Painter Of The Night: “Room with a view” in Joseon (part 1)

This is where you can read the manhwa.  But be aware that this manhwa is a mature Yaoi, which means, it is about homosexuality with explicit scenes.

I chose this title, well aware that there is a book written by E. M. Forster titled “Room with a view”. I am not sure if younger generations are familiar with this great novel because I often mention this book in my History classes and most of my students (in Germany) have never heard of this book. People tend to reduce the story just to a romance. Nevertheless it mostly deals with the repressive Victorian values for women and the class differences. It criticizes how in England working people are despised by classes from the high society (high bourgeoisie, nobility and even the clergy) in reality. Therefore it takes a long time for the female protagonist Lucy Honeychurch to admit her love and to decide to marry George Emerson, a freethinking employee of a rail company over a very traditional man Cecil Vyse belonging to the higher society. This means, she marries below her status. With just these aspects, we observe parallels between this story and our manhwa: the huge gap between Seungho’s status and the painter’s, the denying of Baek Na-Kyum’s attraction and starting feelings for the lord and finally the strict moral standards restraining their future love for each other [Baek Na-Kyum is not aware of his feelings yet].

However the real reason I chose this title is the role played by the window and the lord’s room. Like I had mentioned in my analysis “Yoon Seungho: a tragic figure or a hell-raiser?”, Byeonduck often put the protagonist standing in a room and watching through the window. First, his position indicated his passivity as he was a spectator. It was as if he was not really living but letting bypass time. Nonetheless it also reflects the evolution of the relationship between the seme and Baek Na-Kyum. Thus the fourth similarity with the English novel is the role played by the room with the view. Without this, their relationship wouldn’t have changed. That’s why my focus here will be about the scenes where the room and the view played a huge part and compare them to each other in order to mirror the different phases of their relationship. But where did the room and the view play a role? We have altogether 6 scenes: chapter 5, 12, 17, 30, 35 and 44.

Now let’s take a closer look to the first scene which is situated after Yoon Seungho confiscated the treasured poem written by the teacher Jung In-Hun. In the chapter 5, the beholder witnesses how the lord is looking out of the window alone while smoking.

Suddenly, he hears Baek Na-KYum’s voice apologizing. This shows that he didn’t hear the approaching steps or didn’t feel his presence revealing that his mind was wandering elsewhere as he only turns his head around, when he hears the low-born’s voice.

Interesting is that the painter didn’t even announce his arrival, he came suddenly so that we can say that Baek Na-Kyum was quite bold here. A servant usually would let the master know that he would like to say something to the master. He can’t barge like that without greeting him properly. Interesting is that Yoon Seungho is not at all bothered by his lack of manners. He doesn’t dismiss the man or warns him for crossing the line. Yoon Seungho has even to question the painter for the reason of his abrupt apology. It comes out of nowhere and there is no explication. During their conversation, we can feel the artist’s clumsiness because he repeats the words he said the day before while giving the explication.

Here he doesn’t even realize the other big mistake he is making. Actually, he is reminding Yoon Seungho of his judgemental description: he perceives him as a man consumed by lust. Actually, his words in this conversation trigger something in the noble. The day before, the latter didn’t really take to heart the critic coming from the painter but now, it is a little different. Furthermore he senses that the apology is not entirely honest as there is a motivation behind it. He would like Yoon Seungho to return the poem which the latter refuses. His lack of politeness is even reinforced as he is almost giving an order as he uses the imperative.

The lord is honestly tolerant during this whole scene, in fact he is amused by Baek Na-Kyum’s behavior. The painter thinks, he could fool the noble with his somehow insincere apology but Yoon Seungho tricks him by accepting the apology without returning the poem. He is somehow entertained by Baek Na-Kyum. He senses the innocence behind his daring attitude, he is so transparent.

