Posted by Donna MacMeans May 23 2012, 12:21 am in Donna MacMeans, Japanese erotica, kamon, mon, secret codes, shunga, symbolism, The Awakening Conscience, The Casanova Code, William Holman Hunt
The countdown has begun! THE CASANOVA CODE is set for release June 5th. Woohoo!
As you can guess from the title, this story deals with codes – secret codes. It also deals with Victorian personal ads…but we’ll talk more about that next month at the book launch. You see, sometimes messages in the personal ads column were written in code so that otherwise public conversations could be kept private. My heroine, Edwina Hargrove, has an eye for recognizing patterns that is invaluable for breaking codes. She understands those messages that are meant for private eyes only. That understanding leads to all sorts of problems as she becomes enmeshed in secrets, lies and secret organizations.
Not all codes consist of letters or numbers. The Victorians incorporated codes or “clues” in many of their paintings. Here’s an example. Look at the picture of William Holman Hunt’s painting THE AWAKENING CONSCIENCE. From a quick glance it might appear that this is a playful portrait of a man restraining a woman, maybe his wife, from rising. However, to the astute Victorian viewer, the clues clearly show that this is a portrait of a young woman about to fall – if she hasn’t already – into a life of ill repute unless she changes her ways. Here’s some of the clues…see how many you noticed.
1) The man has pushed her skirt up showing her petticoats. This simply isn’t done unless…well unless soon the woman will only be wearing her petticoats or less. This clearly indicates the woman is to be a mistress and not a wife.
2) Note the soiled discarded glove on the floor before her. This is an indication of the life before her – soiled and discarded – unless she changes her ways.
3) It might be hard to see but there’s a cat under the table playing with a bird. The cat represents the man and the bird his mistress, though the bird seems to have escaped the cat’s clutches which would relate to the woman rising from the man’s lap. She might be on the way to salvation.
4) The song on the piano is “Oft in the Stilly Night” which is a song about a woman reflecting on childhood innocence. The words may have caused the woman to reflect. The music on the floor is “Tears Idle Tears” which contrasts past innocence with present wretchedness. The fact that it’s on the floor suggests she is putting the present wretchedness behind her.
5) The threads from a tapestry are untangling (along the right edge of the painting) which represent a complicated relationship dissolving. Note that a shaft of sunlight strikes the foot of the piano and these tangled threads.
6) It’s hard to see the rings on the woman’s fingers, but maybe it’s not so hard to notice that she’s lacking one on her “wedding finger.” Another indication that this woman is a mistress and not a wife.
7) Hard to see and recognize but the wallpaper is a print of a sleeping Cupid. Birds are stealing fruit while the Cupid sleeps suggesting women need to guard their chastity and not rely on love. The flowers on the piano are morning glories which bloom and die in the same day. This symbolizes the brief nature of this affection. The clock is an image of Chastity binding Cupid which is similar to the wallpaper in meaning.
8) The woman is looking out at the white roses in a garden (as indicated by the mirror at her back). The white roses would be a symbol of purity. She appears to be rising “toward” the purity of the roses.
The Japanese did something similar with their paintings. THE CASANOVA CODE delves into a unique type of Japanese woodblock prints called “Shunga” which is erotic in nature. The woodblock prints were created in the sixteenth century through the nineteenth century and relies on a heavy use of symbolism. My heroine, experienced in the recognizing of patterns, quickly notes the similarities between the paintings. Here’s an example of a Shunga woodblock print. I had a hard time finding PG – rated examples – so bear with me.
The patterns on the subject’s clothing indicate the status of individuals. I chose this print so you could see the richness in the patterns of clothing. These two are looking at a pillow book. I’ll let you figure out the purpose of a pillow book .
Virtually, everything that is straight and erect is a symbol of something else that is at times erect and often straight . This includes fans, pens, swords, trees branches, and mandolins – and they are often used to suggest a certain activity. Certain animals and tissues have special meanings. One particular item, the cherry blossom, appears in many shunga prints. The cherry blossom is a symbol of the ephemeral nature of life. Sort of a symbolic “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Here’s a print that uses cherry blossoms (that’s the field of pink behind the fence). Generally though the symbolic cherry blossom is often just a flower or two purposefully placed.
So how did you do in recognizing the Victorian symbolism? Can you think of any contemporary equivalents?
When I was little, myself and two or three other girls had a secret club (No Boys Allowed!) and spoke pig latin thinking we were being extremely secretive. Thank heaven the club didn’t last long How about you? Did you ever have a passion for secret languages or writings.
I have some early copies of THE CASANOVA CODE so one person leaving a comment will get a copy of the book before the official release.
Don’t forget – an exclusive excerpt from THE CASANOVA CODE is available in the member’s only section (I guess that’s our secret club ) and a different excerpt is available on my website. www.DonnaMacmeans.com. In addition, I’m giving away a cherry blossom pendant necklace from the Smithsonian to someone on my newsletter mailing list – so sign up when you visit.