What I've Learned About Female Beauty From Reading "Ivanhoe"
I’m pretty sure the summer between fifth and sixth grade all I did was read the illustrated version of Ivanhoe and plan to grow up to be a beautiful woman. The mechanics of how I was going to go about it got a little bit away from me at the time, but no matter; it was a relief to learn that there were as many as two ways for a woman to be beautiful, thus increasing my chances. Here is the first way, Rowena of Rotherwood:
Formed in the best proportions of her sex, Rowena was tall in stature, yet not so much so as to attract observation on account of superior height. Her complexion was exquisitely fair, but the noble cast of her head and features prevented the insipidity which sometimes attaches to fair beauties. Her clear blue eye, which sat enshrined beneath a graceful eyebrow of brown sufficiently marked to give expression to the forehead, seemed capable to kindle as well as melt, to command as well as to beseech. If mildness were the more natural expression of such a combination of features, it was plain, that in the present instance, the exercise of habitual superiority, and the reception of general homage, had given to the Saxon lady a loftier character, which mingled with and qualified that bestowed by nature. Her profuse hair, of a colour betwixt brown and flaxen, was arranged in a fanciful and graceful manner in numerous ringlets, to form which art had probably aided nature. These locks were braided with gems, and, being worn at full length, intimated the noble birth and free-born condition of the maiden. A golden chain, to which was attached a small reliquary of the same metal, hung round her neck. She wore bracelets on her arms, which were bare. Her dress was an under-gown and kirtle of pale sea-green silk, over which hung a long loose robe, which reached to the ground, having very wide sleeves, which came down, however, very little below the elbow. This robe was crimson, and manufactured out of the very finest wool. A veil of silk, interwoven with gold, was attached to the upper part of it, which could be, at the wearer's pleasure, either drawn over the face and bosom after the Spanish fashion, or disposed as a sort of drapery round the shoulders.
Let’s call this The Kind Of Beauty Where People Want To Talk To You. Its disadvantages are numerous and obvious. Here is the second kind, Rebecca of York:
Her form was exquisitely symmetrical, and was shown to advantage by a sort of Eastern dress, which she wore according to the fashion of the females of her nation. Her turban of yellow silk suited well with the darkness of her complexion. The brilliancy of her eyes, the superb arch of her eyebrows, her well-formed aquiline nose, her teeth as white as pearl, and the profusion of her sable tresses, which, each arranged in its own little spiral of twisted curls, fell down upon as much of a lovely neck and bosom as a simarre of the richest Persian silk, exhibiting flowers in their natural colours embossed upon a purple ground, permitted to be visible—all these constituted a combination of loveliness, which yielded not to the most beautiful of the maidens who surrounded her. It is true, that of the golden and pearl-studded clasps, which closed her vest from the throat to the waist, the three uppermost were left unfastened on account of the heat, which somewhat enlarged the prospect to which we allude. A diamond necklace, with pendants of inestimable value, were by this means also made more conspicuous. The feather of an ostrich, fastened in her turban by an agraffe set with brilliants, was another distinction, scoffed and sneered at by the proud dames who sat above her, but secretly envied by those who affected to deride them.
Let us call this The Kind Of Beauty Where They Can Eat Their Heart Out Quietly From A Distance, I’m Busy. Its advantages seemed obvious to me! One of the most complicating factors of my transition has been that it has not affected in the least my primary and unshakable desire to be the most beautiful woman in the world, Rebecca of York; I don’t have a great plan for synthesizing that with my other primary and unshakable desire. But for a bewildered little boy-girl reading a 19th-century man’s idea of what a beautiful woman might want other people to think about her own face, I think I turned out pretty well.
Anyhow, here’s what I’ve picked up on the subject thanks to decades of rereading Ivanhoe:
Women want to be SO beautiful that they forget about their beauty the SECOND they stop looking into the mirror, such that they’re constantly being kidnapped by SOUL-RUINED KNIGHTS who are driven MAD by their beauty but have no idea why until they happen to catch sight of their own reflection in a nearby brook and remember it’s because they were so beautiful
women feel most beautiful when they are standing at the top of a VERY tall tower ruthlessly flashing their eyes and rejecting a desperate man who only respects them more for rejecting him
truly beautiful women can only look up through the fringe of their own eyelashes and have never once looked down
women need three men in rotation appreciating their beauty at all time: one super-regular guy who doesn’t talk much but remembers you forever as the memory of your appearance animates his normally-passionless soul to great reverence, one incredibly old and evil man whose decrepit, soulworn appearance serves as a brilliant backdrop for yours in a sort of Death-and-the-Maiden vibe, and Brian de Bois-Gilbert
50-70% of your beauty is the result of an innate dignity that everyone immediately recognizes and respects, wondering inwardly if you are perhaps the descendent of a queen, for what else could explain your calm and serene bearing?? your face makes people question democracy
a beautiful woman bring out the innate quality of a viewer’s soul, such that men who aspire to be good become 800% more chaste, self-disciplined, honorable and results-driven at the mere sight of her, and the other kind of men try to set their own grandmothers on fire just to get her attention.
later both of those two kinds of men fight, and maybe almost-kiss for her amusement
draws her garments further around herself to signal that the time for admiring her is OVER
a beautiful woman is allowed to face death bravely once a month because she faces death so bravely that it makes her even more beautiful, I don’t know if that’s related to the other death-and-the-maiden thing earlier or not, but she regularly and beautifully faces death without fear and as a result never dies
dresses like a nun at least once
demeanor unmingled by the least shade either of fear or of a wish to propitiate favor
a sorrowful, kind regard for the other kind of beautiful woman whenever they happen to run into each other, such that they are able to calmly and supportively complete one (1) key task together before moving on with their own separate, beautiful lives
stands on a rampart against a swelling fire with hair and kirtle unbound, raising her arms in gleeful exultation, somehow sort of married to the fire for the duration of the scene? it works though
everyone WANTS to commit adultery with her but she’s actually never even heard of it so everyone’s to embarrassed to ask if she wants to commit adultery, so everyone around her is working overtime to push past the shame they feel and that she doesn’t even recognize as shame, to her that’s just “the way married people act when you talk to them”
a truly beautiful woman is extra generous to the horrible rat-people with the most shameful motives, thereby increasing the Sexy Contrast
sleeves always open to rain largesse and coins on the smallfolk below
she’s also a nurse by the way, skilled in the ways of healing due to either a learned Saxon grandmother or her sojourn among the wise women of the East
probably bending to minister over someone right now
hair either longer than God’s or recently shorn in defiance and to highlight the strength of her cheekbones
gracefully appearing at the grave of her enemies once more to provide a contrast to death and set an example of sportswomanlike conduct and Contemplation
that’s it, thanks to Walter Scott for making me like this