What caught my attention here is that from their first meeting, the artist has always behaved in a reckless manner giving the impression that he was nonconformist. We know that when it comes to homosexuality, here Baek Na-Kyum symbolizes the summit of conformism. But let’s go back to the bold behavior in front of the lord. Baek Na-Kyum tried to run away, destroyed the first picture and lied so many times, however the protagonist was never truly offended. He always forgave him, besides his lies could be discovered immediately. Consequently, the low-born distinguished himself from all other people evolving around Yoon Seungho. They all used to show respect due to his social status or to fear him, notwithstanding they were not honest with him. So I guess, the noble must have felt a certain closeness to the painter who was so transparent and sincere, even with his lies. Sure, the admiration for the painter’s talent played a role for the high tolerance as well.

If you pay attention to the situation here, you’ll observe that the lord remains calm and almost emotionless, though the painter showed a certain disrespect for the noble, it looks like he was not offended. Baek Na-Kyum never realized his boldness all along. Striking is that this conversation is the reason why Seungho can’t have sex with Jihwa in the same chapter. Despite the appearance, the lord took the critic coming from the uke more personally… and let us not forget that before, he never paid attention to hearsay or judgemental attitude through gossips. This scene reveals that this conversation did affect the lord to the point that he couldn’t have sex.

As conclusion, the noble shows a tolerant attitude towards the daring low-born, yet simultaneously we witness during that day that Seungho is a little sensitive, when it comes to Baek Na-Kyum. He doesn’t like to be perceived by him as someone obsessed with sex. Finally, it becomes clear that Seungho doesn’t abide to moral codex so strictly. He might be merciless while killing a servant, yet he is not someone valuing manners over reason or common sense. We get to see glimpses of his tolerance.

Then in the chapter 12, Jihwa visits the powerful noble unannounced, while the noble was looking out of the window.

Striking is that Seungho shows no courtesy at all because he doesn’t receive the guest properly. He just remains in the room indicating that this sudden visit is not really welcome. However, he doesn’t truly reject the encounter and lets the noble sit to his table. Here, he keeps smoking while looking out of the window. Then we have our adorable Baek Na-Kyum stepping out of his room for a walk.

The moment Seungho sees a glimpse of the painter, he stops smoking. You can observe that Baek Na-Kyum has caught his attention. He is intrigued and doesn’t pay attention to Jihwa’s comment. In only two pictures, the relationship between Jihwa and the alluring seme is defined: Jihwa is just a sex partner and is only a tool for the main character. Despite their hot sex at the pavilion, Seungho’s perception and “feelings” for the noble have not changed at all. After leaving his room, the painter must have felt the lord’s gaze because he shows his respect by bowing. He is quite obedient and submissive. His attitude has changed due to the beating, he is more respectful.

Jihwa noticed the lack of response from Seungho and the gaze directed to outdoors. Hence he turns the head and views the painter. The image above reflects the relationship between the seme and Baek Na-Kyum. He is just an employee or servant that’s why he bows his head. What is more surprising is the protagonist’s next move.

He literally abandons his guest and leaves the room. Imagine the huge contrast. He didn’t even bother to go outside to join his guest, a noble, he remained inside. Yet he goes to the courtyard in order to meet a domestic. Imagine the humiliation and frustration for Jihwa, since he is belonging to the high society. Seungho is literally ignoring society’s values. He shows more respect for a commoner than a noble. We can understand why Jihwa is annoyed by Seungho’s behavior. Furthermore, he thought that he had been able to damage the relationship between his sex partner and the painter. In this scene, we witness the importance of the artist in Seungho’s life. First, he hasn’t slept with him yet. Secondly, Baek Na-Kyum had just been reprimanded by the lord for ruining a picture. So this illustrates that despite the fault, Seungho was very forgiving and showed a different attitude towards the low-born. He usually shows no mercy and doesn’t change his opinion, once a verdict has been passed, even Jihwa pointed this out. But this privileged treatment doesn’t just end here.

