revolution.  It follows the Lady Oscar de Jarjayes, who has been raised as a boy her entire life and rises to a prominent position as head of the French royal guard, becoming a retainer of sorts for Marie Antoinette.  The story primarily focuses on Oscar and Marie; however, ten episodes into the series, my attention was captured by another fairly prominent historical figure and character: The Comtesse duBarry.

Lady duBarry is initially presented to the viewer in a negative light.  More specifically, she’s presented through the eyes of the then Crown Princess Marie Antoinette, who wants nothing to do with the King’s favorite mistress of that time because of Lady duBarry’s notoriously humble beginnings as a prostitute.  Their feud within the French court, and Marie’s refusal to speak to her, soon becomes such a big scandal that Marie is forced to address her in public, which, in the series, Lady duBarry counts as her significant victory over the Crown Princess.  Rose of Versailles presents this feud to the viewer more from Marie’s perspective than the Comtesse’s, to the point that I too felt upset when Marie was forced to address Lady duBarry.

“I was craving for diamonds and dresses one after another, as if I starved for them.”

In retrospect, both women come out looking rather petty, although Lady duBarry stoops to more drastic and harmful measures to ensure her influence, like poisoning and writing false, scandalous letters.  Things take a turn for Lady duBarry when her consort and then current ruler of France, King Louis XV, falls ill with smallpox and dies.  Without the King’s backing, Lady duBarry is swiftly exiled from court as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s reign begins.  Whether out of sympathy or duty, Oscar insists on escorting Lady duBarry’s carriage from court and ends up listening to the Comtesse’s perspective on a few things, most specifically her earlier struggles in life and how, once she came to court, she was consumed with gaining more power and material items.

Lady duBarry’s final conversation with Oscar is what stuck in my mind as a viewer, and did wonders for not only her own character, but for the characterization of women throughout this series.  For Oscar, a character who will later (in spite of her own attachment to Marie) find herself siding with the revolutionaries, it’s interesting to note how this conversation could mark a significant turning point in her thought processes earlier than one would expect (although you do see her speak out against the court a few times prior to this as well). During their conversation, Lady duBarry remarks that Oscar has more than likely never had to feel unsure about where her next meal is coming from.  At this point in the series, Oscar is still young and rather quick to judge between right and wrong  She had sided with Marie easily during their power struggle in court, presumably due to her own disapproval of Lady duBarry’s former occupation.  Following their conversation in episode nine, the viewer begins to see Oscar soften a bit on certain things, and harden her heart towards others.

This series also allows the viewer to compare and contrast Marie and the Comtesse’s experiences in spite of their drastically different upbringings.  Marie was a young girl forced into a marriage in order to further ensure trust between France and Austria.  Her mother, before marrying her off, expresses that she shouldn’t let her capricious and thoughtless nature get the best of her.  However, through her interactions with Lady duBarry, Marie seems to solidify these more contrary parts of her nature instead of attempting to overcome them.  The two women parallel each other often, with each of them trying to maintain their sometimes tenuous grasp of juggling many influences at once.  In addition to this, Louis XV is posthumously criticized by the public for spending an extravagant amount of money on Lady duBarry specifically instead of on improving the quality of life for his subjects.  This complaint is also leveled at Louis XVI and Marie later on when the populace’s discontent finally reaches the boiling point that sparks the French Revolution.

“Roses, roses, they bloom in dignity.”

Comtesse duBarry isn’t in the series for long; however, her influence and her plight are reflected in the development of many other female characters in the series.  Putting her more concrete influence from the diamond necklace affair aside, her words become especially significant while watching the plights of Rosalie Lamorlière and her “sister” Jeanne Valois as they both try to improve upon their low stations in life.  The above image is of Lady Oscar de Jarjayes, but it seems to me that it could represent many of the women presented in this series, doing all they can to struggle against the influences that ensnare them, drawing them ever closer to their respective bloody ends.

18 Comments

Filed under Character Study, Editorials, Rose of Versailles

18 responses to ““Encore un moment!” The Role of the Comtesse Du Barry in Rose of Versailles

  1. This was definitely the point for me where Rose of Versailles turned from, “Hm, this is a good show” to “WOW, this show is pretty fucking great.”

    I could never really hate Lady duBarry when I watched the show. First of all, her villainous antics are just too entertaining. Secondly, her backstory really struck a chord with me. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but really, it’s not as if she is any more rotten than the whole court of Versailles. And to me, that’s the whole point of this initial portion of the series: Versailles is so consumed with pettiness, navel-gazing and in-fighting that it ignores the social realities of France and fails the citizens. This first part is such an excellent contrast to the second part of the series despite being so (wonderfully) soapy.

    • Yes! Definitely. I love the way that the first half has set the scene for the second half where all of the action is going to occur (be it actual violence or more petty infighting).

