Saturday, 22 December 2012

22nd December - Penance

Oh dear, I am a little worse for wear this morning.  December is a month that rather encourages the excesses of appetites, don't you find?  Maybe it is the darkness, the cold, the large quantity of food and drink on offer or a heady combination of the three that makes us behave so very badly and have that second pint of sherry when we really shouldn't and end up showing our knees to a vicar, then having to be escorted from the party in shame.  When I say 'escorted' I obviously mean 'carried'.  I think we have all learnt valuable lessons this month, like not to bend over when wearing a corset top, but possibly some rather more stern punishment is in order...

Penance (1889) William John Hennessy
Ah, that's better. Well, I say 'better', but possibly I mean 'unexpectedly harsh'.  I don't remember seeing this young lady at the party, but she has obviously been having far too much fun and now has to pay for it.  It is her 'penance' to have to walk barefoot in the snow, in her nightie carrying her baby.  I like the fact that she gets a candle, because we don't want her to get lost as she freezes to death.  Mind you, possibly the purpose of the candle is not so she can see, but so we can see her in her shame.

I bet the Victorians loved a good penitent woman, for example Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester in Shakespeare's Henry VI...

The Penance of Eleanor (1900) Edwin Austin Abbey
Most Penitents tend to be women in paintings (if they are not Dr Johnson) and there does seem to be a sexual element to the sin they have committed.  Yes, Eleanor is punished for her necromancy, but I don't think the fact that she is a mistress, and a bit of a saucy piece is doing her any favours.  Likewise, why on earth would they make our penitent girl in the snow carry her baby with her if it wasn't somehow connected to the 'sin' she had committed in order to receive the penance?  It seems astonishingly inhumane to make someone walk barefoot, let alone expose a baby to the winter, but somehow this made sense to people as suitable punishment.

Mary Magdalene (1858-60) AFA Sandys
Now we come to the patron saint of women who feel sorry for what they have done and especially all the fun they really shouldn't have had.  It is no coincidence that in an awful lot of pictures of the other Mary, she has a candle, as if she has literally seen the light.  As much as the Victorians loved their good religious imagery, they loved Mary Magdalene as it was an excuse to see a saucy woman looking sorry for herself, as is right and proper.  Apparently.  As the first and most famous penitent woman, her crimes were of a sexual nature and this seems to set the bar for women's shame.  Yes, you may well have been up to all manner of other stuff, but I bet you were putting it about as well, because women who are evil often have little or no undergarments.  That probably doesn't help you much when it comes to walking in the snow...

I'm off to recover with some aspirin and a little nap.  It's about time I started behaving myself or else I may find myself out in the snow with a candle.  I'll see you tomorrow...

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