Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 7

The Ladies of the Fans

Regarded as a mere outline, little Chrysanthème has been seen everywhere and by everybody. Whoever has looked at one of those paintings on china or silk that are sold in our bazaars, knows perfectly the pretty, stiff head-dress, the leaning figure, ever ready to try some new gracious salutation, the sash fastened behind in an enormous bow, the large, flowing sleeves, the drapery slightly clinging about the ankles with a little crooked train like a lizard’s tail.

But her face — no, not every one has seen that; there is something special about it.

Moreover, the type of women the Japanese paint mostly on their vases is an exceptional one in their country. It is almost exclusively among the nobility that these personages are found, with their long, pale faces, painted in tender rose-tints, and silly, long necks which give them the appearance of storks. This distinguished type (which I am obliged to admit was also Mademoiselle Jasmin’s ) is rare, particularly at Nagasaki.

Among the middle classes and the common people, the ugliness is more pleasant and sometimes becomes a kind of prettiness. The eyes are still too small and hardly able to open, but the faces are rounder, browner, more vivacious; and in the women remains a certain vagueness of feature, something childlike which prevails to the very end of their lives.

They are so laughing, and so merry, all these little Nipponese dolls! Rather a forced mirth, it is true, studied, and at times with a false ring; nevertheless one is attracted by it.

Chrysanthème is an exception, for she is melancholy. What thoughts are running through that little brain? My knowledge of her language is still too limited to enable me to find out. Moreover, it is a hundred to one that she has no thoughts whatever. And even if she had, what do I care?

I have chosen her to amuse me, and I should really prefer that she should have one of those insignificant little thoughtless faces like all the others.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57