Painter Of The Night: Traces of “Dangerous liaisons” and “Justine: the Misfortunes of Virtue” in the manhwa

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.

If you have already read about my biography, then you know that my real work is teaching French and History. This means that French literature is part of my lessons. I am not sure if many of you are acquainted with French literature, but at some point while writing my analyses, I came to realize that Painter Of The Night contains many parallels to two famous French novels written just before the French Revolution that started in 1789. The first obvious connection is the historical period.

Moreover, the first novel “Dangerous Liaisons”/”Les Liaisons dangereuses” written by the noble Choderlos de Laclos and the second book “Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue/ Justine ou les infortunes de la vertu” from Marquis de Sades, also another noble, describe both the libertinage and as such the decadence of high society in 18th Century.

Libertinage or libertinism means that a man or woman lives disregarding authority or convention in sexual or religious matters. They are not bound by social etiquette or even religion. This is a movement existing in the 17th and 18th century influenced by The Enlightenment but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this mentality is something positive. Actually, the perverted side of libertinism is criticized in both works as it became reduced to sex. “Dangerous liaisons” and Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue” caused a huge scandal and even Marquis de Sades was sent to prison due to his writing. Why? The reason is simple: both books portray the old and high nobility as obsessed with sex and full of vices, while at the same time nobles from high and old nobility called themselves honorable and looked down on poor people and new nobles. No one wanted to be seen as a depraved lord or lady.

Now, if we compare these novels with the manhwa, the similarities are quite visible. All the nobles we met are corrupted, living in debauchery or dishonesty. They are far from being honorable and pure. While the low noble Jung In-Hun didn’t take his position seriously and never taught the children, the others from the high nobility were busy with different kind of pleasures: hunting

chapter 22

, sex

chapter 8

or even sex orgies.

chapter 33

We never see them working as officials, it looks like only the old beared men, mentioned by Yoon Seungho,

chapter 44

are working for the King, while the young lords show no real interest in improving the country and the living conditions of the commoners. They are all selfish and self-centered thinking about their own pleasures or about their own career in order to get power and wealth. Yet, the commoners have always represented the biggest part of any society in the past. In France, the third state (commoners) represented 98% of order society. I doubt that in Joseon the society was very much different. Consequently, nobility acts as if it was honorable and pure, while in reality they have sex orgies and even practice sodomy which is condemned by social morals. And here is the hypocrisy: for commoners, sodomy is kind of forbidden, while it is tolerated for the nobility. Then in Painter of The Night, we see the nobles visiting the giseang house, a brothel, as a diversion.

chapter 19

Whereas they condemn the painter for being unclean and filthy because he was raised there,

chapter 40

they are actually the reason why the brothel can exist. Without rich nobles, the gisaengs wouldn’t be able to live. Here, the author criticizes the double standards and the hypocrisy of nobility. In my opinion, the teacher didn’t visit the brothel, not because he was virtuous, but because he had no rich friend and no mean to afford them. Remember that he is just a low noble: no huge wealth and no connection. This explains why Baek Na-Kyum doesn’t like nobles

chapter 2

which is revealed in the beginning and sees in Yoon Seungho’s behavior the typical attitude of a noble: selfish, depraved, “consumed by lust”. Besides, I already mentioned in another analysis that Jung In-Hun could have a hidden vice: pedophilia. Furthermore, the popularity for erotic paintings is another clue for the debauchery of the high nobles. In other words, all three works (the manhwa and the two French novels) give a similar portray of the high society: a very pessimistic and corrupted nobility supporting the inequity and the injustice of that system. Their titles give them the authority to rule over the commoners. No one seems to be questioning this order society and its rules. It is fine as long as they benefit from this system.

Nonetheless, this negative picture of the high society (nobility) is not the only common denominator between these three creations. I also see some similarities between the characters from “Dangerous liaisons” and “Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue”. Let me summarize the first novel “Liaisons dangereuses”. Valmont, a lord from the “noblesse d’épée” (old nobility/sword-nobility) is a libertine and as such has a lot of sexual encounters. He loves seducing women and uses sex as a weapon. All this time, he is exchanging letters with Madame de Merteuil, the female version of a libertine. She is his ex-lover but she would like him to seduce a young woman, Cecile de Volanges, the fiancee of the Marquise’s ex-lover. Her purpose is to get revenge on her former sex partner. During this time, Valmont has another target. He has already planned to seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, the wife of the parliament president, a former bourgeois who became ennobled by the king which means that he is wealthy and influential. In other words, Monsieur de Tourvel belongs to the rather new nobility: “noblesse de robe” (“nobility due an official position”) which was considered as a rival by the old and traditional “noblesse d’épée”. The resent for the new nobles leads the protagonist Valmont to seduce the virtuous wife. It was as if he was declaring war to this new nobility as they are often much richer then the old nobility “noblesse d’épée”. This explains why the author of this novel commented in his notes the following:

“The love of war and the war of love. Glory. The love of glory. Valmont and Merteuil [both protagonists or better said antagonists in the novel] talk about it all the time. The love of combat. The tactics, the rules, the methods. The glory of victory. The strategy to win a very frivolous prize.”

Love, or better said sex, is associated to war. As you can perceive, the author Choderlos de Laclos created Vicomte de Valmont and Madame de Merteuil as unscrupulous cynic, full of sarcasm, cold and calculating. Here, the man perceives Madame de Tourvel as conquest and every possible method is allowed to achieve his goal. Now, you understand how the lord is: cold, manipulative and quite determined in order to achieve his goal. Sex is like war in reality but in order to deceive his victim, his actual prey, he has to act as if he was in love. But for the libertine, sex has nothing to do with love. Sex is just a pleasure, a weapon to defeat and humiliate his rival. Now, you understand why I even imagined that Min would be interested in Yoon Seungho and used Jihwa to get rid of Baek Na-Kyum. Here, sex has become a game of power and submission, just like in war. Just like Yoon Seungho had sex with other nobles, sex was his weapon to show his authority and power. In this manhwa, sex is indeed associated to fight and power. Seungho used his position as lord to submit Baek Na-Kyum at the pavilion. Now, if we compare Valmont with Yoon Seungho, we will find some parallels:

– He acts like a libertine, as he pays no attention to moral values and etiquette. He is definitely more enlightened than his “friends” because he values people based on their talents and actions. He puts a lot of trust in his assistant Kim and accepts the painter right from the start despite his social background. He appreciates the man for his talent.

– He acts like a libertine because he often has sex and doesn’t even hide it. Sex has nothing to do with marriage or love. It is just to bypass time.

– For him, sex has never been real pleasure but war. The true purpose of his depraved life is hurt to his father, to remind him of his sins. Besides, I also think that he never felt his sex partners from the nobility as true friends. They were rather his tools, just like Valmont treats other nobles. On the other hand, the nobles thought that they were using him. Thanks to him, they could get to enjoy parties, even take some benefit. However, the lord was always aware of this. Both were never really free in their choice in reality. Seungho had to choose among the nobles, just like Valmont.

– Their way to approach their target is quite similar. There is strategy behind Seungho’s actions. In the scene 16, he wants to know if the artist is a bottom or a top hence he uses a remark to get his answer.

Then he touches the painter’s head with the headband, that way he creates a certain closeness. Finally, the masturbation symbolizes the climax of his slow approach. He knows that he has to be careful with the painter, since the latter was forced to remain by his side by using Jung In-Hun as leverage. In this scene, it becomes clear that he was already aiming at the commoner.

– Both fall in love with their prey. Striking is that Valmont has to act as if he was in love with Madame de Tourvel and as time passed on, the boundaries between appearances and reality became fuzzy so that the noble fell in love with the woman for real. We have also a mixture of seem and real in the “wedding night” because the noble acts as if he was the “learned sir”. He thought, he could seize the opportunity and taste the young man, yet the latter made love to him so that Yoon Seungho could never forget their night together. Sure, the lord had already fallen for the artist before but he was unaware of it. But the “wedding night” was the trigger for him to have him as his real sex partner/lover. So the illusion plays a big part in their falling in love.

However, there are also huge differences between him and Valmont.

– Seungho became a sodomite due to circumstances hence he never came to enjoy sex, whereas the French Vicomte had pleasure with his partners. Only through the painter’s creation, the lord in Joseon comes to perceive himself in a different light and accepts his homosexuality and the ecstasy accompanying sex. He is liberated.

– Moreover, at the end, Valmont chose to sacrifice his lover over his pride and arrogance so that Madame de Tourvel has a tragic end. I sense that our couple in Painter Of The Night has another ending.

– The biggest difference between these two lords is that Yoon Seungho is less conventional and more open-minded than the French libertine. Yoon Seungho despises Jung In-Hun for not teaching the commoners properly. He reads a lot which shows that he pays attention to education and he has a lot of knowledge. This explains why he doesn’t care about gossips and opinions. Valmont hid his career as womanizer hidden, just like Madame de Merteuil. They hid their “sexual libertine life” behind etiquette and manners which is not the case for Yoon Seungho. He is even willing to cut ties with Jihwa, while Valmont still kept a relationship with Madame de Merteuil through the letters. Both are real hypocrites, whereas Yoon Seungho is by no means deceitful. He is a man of his words, hence the promise to take Baek Na-Kyum as his “bride” should be taken very seriously. He is very self-confident too but his pride didn’t stop him to lower himself in order to give pleasure to Baek Na-Kyum. He is willing to do anything so that the artist accepts him as his lover. As a conclusion, “Dangerous liaisons” has a lot of common points with the manhwa.

