Friday, 1 March 2013

Dropping your Eaves…

I only once practiced the subtle art of eavesdropping.  I was young and foolish at the time and heard a friend of mine discussing me with a boy I had the most tremendous crush on.  ‘Kirsty’s ever so nice, you should be her boyfriend…’ I heard my friend entreat the subject of my passion.  He paused, the replied ‘Yes, she is nice…but she isn’t very pretty.  You’re much more my type, why don’t we go out?’ ‘Oh, okay then,’ she answered, the faithless hussy.  I was utterly devastated for a good half hour, then had some sherbet lemons and felt better.  I was nine years old and learnt the hard truth that you should never eavesdrop as you will never hear anything good about yourself.  Something this lot could learn…

Broken Vows (1857) Philip Hermogenes Calderon
Ah, this is what inspired today’s post.  A particular favourite of mine due to the melodrama, as she is clutching her kidney or spleen or the suchlike at the shock of her beloved's infidelity.  Possibly she is clutching her sherbet lemons as the object of her affections plays fast and loose with a fair-haired trollop (not that I’m over-identifying or anything).  This is presumably a case of accidental eavesdropping, although it’s a bit of a coincidence to think that he just happened to be dallying with his flaxon-haired floozy at the same time as our poor girl is passing, but I think that is what is suggested. 

The Eavesdropper (1868) Carl Heinrich Hoff
‘Oh, I was just passing, in the shrubbery, when I happened to hear you talking about me and my finely powdered wig…’  Least convincing performance of just accidentally overhearing must go to this young gentleman, lurking in the bushes as two young ladies read what could be a love letter.  It’s so good they have even abandoned their game of badminton in order to read it. I like to think that the girl in red was holding the shuttlecock when she suddenly said ‘Oh, I know what this reminds me of – have a read of this!’

Curiosity (1892) Eugen von Blaas
Now there is accidentally overhearing or seeing something, then there is fetching a ladder and making sure you get a good look.  Really, this can hardly be seen as an accident, although they could have brought two ladders as the lass behind is never going to get a good view.  If only the girl in Broken Vows had brought her own ladder, she could have given the cheating pair a good shouting at, if not actually thrown things.  Whatever this game pair are peeking at, it seems to amuse them as they don’t appear to be distraught or clutching at their sherbet lemons.  My guess is it is something saucy…

Madame Recoit (1908) Remy Cogghe
There is no doubt that these two are eavesdropping on something saucy.  My reason for stating this is that firstly they are smiling, and there is a hat and cane on the chair next to them.  Actually, no, shame on me.  I’m sure they are eavesdropping on a visit from Madame Recoit’s solicitor and they have just overheard that they are to be remembered in a Will. Or something that isn’t about having a man rustle your bustle.

The Listeners (1835-47) John Henry Mole
Oh we are definitely in sauce-territory here.  I particularly like the young woman kneeling on the floor, risking bending in a low-cut corset in order to listen at the door.  Again, the presence of the cane and hat signify that they are listening to a ‘conversation’ between a gentleman and presumably a lady.  Whatever they can hear it must be good, the woman in white has got her fan out…

Overheard Jules Goupil
I am now quite tempted to just check outside my door to make sure that there isn’t a pair of eavesdroppers lurking.  They would be very bored if they were as my bustle is being distinctly unrustled just at the moment.  It’s hard to discern what these two are listening to, although it doesn’t seem to be anything unpleasant, but there is no hint that it is something saucy or funny.  This is what happens when people don’t have telly, they are forced to make their entertainment where they can…

The Curious Maid Wilhelm Amberg
So to sum up, listening at keyholes can provide jolly entertainment in a very ‘Fanny Hill’ kind of way, but do not attempt to hear anything of any import.  Well, at least not without a bag of sherbet lemons for support. 


  1. I had this sudden idea to place the two painting of people from both sides of the door together so the eavedroppers are listening to each other eavedropping (I'm not certain it's clear what I mean). It also reminds me of the part of Sam Gamgee in the movie... "I ain't be dropping no eaves..." to Gandalf after he was caught eavesdropping. Where ever did the term come from...?

    1. I think that's a lovely idea for a pair of paintings. Now I want something saucy in the middle, for a Gossip Triptych. An Etty, maybe?

    2. Ah, Etty, such a little devil...

  2. Indeed, I was quoting Sam in the title :)

    Apparently it refers to someone who stands in the eaves drop, or just outside a door, under the eaves, and listens.

    It would be funny to have two sets of eavesdroppers listening to each other:
    'Shhhhh, I thought I heard someone say something...'
    'What did they say?'
    'They said 'shhh, I thought I heard someone say something'...'

  3. Or what people did for entertainment in the days before Twitter.

  4. Or some sort of X-Factor precursor where the servants can vote their mistress's lovers out if they weren't entertaining enough...

  5. Hi Kirsty,

    I am a lurker and , even worse, a former French teacher !
    I love your blog so thanks for keeping me entertained, educated, amused and delighted.
    The title of the painting "Madame Reçoit" translates as "Madam has a visitor". Reçoit is not her name but a verb - I won't go into further grammatical detail .....

    Keep these sumptuous paintings coming.

    Best Wishes,

  6. Thank you Joan! I did wonder if her name had connotations but I should have guessed it was a verb....


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx