Raffalovich, André. Roses of Shadow. 1893. Privately Printed
by Jeannette Jackson, Andréa Stella, and Eric-Matthieu Kazadi
André Raffalovich’s Roses of Shadow is a one-act play that was first performed in 1893 in London. The play’s two main characters are Blanche Darien and Severin Campion. Blanche has dyed auburn hair, wears jewels and a gown. She is a decade Severin’s senior. Severin is attractive, but looks worn from the evening. The scene starts at 11 pm after a cocktail party.
The play opens with Blanche having just hosted the dinner party and Severin is the last of the remaining guests. Blanche begins by discussing with Severin a party guest who had particularly irritated her by singing in spite of Blanche’s headache. Severin then pays a compliment to Blanche by telling her that she should not discuss her age because she is ageless. The two friends engage in a rebuttal of how the guests were dressed and expose any indecencies the guest may have participated in.
Severin then mentions looking and feeling worn, and Blanche responds by telling him how attractive his hairstyle is and that the “artist who designed [his] anatomy knew who to draw” (6). Severin is happy to receive the compliment but he responds by saying that he is getting old, “even [his] red carnation is getting faded” (6). The color has ambiguity to it because it connects Blanche and Severin in not only dialogue but also in their denouement. The color “Red” is the color of the roses but, as Severin, describes it, is also a feeling, an entity—a tangible source that can be embraced and conformed. Blanche returns to the rhetoric of the guest as Severin indulges himself about the color red.
They continue discussing red faces and red rooms until Severin recites a poem to Blanche called the red ode. He then exclaims that he is a “fool, such a fool, such a fool thing this evening, so cowardly, no, not a coward but depressed, one of [his] fits of depression (He flings away his flower.) [He] is getting old” (7). Severin believes that he will no longer be able to rely on his looks alone, and then he gets caught up in the notion of being overly sensitive. Blanche attempts to bat away the comment by telling him that everyone is sensitive, but Severin continues on.
Blanche begins to scold Severin by telling him that he does everything possible to aggravate his sensitivity because he idles foolishly which allows other people to speak unkindly of him. Blanche confronts Severin about his perception of happiness as it pertains to wealth and fame. She lectures him about his ungratefulness and how he squanders money accruing debts, along the way. She tells him that “vanity is a modern voice” (9) and alludes to the fact that he keeps company of different women for the social benefit of not having to work.
Severin then laments that he wants to keep his lifestyle but “can’t afford to go on and can’t retire (10). So he proposes that he will sell himself to the highest bidder. He discusses how some of the dinner party guests, who were of capital, married not for love but for riches. Blanche takes the same premise with said dinner guests but instead speaks to the unhappiness and grief of marrying for the wrong reasons. Blanche is horrified by the thought of Severin entering into this type of advantageous relationship. She tells him that he’s degrading himself.
The more he indulges himself in the idea of pairing with Blanche, the more he convinces himself how great it is. Severin immediately asks Blanche to marry him. She tells him it is impossible. She says that despite how well they get along and how much time they spend together she cannot marry him because it would be unacceptable. Blanche even goes so far as to teeter as to whether or not outside opinions are of any importance, but ultimately she holds strong and continues refusing his request of marriage. Blanche tells Severin that she would do anything for him, except marriage.
They debate back and forth, but Blanche does not budge. Finally, Severin reminds her how he makes her smile. She acknowledges that they need each other, but that “unconventionality is sometimes only a desperate hunger, the hunger of the civilised cannibal who eats his own heart” (18). Severin then declares that Blanche is the only woman with whom he could face the future. But at that same moment, Blanche hears a neighbor’s laugh and the conversation dies. Blanche tells Severin that she will be good to him; he agrees that she will be, and the play ends.