Now it is time to take a closer look to the novel “Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue” written by Marquis de Sades. The author is indirectly famous as the word “sadistic” is deviated from his name. In his book, the described debauchery truly represents the climax of sexual perversion. There is everything as sex is connected to pain and crimes: rape, torture, murder, strange sexual practices, theft etc. The enlightened author thought that evil was the product of nature which would explain why God always permits that crimes and injustice happen. He had a very pessimistic view of humans. He was one of those who somehow doubted the existence of god. Anyway, in this novel, Justine is the “heroine” and she embodies virtue. She is so innocent but because of her virtuous nature, she becomes the prey of sadistic, selfish and greedy persons. She encounters so many misfortunes which lead to her death. Virtue can not be victorious, only sins and crimes have the upper hand. Now, I am sure that you are wondering why I connect this novel to the manhwa. This is quite simple. Sades wrote:

“In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice.”

And here is the connection between Seungho and “Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue”. Seungho met first vice, he had sex without feeling anything. He lived as a man “consumed by lust”, until he met Baek Na-Kyum who mirrored him his true self with his words. Baek Na-KYum embodies virtue and innocence and that’s the reason why the lord is able to recognize the difference between his sex partners from the nobility and the young man. He is the total opposite of them, which the lord realizes. He feels and witnesses the virtues exuding from the painter which leads the master to change. Furthermore, through his first sexual encounter, he experiences the difference between sex and love… because of his past experience, he is able to notice the huge contrast and enjoys their love making. Without Baek Na-Kyum’s innocence and virtue, the lord wouldn’t fallen in love with him so quickly. He remained pure, although he was raised in a brothel reinforcing his virtue. It was as if he had resisted temptation to carnal desires in a place full of temptations. His virginity symbolizes his purity and innocence. Finally, during the first season, we witness all the misfortunes Baek Na-Kyum encounters:

– brainwashing and physical abuse by the teacher

– the witnessing of a murder (episode 1)

– the straw mat beating (episode 12)

– the injustice of being accused of a crime he didn’t commit (damage the painting) : episode 10/11

– rape

– “drugged” as he is influenced by the aphrodisiac (chapter 35/36)

– the harsh words coming from the teacher “He was born to be a prostitute”

– forced to paint against his will

– Being held captive by the lord through different means (theft, blackmail)

– The sex marathon

– forced to do a blow job

– Victim of theft (the retrieved poem)

– Victim of blackmail (In-Hun as hostage)

– the slaps, being grabbed and dragged by Yoon Seungho

He is definitely a new version of Justine. Just like her, he cries a lot. Tears should be here considered as proof of his purity. It was as if his tears would wash away the sins he just experienced or saw. Sure, he is a little different from her as he lies and is quite daring towards the lord. However, let us not forget that his lies are no real lies as they ooze honesty. Yoon Seungho perceives the truth in his lies. Besides, the insolence is somehow connected to sincerity and honesty which are virtues as such, he is unable to control his thoughts and emotions. It is just that Baek Na-Kyum doesn’t follow completely the social conventions, when it comes to Yoon Seungho.

The only huge difference between two works is the pessimistic perception of humans in Sades’ novel. Here, Yoon Seungho changes for the better, which was not the case for Justine’s enemies/sex partners. Love is the trigger for Yoon Seungho to become a better person, less selfish and more caring. This never happened in the French novel “Justine”. She even dies due to lightening showing that nature is quite evil. There is no love in Sades’ novel due to his negative opinion about nature and humans. Since he wrote many sex scenes, his work is unfortunately reduced to sex, while in reality he used his works to describe the corruption and the decadence of the Ancien Régime. [Explanation for this expression: The Ancien Régime was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages until the French Revolution of 1789, which led to the abolition of hereditary monarchy and of the feudal system of the French nobility.] He went even further and questioned the nature of god meaning that he criticized religion and Catholic church. That’s the reason why he was sent to prison and spent many years there.

Nevertheless the debauchery in all these works makes me wonder if a coup d’Etat or a huge incident concerning the king will happen. Let us not forget that a purge happened in the past which shows that there was some conflict between noble families and the king. “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue” announce the arrival of French Revolution because of the perversion of nobility. Commoners are no longer satisfied with the privileges of nobility and their scandalous way of life is no longer accepted as such. We should remember that this decadence is described by two nobles revealing that even some nobles felt that something was wrong. Therefore, we have to wonder if the described decadence in Painter Of The Night announces changes in politics too. It is definitely possible that Yoon Seungho will meddle in politics because of Baek Na-Kyum and might change things for the commoners. He did show some concern for them in the chapter 6, when he disapproved Jung In-Hun’s attitude. However, there will be no revolution and abolition of privileges because this never happened in Joseon. The other reason for this assumption is that in another manhwa (“A painter behind the curtain” from Munamu,, just like Baek Na-Kyum, the painter Ian was exposed to physical abuse and exploitation. In this story he also witnesses the debauchery of nobility in the Ancien Régime which leads to a revolt and later somehow to a revolution. As you can see, I feel that Painter Of The Night could become more political later, yet there won’t be a total upheaval of the social order and the state due to Joseon’s history.

I hope, this analysis has made you want to read more about the two French novels. Feel free to comment. If you liked it, then push the button like or retweet it. Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s