Thursday, 10 May 2012

I Can Resist Everything But Temptation…

For those people who have the mixed fortune to be friends with me on Facebook, you will already know that I am on a diet, or rather I have radically restructured my approach to the whole ‘eating’ scenario.  This mainly is a matter of me not eating between meals and being sensible, but as my days run from to around nine at night, it sometimes gets a bit rocky and a bit chocolate-y around four in the afternoon.  Anyway (and there is a point to this story) I was sitting at a colleague’s desk the other day, covering her lunch break, and in front of me, for an hour, was a large and insanely delicious looking chocolate fudge cake, which I was invited to eat some of.  But I couldn’t.  For an hour.  That was a very long hour.

Anyhow, it got me thinking, about cake mainly, but also about temptation, and Victorian depictions of it.

Temptation Alfred Duke
Yes, that kind of sums me up.  The dog reminds me of my grandma’s dog, Cindy, who Grampy Fred trained to pick up the change that fell onto the floor in the pub.  Anyway, had this been Cindy the Jack Russell, she would have eaten the meat by now.  I’m sure this is all kinds of metaphoric, but then again it might just be about a terrier’s love of ham. Mmmm, ham….

Temptation (1868) Charles Lidderdale
Here we go, this is a bit more blatant.  Naughty Eve offers the apple to Adam, but hang about, why is Adam only about 12 years old?  And what is going on with that overturned chair?  And what is she holding behind her back??!  As narratives go, this one is somewhat disturbing.  Why does the woman hold out the apple?  She is quite a bit bigger than him and he really does look like a child, so it’s not the run-of-the-mill tale.  Maybe she symbolises adult knowledge, which she is offering him, but that upturned chair worries me, especially as it looks like it’s had a few knife strokes through it.  Is she short of meat for dinner?  I think I’ll move on…

The Temptation Henry Tonks
Now, that’s far less disturbing.  Both the subjects are the same age and there is no hint of cannibalism.  This reminds me a little of Millais’ The Woodsman’s Daughter, but then that didn’t end well either.  Dear me, you start with fruit, you end with unplanned pregnancy and death.  Where’s a Jack Russell when you need one?

If you go looking for Victorian images of temptation, you get a barrel-full of religious ones, obviously, with all manner of knights and saints, not to mention Jesus himself, with lots of tempting going on…

Temptation in the Wilderness (1901) Alfred Strutt

‘No!  You’re not having any of my packed lunch! I don’t care how saucy you look!’

There is also a fair number of ‘Gosh, aren’t you temptingly pretty..?’ pictures, like so….
Temptation Talbot Hughes
‘Look at the powder on her!’ No wonder this fine looking gentleman finds the lady so attractive, even if she has dozed off while reading (that happens to me).  She hasn’t started drooling or snoring yet, so she is very pretty.  However, he might just be tempted to drop ice cubes down her corset.

Temptation in the House of God Luigi da Rios
It took me a moment to realise who is being tempted and by what.  The scene is dominated by the central figure of a nice looking woman in a fantastic coloured skirt, who is about to kneel and pray, like the woman next to her.  In the shadows, a man peeks around the drapery at her.  He should be paying attention to the word of God, but instead he is paying rather wistful attention to a girl in a paisley shawl.  Well, it’ll all come out in confession later no doubt…

Temptation Thomas Kennington
Other than Arthur Hacker’s marvellous picture of the temptation of Sir Percival, above, this is possibly my favourite tempting picture, if only because she appears to be eating a bright red feather duster.  She is obviously tempted to marry the old man for his golden box of goodness, which would be ‘a bad thing’ apparently.  I love that where the woman is, there is colour and light, but moving to the left of the canvas, the colours drain to just a dirty gold colour, suggesting that you’d get your money, but that is all.  All the colour goes out of your life when you get rich.  Apparently.

The Tempter Charles Halle
Similarly, if you marry the scary man, you can have a glowing castle.  Alternatively, you can remain poor, with only a poster of the glowing castle, in a ‘Look what you could have won!’ sort of way.  Is that a picture?  Is it a window?  Exactly how scary is that man?  Maybe he is an allegorical figure of temptation but I can’t imagine what he’s tempting her to do.  She appears to be turning over the fabric on the table, one side is plain and one side is richly patterned.  Does she have to choose which side she likes best?  Chose the pattern!  Come on, you live somewhere that redefines rustic, and not in a good way.  Go live in the castle!  Chances are your rich husband will be old and he’ll die and then you’ll be a rich widow.  Moral qualms are for people who don’t have to live in hovels.  Take the gold, then regret your decision from the comfort of a nice sofa. 

Oh well, back to the diet.  Turns out I can resist chocolate fudge cake, but am helpless in the face of old rich men with oodles of gold.  It’s a good thing they aren’t fattening….


  1. No a big plate of cookies (ginger creams please) with a cup of hot tea is a source of temptation. I'm not a chocolate person but I really love cookies. It's rainy and the type of weather you REALLY need cookies and a cup of tea. And a good book. And a comfy chair. SIGH

  2. What a lovely post. And interestingly, the first picture shows the difference between Victorian breeds of pig and modern ones; look at the thick layer of fat that piece! Of course, in those days, in rural communities, fat like that was a vital part of the diet, given the amount of hard physical work labourers had to do. Not now, though... Sweet little terrier, just seconds away from jumping up and running away with his ill-gotten gains.

  3. re: Temptation in the House of God Luigi da Rios. It could be Mephistopheles and Marguerite from Goethe's Faust, and that's Maggie's old biddy companion kneeling by her side. And we all know what happened to her (Maggie, not the old biddy!)


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