      You’re also absolutely right when you say that Lady duBarry wasn’t any better or worse than the rest of the French court at this time. She did what she had to do to ensure her own position for as long as she could, and for that one can hardly blame her. I’m glad that they decided to make her such a focus in this first part of the series since her back story is so different from other court members (having been a prostitute). I feel that having her feature in such a prominent role really helps to expose the hypocrisy of the court in general, especially to Oscar.

      I’m still not through the entire series yet, but it’s definitely shaping up to be fantastic. Thanks for the comment!

  2. It’s been a long time since I watched these episodes (and never got around to continuing beyond them), which were my introduction to shoujo drama. It’s amazing how the history seems to so perfectly translate to this drama, I guess like the samurai era lends well to action. Very naturally.

    You know the director of this series, the legendary Dezaki Osamu, died just a few months ago. Sad times. His legacy in anime is perhaps stronger than anyone else’s.

  3. animekritik

    I’ve only read the manga, but the one thing I loved about du Barry was the character design. She looked perfect: beautiful, fiery and corrupt. As you said, a microcosm of Versailles. Ikeda does a brilliant and brutal portrait. In some sense Marie gradually morphs into du Barry. It might have been better for the Austrian (in moral terms) to have kept du Barry around as a counterpoint and a reminder.

    • I want to read (and own) the manga so badly… One of these days I’ll accept that it’s never going to be released in the States and I’ll seek out the manga online… (As an aside, Princess Knight is being re-released in English this autumn and I can’t wait!)

      Yeah, I completely agree with Marie morphing into a bit of duBarry, especially in regards to her growing obsession with extravagant and expensive things. That line by duBarry as she describes how wealth began to consume her character is so telling and tragic. She may not have meant for these things to envelop her so completely, but once she reached “the top” as it were, she found that she was unable to control her selfishness. It’s a bit horrifying, really. Thanks for the insight and comment. I really have to get around to reading the manga soon…

      • The manga has only been translated up through episode 22, though it looks like the group who did the latest 4 chapters just recently picked it up, so at least it’s actively releasing. If your hopes were raised from AK’s having read it, be forewarned that he reads manga raw!

        Anyway just to goad you: http://www.mangafox.com/manga/rose_of_versailles/

        If you don’t have the autopager extension for chrome/firefox, I recommend getting it, as it makes reading manga online about 10X better.

  4. I think du Barry really helped a lot to flesh out the dirty politics and power struggle in France. For me, emphasizing her as a prostitute showed so many complex features of the society. I also think that her role is a get-go hint to the viewers that there’s really something wrong with France—it’s like asking us how come prostitution is so eminent in the very beginning of the series.

    Plus, I was really entertained by her character. Aside from I enjoyed how she has the luxury of breaking mirrors and vases, I like how she embodied negative and positive sides. First, she showed that power that was claimed through manipulation and ghastly acts would never last. But then on the other hand, I sympathize her role because she’s a clear victim of a bad government and unfairness of having hierarchies. In the beginning, I was fully siding Marie Antoinette because she tried to live with her principles. But when du Barry told Oscar that she was just doing whatever she could in order to get a bread, I started to feel sorry for her. I realized that she’s asking for Marie Antoinette’s recognition because it’s something that she never had, and just like everybody else she wanted to be treated as a VIP. However, she’s also greedy and power hungry, that’s why the other side of me is laughing at her when she got exiled.

    But overall, I liked her character, Her eyes and her evil background sound effects are so epic especially how she smirks and how they show sparks whenever du Barry plots something evil.

    • One of the great scenes in the beginning of the series is when Rosalie tries to sell herself to Oscar in order to earn enough money to eat. It’s positioned immediately after the conversation between duBarry and Oscar during duBarry’s exile from court. Knowing what we know about duBarry’s past, it’s no accident that we next see the fairly innocent and well-mannered Rosalie feel like she had nowhere else to turn in order to make money. At the same time, we see Jeanne, who has seemingly already been corrupted and is quickly attempting to work her way up in the same scheming manner that duBarry did.

      Your summation of how duBarry represents both positives and negatives is something I wholeheartedly agree with. She’s tragic enough, but she always maintained her manipulative edge until the end. In some pure way she wanted recognition, but she also wanted more than recognition, she wanted power and control. All in all, a very interesting character.

      As an aside, all I could think of at the end of reading this was Scamp’s remark on one of our livewatches when he said, “Pfft…duBarry laughs in your face!” when talking about the new court villainess, the Duchess de Polignac. She’s no duBarry. ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. t.on.air

    I love this anime. oscar is one of my childhood heroes!

  6. Pingback: Surrender at Five: Database now live! | The Untold Story of Altair & Vega

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