Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler): Furnishings in the Manga and their History
(The goal of this little side stepping of posts is to go
over the furnishings in black Butler and talk about the history of these actual
Victorian and Edwardian house hold items that can be seen throughout the
series. We’re starting with the Chapter title pages since they’re the easiest
to see and then to splash pages or pages where the furniture is an obvious part
of the scene. )
Chapter 125 and 126:
Ciel and Soma, Agni and Sebastian on a Tête-à-tête, or Courting (Conversation)
So in chapter 125 and 126 we’re introduced to a rather
interesting image. Ciel and Soma sitting on a strange looking couch or bench,
where Ciel is facing away from Soma, as he leans over to talk to him. The
following chapter gives the reverse of this where Angi is in silent meditation
and prayer while Sebastian is leaning over and whispering things in his ear.
What’s interesting is not only the dynamic of the character
set up with this: Soma trying to talk to ciel who is trying to cut him out by
not facing him, his back to the audience as well, and Sebastian whispering
sweetly into Agni’s ear, possibly denoting some sense of temptation. But you
have a perfect example of how this bench can work for both a common
conversation (Soma and Ciel) and a more intimate one (Sebastian and Agni).
The Tête-à-tête (or head to head in French) bench is a
rather interesting couch as its history is not that long or convoluted like a
lot of other historical chairs. Built in the 19th century its design
is in an S shape for the very reason of its existence, to keep people from eavesdropping
on conversations, as well as allow courting couples to speak to each other
without having to sit awkwardly on a traditional bench.
The idea of the Courting couch came about as a means of
making conversation easier for those at parties or balls. Normally when one was
at an event, one would take a seat if one was tired of dancing or standing
talking. Benches were longer as were couches, allowing for three people to sit
and the issue really became for women whose hair and clothing style made it
harder for them to turn their heads and talk to their gentlemen admires. The Conversation
couch alleviated much of that by essentially placing to chairs back to back and
side to side, so that the two people talking could converse without looking
like they were doing more than just that.
The distance between the seats allowed for both a sense of
personal space as well as intimate discussion. There’s an arm shared between
them, so that if a lady were to put her hand up, her admirer could potentially
place his on hers with the utmost of discretion. The person would have to lean
over some to whisper into another person’s ears if need be, ala Sebastian to
Agni, or just easily converse as Soma is to Ciel, since the person that is
seated opposite you would have their ear closer to your mouth, thus easier to
hear what you had to say.
These benches were favored among people during the Victorian
era as it allowed them to keep their distance, so that they could keep up their
good decorum, while still allowing for a couple to make plans with one another
and flirt. This was the ultimate in romance at the time for younger couples who
wanted to be together at events but couldn’t do what was seen as improper at
the time, such as cuddling and all that.
For those that were non couples the Conversation bench could
allow for whispers for a business deal, gossip or other discussion that one did
not want to be heard by your fellow party goers. This piece is still in use
today and is making a small sort of comeback, though it’s not as big as it once
was due to some aspects of the bench’s limitations.
Modern versions of the Tête-à-tête show up as sofas allowing
for a longer space, and in some cases some very interesting chairs. Conversation
couches need more space than traditional couches as they have to have space for
the legs of the two people and can’t be put up against a wall, so normally it’s
in the center of a room, or part of a set that is off the wall. One also needs
to make sure that both sides are facing something interesting, so that the
people sitting will not be facing a blank wall, or feel boxed in.
There are a number of variations in modern times of the
Tête-à-tête as seen