The Rose of Versailles (Berusaiyu no Bara)

"Lady Oscar" (French/English)

Note: Please see my EX review of this series for a more recent and thorough investigation of the philosophical themes, in addition to a character listing.

Total of 10, possibly 11, comic books by Ikeda Riyoko. For all of you who have asked: No, sorry, I have no idea of how to find these books in the US. I do know that you can still get this series in Japanese used book stores, and I was able to buy a compilation of the last stories in '99 new, at a reasonably large book shop in Tokyo. By the way, here's a great online resource.

Quick overview:

The author views this as the story of 3 people: Oscar Jarjayes, a fictitious swordswoman and daughter of a real person (General de Jarjayes), Marie Antoinette (true character), and Axel Fersen (true character). In reality, it's mostly the story of Oscar, though it starts with Antoinette and ends with Antoinette. Loosely based on true history, this classic manga (from 1973) follows the lives of its 3 main characters, from the early days of Maria Antonia's days in Austria, to her uncertain glory as Queen of France, to Axel Fersen's pathetic death in Sweden, many years after Marie Antoinette's execution. But, like I said, it mostly follows Oscar, as she discovers just what it means to be an aristocrat in a country filled with poor people, and a woman brought up as a man.

In addition to gorgeous artwork, the series is also marked by some lovely prose --- some of the best writing I've seen in manga. In the later books, the images and words flow like poetry, with the use of both symbolism and references to Classical literature.

By the way, there was a sequel series which covered the rise of Napoleon. However, I have not read it.

Side note:

This series was immensely popular at the time, so much so that a play was even based on it. (There was also a TV series which differs considerably from the manga series). The idea of a woman competing with men was rather an unusual idea in Japan at the time (it still is), and it's certain that Oscar had a great impact on many Japanese girls who are now adults in the workforce or raising children at home.
Book 1: Oscar's father, a noble in a traditionally military house, is so annoyed with the birth of his 6th daughter (no sons), that he decides to raise his youngest as a boy. So he names her Oscar. Meanwhile, in Austria, young Marie (Maria) is growing up, spoiled, pampered, and ever ready to use benign trickery to avoid her responsibilities. But she's so sociable and nice that no one can dislike her. Eventually, it's decided that she must marry the heir to the French throne, and so she's sent to France and married off to the pudgy, shy, withdrawn, slow, and basically weak-willed dauphin (talk about mismatch!). Oscar is made into one of her personal guards. Meanwhile, in Paris, a young girl Rosalie and her more sinister sister Jeanne are growing up in the slums.... Oscar, meanwhile, is following Marie on her frequent escapades from Versailles to Paris, where the dauphine goes to balls and dances. At one such dance, Marie meets Axel Fersen. Marie's clashes with the King's consort, the ex-prostitute Madame du Barry, nearly cause war between France and Austria.

Book 2. Luckily, the King dies, du Barry is exiled, and Marie becomes Queen. Oscar is promoted to head of the Queen's Palace Guard. In Paris, Jeanne, claiming noble lineage, escapes the slums. Soon after, Rosalie's mother is run over by a noblewoman's carriage --- the infamous Comtesse de Polignac, the Queen's best friend --- and Rosalie rushes off to Versailles seeking revenge. Mistaking Oscar's mother for the Comtesse, Rosalie attacks her and is subdued by Oscar. Then, due to her naive and sweet nature, Rosalie is promptly adopted as part of the family.

Book 3. Jeanne murders her way up the social ladder. She becomes the infamous (true person) Comtesse de LaMotte-Valois. Marie generally gets more and more extravagant, and lavishes gifts on her friend the Comtesse de Polignac. Eventually, the Queen becomes caught in an elaborate swindle engineered by Jeanne (the famous "Necklace Scandal").

Book 4. Oscar, along with her servant Andre and her troops, finally get rid of Jeanne --- but it's too late to save the Queen's image; Jeanne, through her lies and her swindle, has helped ruin the Queen's name. Now, however, a new terror is sweeping Versailles --- the "Black Knight," a pirate-thief who robs the rich. Oscar and Andre, using schemes of their own, eventually track down the Black Knight, who, they discover, is part of a group of plotters who are seeking revolt against the Throne. About this time, Oscar begins to see just how bad the conditions are for the poor of France.

