Rose of Versailles: Japanese Sisterhood in Pre-Revolutionary France

Presented by Portland State University Center for Japanese Studies and The Encorepreneur Café.
In part 3 of the continuing Japanese manga lecture series, Dr. Jon Holt will take up the blockbuster manga Rose of Versailles (Berusaiyu no bara), written and drawn by Ikeda Riyoko from 1972 to 1974, a work that changed the trajectory of all “girls’ manga” (shojo manga) after it.
Rose is the historic but fictional account of young Marie Antoinette, her lover Axel von Fersen, and Ikeda’s invented character, Oscar Francois de Jarjayes. Oscar is a woman who expresses as a male, a very male and gallant member of the royal guard, who is sworn to protect Marie. The bonds of friendship are so close between Oscar and Marie that they are almost like sisters-Oscar being a more sober and responsible “older sister” (o-neesan), in the Japanese sense, to less mature Marie. In fact, despite the novel being set in pre-Revolutionary France and its wealth of historical details, the manga clearly breaks the rules and places the kind of shojo or girls’ culture from twentieth-century Japan in 18th-century France. There is an absolute riot of Japanese girl-girl or “sister relationships” that run throughout the manga in various permutations that make this historical novel about one of the most famous women of France into very much a story about Japanese girl culture.
Dr. Holt will explore how and where Japanese culture emerges in this beloved work of manga (and later, Japanese theater) using the manga analysis style of famed scholar Natsume Fusanosuke. Let’s read together volume 1 of the new English translation of Rose of Versailles so to better hear the dual calls for “Vive La France!” and “Vive La Japon!”
This is a sliding-scale event. Please pay what you can and help us continue to provide culturally relevant community programming.
Please help support local bookstores by purchasing from our partners at Cosmic Monkey:
This is a new translation to English that just came out last year. It’s a beautiful hardcover book and definitely worth getting!
There is currently no English-langauge digital version of Rose of Versailles, but you can find the Japanese version here: ベルサイユのばら-1-池田理代子-ebook
If you have questions, please contact us at or (503) 954-2837.
Dr. Holt received his Ph.D. in Japanese Literature from the University of Washington. His research interests include modern Japanese poetry and children’s literature. He wrote his dissertation on the works of Miyazawa Kenji, arguably one of the most important figures in modern Japanese literature. At PSU, Dr. Holt teaches Japanese literature and film as well as upper-division Japanese language courses. His secondary research interests include manga and Japanese Buddhism.

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