From the start, Rose of Versailles has a menace hanging over it – that of the French Revolution, constantly alluded to by the narrator and gradually brought into the main plot by the exposure of its privileged protagonist to the injustice of the world she fights for. The shoujo aspects of it – Marie Antoinette as the privileged adolescent involved in social spats with her rivals at court playing out like schoolgirl bickering – fade away through a move towards genuine threat. It goes from two women arguing about talking to each other to attempted fraud, efforts to undermine the monarchy and even assassination plots before the story as a whole pulls away from Marie herself to the possible downfall of the French nobility as an institution. Oscar is a confidante in this story, the woman in which Marie can put her faith as a friend, and yet this is set against her growing revulsion at the injustice of the system itself.
In a past article about Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series I talked about how a key part of the setting and overall mood is a result of the sense of inevitability and inescapability that is created. Routine becomes destructive and insular, and as a result any kind of change – even change from a traditionally “evil” source – is welcome to the reader. This ties in to what I see as an interesting possibility for historical or pseudohistorical fiction – an exploration of evil. The concept of the empirical novel, central to science-fiction in its consideration of the effects of a setting on its inhabitants, becomes interestingly mutated when the settings and attitudes being explored are real ones or close to real ones.