Book 5. Though they capture the "Black Knight," Oscar and Andre are somewhat sympathetic to him and pretend he is not the villain. The "Black Knight," in fact, is now firmly in love with Rosalie --- and the two go off to get married. Oscar, dissatisfied with the decay of the court and her own pampered upbringing, does something drastic: she resigns from palace duty and demotes herself to be captain of a group of rough soldiers in the French Guards. Andre is assigned to be her aide. Ridiculed for being female, Oscar has to prove herself through a duel with the soldiers' self-appointed leader, Alan.

Book 6. Despite continuing problems, Oscar gradually begins to win over her men. As conditions deteriorate at the Court, however, her father decides she should be married off for her own safety. Oscar fights back; however, she is almost seduced into giving up her responsibilities for the easiness of aristocratic wifehood. She resists. Meanwhile, conditions in Paris are getting worse. Political ploys are putting the King and Queen on the spot. Marie's oldest son, the heir to the throne, dies of an illness.

Book 7. Things in France continue to head downhill; there isn't even enough money to pay for the dauphin's funeral. Marie finally begins to realize that the frivolities and parties of her youth have drained the treasury --- but she decides that the best way to proceed is to tax the poor more. After all, the clergy and the nobles are too powerful to force a tax upon, and that leaves only the poor, right? Meanwhile, Oscar and Andre realize they're in love --- which is bad in that Andre is a non-noble servant, too far beneath Oscar, who is a noblewoman. The other problem is that Andre is going blind (though he hides this from Oscar).

Book 8. Things degenerate. Paris is unstable. Oscar and her men take the plunge, and turn against the Throne; she leads her French Guards to battle against the royal forces. In one such clash, Andre is killed. A grieving Oscar pushes on; a short time later, she leads her troops to the battle at the Bastille, where she is shot down herself, and dies. Full scale revolution erupts soon after the fall of the Bastille. [The picture to the left shows Oscar and her troops in battle.]

Book 9. The King and Queen become prisoners of the people. Axel Fersen, by now the Queen's lover (in everything but the technical sense), helps the King and Queen try to escape. Their escape is a failure, and the King and Queen are brought back for trial. The King is executed. Their son is brainwashed into becoming a commoner boy. The now ex-Queen is imprisoned, with Rosalie as her chambermaid (Rosalie Lamorliere was a true person, in that capacity). After a lengthy and draining trial, the ex-Queen is executed. Fersen lives on, cold and bitter and angry at the peasantry, and is eventually beaten to death by the repressed poor, in his home country of Sweden. (Yes, this part is true. This is not fiction).

Book 10. Fictitious side-story. Oscar, Andre, and Rosalie travel to Oscar's sister's place, where they attend a ball and meet Oscar's precocious young niece (LuLu?), a nasty young girl named Caroline, as well as the beautiful but creepy Lady Elizabeth (semi-based on a real person). Caroline helps Oscar, Andre, Rosalie, and LuLu get lost at a picnic the next day, and they find themselves at Elizabeth's castle. Elizabeth turns out to be a sadistic vampire-wanna-be, who believes that the blood of young, beautiful girls will give her eternal beauty. Caroline is killed by a killer clockwork doll. Yeah, really. Oscar and Andre eventually save Rosalie from the same fate, and Elizabeth kills herself rather than be lynched by the angry mobs of townspeople that are approaching her castle. This is a story better seen in pictures than described in words.

Lastly, there were a number of short stories involving Lulu and Oscar that came after the above publication (if nothing else, the drawing style has changed significantly). While the stories aren't bad, I find I don't enjoy them nearly as much as the original story line.

One more plug: Please see my EX review of this series for a more recent and thorough investigation of the philosophical themes, in addition to a character listing.

Oscar images are property of Ikeda Riyoka and applicable publishing firms. Used under "fair use" academic/press clause only.

Back to the manga listing.

Rei's Anime and Manga Page.

Back to my homepage.