The rich noble joins the artist’s side with a smile despite their past violent argument and the punishment. He is even teasing the “servant” underlining his quite friendly behavior towards the artist. He shows neither resent nor pettiness in this moment, unlike our detestable teacher Jung In-Hun.

He even caresses the painter’s hair while confirming his full recovery. Let us not forget that the lord only allows Jihwa to come close to him and touch him, where they have sex. As soon as the sex session is finished, there is no intimacy and closeness. The lord keeps people at a distance, until he met Baek Na-Kyum. The latter is an exception. Here again, he touches the painter just like in their first encounter. Seungho shows no disdain which outlines his open-mindedness. He doesn’t view the painter as filthy and unworthy of his touch. This contrasts to Jihwa and In-Hun’s point of view. Here Seungho demonstrates his carefree attitude towards social values and norms. He still doesn’t care about the social status of the painter. Since the lord perceived Baek Na-Kyum’s true talents, he is worthy to be touched. This illustrates that titles mean nothing to the lord. In other words, this scene illustrates the lord’s nonconformist attitude contrasting so much to Jihwa’s and In-Hun’s mentality. However, we shouldn’t overlook that here Seungho is not entirely nice towards the artist. He uses the closeness to remind him of their deal:

The seme is definitely threatening the painter. It is their secret and he wants to make sure that the painter won’t run away. Furthermore, this image unveils Jung In-Hun’s true situation: he is just a hostage. Since Baek Na-Kyum has experienced himself the harsh treatment once, he knows that his words are not empty promises. So their visible intimacy is deceiving: there is a struggle of forces and the noble has the upper hand. However, for Jihwa it looks totally differently.

He only sees the whispering, bringing to light the closeness and the attention given to the painter, whereas he has been left behind and excluded. He has no idea that in reality, Seungho is not so nice towards the painter hence in the chapter 43, he thinks that the artist has in fact seduced the noble. He is just a spectator. Consequently, he feels neglected and threatened by Baek Na-Kyum as the noble is longing for Seungho’s love. He used sex in order to remain close to his sex partner hoping that at some point their sex together will make the powerful lord fall in love with him. Their sex session at the pavilion let him believe that his dream came true, while in reality this didn’t happen. To conclude, this scene revealed that the noble already treated the painter differently and even disregarded societal norms and values but at the same time, we see a moving Seungho who doesn’t stay sitting. For the first time, he becomes active which leaves the impression that the protagonist is coming to life. Besides, his view from the window allowed him to come closer to the servant and reestablish his relationship with the artist that had been almost ruined with the punishment.

From this scene, we jump to the chapter 17.

Here, Seungho is in his chamber thinking about the painter as the night before he masturbated him. He remains there fully awake but his windows are closed hence he has no idea what is happening outside. During this time, Baek Na-Kyum is getting slapped and insulted by a jealous Jihwa. However, he starts hearing the servants talking. Normally, he pays no attention to gossip. Yet, he must have heard Baek Na-Kyum’s name because he turns his head to the closed window.

This scene is quite important because this explicates that not only Seungho’s eyes and mind are revolving around the painter but also his ears. He even pays attention to gossip, another distinction from his normal behavior. He doesn’t usually care for chatter, in particular concerning his own reputation, but when it comes to Baek Na-Kyum, it is different. Here, this paints a certain sense of protectiveness coming from the protagonist. That’s why he leaves the room without calling the servants and joins them in order to question for the cause of this chatter.

