Violet Evergarden on the power of the written word (and more Victorian-era framing)

The finale of Violet Evergarden is superfluous to the emotional narrative of the series. Violet’s personal journey towards understanding what love means — and learning empathy in the process — ends in the tenth episode, “A Loved One Will Always Watch Over You.” The moment Violet bursts into tears and admits to fellow auto memoir doll Cattleya Baudelaire the difficulty of remaining emotionally detached from Anne Magnolia is the perfect bookend to her first disastrous letter attempt. Not only is she then one of the best in her field at CH Postal Company, but she is a more introspective, aware person — a person who not only recognizes her own emotions, but wields them to help others overcome their own personal problems.

Yet, the series doesn’t end with Episode 10, and continues for three more episodes that include extraneous action and fight sequences in addition to a somewhat hilarious festival that involves dropping letters from airplanes. Violet Evergarden wants to say something about the value of the written word and it’s rarely subtle in its emotional machinations, regardless of how affecting they are to a viewer (yes, I cried at various points throughout the series too) so perhaps the letter festival is, in its own way, a fitting end as well. The series doesn’t need to be subtle to tell its story, but some of Violet Evergarden‘s background subtleties and details tell their own story at the periphery of Violet’s.

Violet Evergarden isn’t set in the Victorian era, but it does concern itself with Victorian-era decor. The series also shows a strong understanding of certain minutiae of the time. Consider the tearoom pictured above, which is the Violet Evergarden version of McMansion Hell. The unnecessary and overflowing flora is accompanied by banners placed at random and a horse-drawn chaise passing by for good measure. However, the busy nature of this building fits with the overall series aesthetic, which reflects both the Victorian era and the specific post-war setting of Violet Evergarden. In Victorian-era Great Britain, relative peace (at least, at home) combined with rapid industrialization and quicker trade routes led to the availability of more plants, which led to personal conservatories and could have led to buildings like Violet Evergarden‘s tearoom.

Naoko Yamada’s episode, “You Write Letters That Bring People Together?” frames the entire correspondence between Princess Charlotte Abelfreyja Drossel and Prince Damian Baldur Flugel not only with the written word, but with flowers. Flower language flourished in the Victorian era as a way to express hidden feelings alongside a more polite and socially-acceptable letter.

Beyond architecture and floriography, the idea of the written word, who has access to it, and the variety of CH Postal Company’s customers within Violet Evergarden tell a tale that varies from oddly egalitarian to stratified. A large part of Violet Evergarden and the story of its titular heroine involves both post-war trauma and prosperity, another nod to Victorian society.

CH Postal itself is relatively new. It formed as or immediately after the war ended. Services provided revolve around ghostwriting performed by “auto memoir dolls.” At one point, Cattleya laughs at Violet’s description of a typewriter as a weapon, saying that it is a weapon in a way that it allows them to fight their own way in society. With the burgeoning middle class and prosperity that came with the Industrial Revolution followed a variety of working conditions for women that entered the workforce alongside the expectation that they would also run the household for their husband. Working conditions for impoverished women were often harmful and dangerous.

The auto memoir dolls of Violet Evergarden reflect employed middle-class women, who were typists or secretaries. Although it hardly sounds radical at this point in time, these were outlier jobs for the bolder, educated women of the middle class. Many prominent female authors of the Victorian era disguised their gender with male pen names, although Erica Brown mentions that, in the world of Violet Evergarden, the term “auto memoir doll” came from a man who created the typewriter for his author wife who became blind. Most Victorian-era jobs for women still revolved around household duties, chores, and childcare. This too gives more of an edge to a few of Cattleya’s comments, especially since she is considered peerless in her field and trusted with ghostwriting important documents like entire peace treaties between nations.

Within Violet Evergarden, there are entire schools to teach doll work that appear open to anyone able to attend. Luculia Marlborough, the default head of her household that includes only her and her brother, is certainly not well off, especially since her brother drinks heavily to deal with post-war trauma and the death of their parents. Becoming a doll not only gives her a way to express her feelings to her brother, but also provides a way to make money for her household despite her brother’s injury and no parental income. Reading and writing also seems fairly free, although we don’t have a good glimpse of what true poverty looks like in Violet Evergarden, so it may still be restricted depending on economic class.

Auto memoir dolls themselves are employed by all types of people as well, from royalty to farmhand to soldier to playwright. Cattleya begins writing simple love letters and by the end of the series is ghostwriting the peace treaty to formally end the war. Letter-writing is an important form of communication and reading appears to be a leisure activity enjoyed by many as well, which does call into question the use of auto memoir dolls.

The most important duty of a doll is conveying the true message from one party to another. In this way, hiring a doll is simply another, slightly fancier, form of communication — something one does if they want to frame their message in a certain way. One of Violet’s charges is an alcoholic playwright, whose use of Violet to finish a play meant for his now-deceased daughter is emotionally affecting but also raises interesting questions of authenticity, similar to the modern example of The Player’s Tribune. Whose words are they really when everything is ghostwritten, or does it matter as long as the message is clear and reflects the original person’s intent? Violet Evergarden‘s answer on this varies from episode to episode. The Drossel-Flugel romance and Claudia Hodgins’ letter draft that Cattleya cheekily reads aloud in the finale suggest that more awkward, stunted attempts from the source are invaluable. Yet Violet’s ghostwritten letters to Anne from Anne’s mother, or the play Violet writes for Oscar Webster suggest otherwise.

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