Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Purple faze

I've been reading Graham Greene's A Burnt-Out Case, and came upon this sentence: "She finished off a horrible mauve dessert before she spoke again."

It got me thinking: we don't really have mauve things any more, do we? Most people, if they could be bothered to express an opinion, would suggest that mauve is just a kind of purple, possibly a bit paler than the norm, which then leads to the question of why the paler versions of some colours (pink, mauve) have special names, while others (light blue, light green) don't. But would you really want to paint your bathroom mauve, or buy a pair of mauve shoes? Would anyone have wanted 2 see U laughing in the dark mauve rain?

Part of the problem is that there's no definitive rule on what's mauve and what's, say, lilac. Until Pantone swatch books become as ubiquitous as Harry Potter, we may as well all be talking different languages. It's possible that lots of things are mauve, but it's the word itself that's become passé, along with the likes of 'buff' and 'tawny'.

Go back to Greene, and you realise he's onto something with the conjunction of 'mauve' and 'horrible'. A purple dessert - something like a nice summer pudding, maybe - wouldn't have had the same effect. 'Mauve' doesn't just suggest a colour. It hints at something fake, concocted, synthetic. Which, of course, it originally was. Maybe that's it: in a world where we're desperate to clutch onto notions (delusions?) of authenticity, mauve just isn't real enough.

14 comments:

Betty said...

More to the point, how do you pronounce it? Some people insist on saying "morve".

Taupe: now there's a 1980's colour that is never mentioned anymore. Puts me in mind of men in heavily shoulder padded suit jackets, probably with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows to reveal a stripey lining. Oh, and wearing a black cotton polo neck jumper underneath of course.

wyndham said...

Mauve has definitely been appropriated as the favourie colour of barmy people. Although I notice that gastro-pub designers have been digging out the mauve flock wallpaper lately.

A Burnt Out Case - my favourite Greene novel, with the possible exception of The Comedians and The End Of The Affair and The Moment You Were Gone. Oh, no, sorry, that last one was Nicci Gerrard. Easy mistake.

Billy said...

Ochre. I learnt that from Captain Scarlett.

Robert Swipe said...

May I be so bold as to suggest a revision, Tim?

Shouldn't this post be called "Mauve on Up"?

Just a thought....you know, up the Curtis quotient, sort of thing...

Bob

p.s. nice choice of word from GG, as you'd expect. Is there an implication that there is an opposition between the very synthetic (and therefore human) mauve and the rather more obviously Catholic associations that using purple would have lent the pudding(i.e. the divine...)

Or am I reading too much into it, as per?

p.p.s wrod vreciffiffification: oyorr.

Is that a West Country saying??

dh said...

Beige seems to be hanging in there. It's sort of synonymous with suburban.

Tim Footman said...

Surely it's move, to rhyme with Karl Rove, Betty. Oooh, rolled-up jacket sleeves. Reminds me of a bar that used to be on Lavender Hill, called No Jacket Required. Not quite a Phil Collins theme pub, but close.

I lean towards The Quiet American, Wyndham. It's the wannabe foreign correspondent thing.

Who would win in a fight between the Jolly Green Giant and the Ochre Ogre, Billy?

Also, Bob: the Lilac Time, Marooned, Spilling Claret, etc etc... Once a sub-editor... But vv perceptive about the Catholic thing. The character is caught between her profoundly Catholic (deep purple?) husband and the existentialist anti-hero, Querry. She's a nice Catholic girl, but not as devout as hubby. So mauve could be good...

But is beige distinct from taupe and camel and buff and oatmeal, Dick? I once wrote a poem about the Tory leadership contest in 1990:

Hurd,
So I've heard
Them say
Is grey,
But Major
Is beiger.


(Any similarity to John Hegley happily acknowledged...)

Rimshot said...

fascist...oh, wait...wrong post.

BiB said...

There are completely different words for light-blue and dark-blue in Russian. There is no straightforward blueness. (And they can't make their minds up between violet and purple, while I'm on.)

Tim Footman said...

Same to you, Rimshot.

OK, Bib, what colour do they reckon borscht is?

BiB said...

I've just asked a real Russian and he answered, with a hint of disdain, if I may say so, "Red. It's not green, is it?" "Not violet?" "OK then, Bordeaux," he acquiesced. What a thorny little dilemma.

Fat Roland said...

Tim's so mauve, we don't know what he's planning.

Lizet Kruyff said...

Never heard of the Dutch painter Anton Mauve (1838-1888),famous for his paintings of landscapes with heather? That's mauve. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Mauve
pronounced with the o of home, or for the purists with the ow of clown. Sorry for being serious.
lizet www.spinazieacademie.nl

Tim Footman said...

Vodka, surely, Bib?

Nah, FR. Puce.

Hello, Lizet, and welcome! I had vaguely heard of Mauve, but didn't know there was a direct link between his name and the colour. The Dutch pronunciation doesn't help, sadly, because idiot Anglophones can't even pronounce his cousin's name. (Van Goff for Brits, Van Go for Americans.)

Lizet Kruyff said...

Hi Tim, yes, he gave the name to the colour with his rather dreary landscapes, much beloved by the middleclasses. If Mauve and Van Gogh are tonguetwisters, I wonder what you make of De Hoogh, Mesdag, Weissenbruch, Cuyp, Dou, Saenredam and Cuyp!