Here, his sudden arrival astonishes the domestics, they didn’t expect him to appear like that. The noble usually has servant Kim to attend to his every need because the latter waits for his call after waking up. None of this happened. Here, we see that the lord has no problem to lower himself and asks for the reason of their trouble. This scene confirms one more time that Seungho breaks convention for the painter. His carefree attitude towards normal standards reflects his detachment towards society and their values. He is willing to do anything for the painter as he is well aware that this gossip is related to Baek Na-Kyum, although the content of their conversation is not revealed. For that, the reader has to fill the blanks. Even with a closed widow and no view, the protagonist was still looking out for the painter. This explains why Seungho intervened very quickly. The result of this is that Jihwa is humiliated. This illustrates the escalation of Jihwa’s exclusion. In the chapter 18, the noble is literally excluded from Seungho’s life and becomes an outcast. Imagine the irony of the situation. Actually, the painter should be the outcast due to his social status. He was raised in a brothel and as such, he should be the one getting dragged and not the noble. Here, we witness the reverse. Nobility has no value for the main protagonist. This points out again his disregard for convention and his freethinking. He definitely embodies freedom which reminds us of George Emerson, although their social status is reversed. But at the same time we see the protagonist becoming more proactive. Little by little, he is losing his passivity due to his admiration and attraction to the painter. He is even willing to cut ties with his noble sex partner for a low-born’s sake. The reader senses that Seungho not only protects the uke but has already considered as his possession. No one is allowed to touch him.

As conclusion for the first part, through a detailed examination, I could distinguish Yoon Seungho’s open-mindedness and tolerance. He is definitely a free spirit contrasting so much to Jihwa and In-Hun. He doesn’t follow moral standards so blindly, he shows respect for Baek Na-Kyum because of his talent and his attraction. Furthermore, right from the start the main protagonist has always treated the painter differently, although the latter is a low-born because of his daring but genuine attitude. The artist had even more value than Jihwa. Seungho’s interest and concern for Baek Na-Kyum became more obvious over time. He is even willing to leave his favorite place, observing the courtyard from the window. He is meddling more and more in his courtyard which in my opinion illustrates that Seungho is starting living again. All this coincides with his sexual liberation. Consequently, we can see that despite having often sex, Seungho was not really living, just bypassing time but Baek Na-Kyum changed everything. From his window, Seungho felt the need to leave his room and come closer to him. He would go any length for him, sacrificing a rich friend.

Finally, the analysis of these first three chapters with the room revealed a lot in common with the English novel “Room with a view”, a connection between two people belonging to two different classes: a certain carefree attitude towards the conventions, even Baek Na-Kyum treated the lord differently with his frankness and boldness.

I decided to make a break here because I feel that this would have become another long analysis but I have other duties in real life. I still have three scenes to explain in details, therefore I can post the rest of the analysis on Saturday so that the readers get to read an analysis per day. I am trying to stick to this… we still have many days left, until the new season starts. I decided to write so many analyses in order to bypass time and not to miss too much the manhwa. Feel free to comment and push the button “like” or retweet it, if you enjoyed reading it. For translation, I can recommend

2 thoughts on “Painter Of The Night: “Room with a view” in Joseon (part 1)

  1. Great analysis! While I was reading you, I couldn’t help it but think about what the author said during her last interview. When asked what would be her next project, she said she would do something closer to what she really likes… a story that highlights even more the gap between social classes. I think she said something like : ” a character even more low-born”. I don’t know if I get it right but from her words, I guess she truly cares about the social class difference and the scandal that implies such a situation. In POTN, she focused on two main sources of scandal: homosexuality and a social class gap. She seems ready to go even further in her future projects. Which tends to make me think that the theory that some people had regarding Nakyum’s secret noble origins could not be true. Although there’s still a huge mystery behind his affiliation, I believe the author wanted to simply make him a poor orphan with absolutely no chance to be someone else. She likes that contrast between his social condition and Seungho’s one. That’s what makes her plot scandalous if we take into account the historical period. I could be wrong but I feel like Nakyum is nothing more than a talented poor orphan who was raised in a house full of depravity yet managed to keep his innocence intact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s how I perceive him myself. Even if Baek Na-Kyum is somehow related to the families that were eliminated during the purge, he won’t be able to be recognized as noble, since they were judged as traitors. I prefer him as a low-born because this would reinforce the idea that In-Hun and Jihwa are wrong to believe that their title give them more purity. In fact, they are quite the opposite.

      Liked by 1 person

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