Why does mauve get such a bad reputation in novels?
In 1890, Oscar Wilde wrote in his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Never marry a woman who wears mauve .” Well Oscar Wilde, you are the not person I would send my dear brother to for marriage advice.
But in a few other sources, mauve has this mocking tone of those who use it. In one of my favorite books of all time The Eyre Affair [a must read for any budding English major! it is a twist on Jane Eyre, which I usually hate, but this one is done so smartly!] the main character, Thursday Next (nomination for BEST NAME EVER), has a conversation with her father, a time traveling rogue, who has gone to the future and see that his wife and Thursday’s mother has painted the drawing room’s walls mauve. The Father, as a time traveling rouge, he has no given name, insists Thursday call her mother and sway her away from the color that clashes with the curtains. Of course, as most optimistic science fiction teaches us, time has a way of working things out on its own, and Thursday’s mother, named Wednesday, paints the drawing room mauve at Thursday’s mention of the color.
This wouldn’t cause any alarm to me, except that mauve is always getting picked on. Personally, I don’t like the color much myself. It makes me look washed out, and I feel like this happens to a lot of people probably because mauve tries to a cool color and a warm color at the same time. In Stephan Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods, Cinderella’s stepsister, Lucinda, exclaims “Never wear mauve to a ball!” Is this because the cool and warm tones would read poorly in the castle’s candle lighting? Or maybe the stepsister reads Oscar Wilde and wants to pick up a dandy at the ball.
James Whistler is credited with saying “Mauve is just pink trying to be purple.” This statements makes me feel a little sorry for the color. Maybe Whistler is judging it prematurely. Whistler’s paintings don’t exactly explode with color. Even Whistler’s sunsets are more gray than mauve, and mauve is the color used to depict sunsets in stage lighting.
Maybe mauve just came about at the wrong time. The color was invented with a dye bearing its name, mauvine was invented and it is highly associated with the 1890’s, a decade universally regarded as silly and decadent. I think people like Oscar Wilde, who wrote about that time saw the silliness and associated it with a color that was apparently pervading the entire culture. Then people who became disillusioned with the decadence of the 90’s during the World Wars continued the perception that all the decadence was useless, including an admittedly decadent color. So poor mauve, who could never quite be purple, could never quite be excepted seriously either.
My final decision on the color is that it would look nice on a pillow or a wall, assuming it goes with the curtains, but I would still never wear it to a ball.
Gustav Klimt–there’s a man who loved a good mauve.