A year or so before I finished writing Conceit, I was in Paris and stopped in front of a painting in the Louvre by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. I was immediately struck by the resemblance of the girl to my main character, Pegge. Called “Jeune fille en buste” (Portrait of a Young Girl), it was painted in 1794 when Guérin was about twenty. I loved the way the nude girl, on the verge of adulthood, was both covering and drawing attention to her breasts. When I told Conceit‘s designer, C.S. Richardson, he said he had also been struck by the painting’s charm when he was in the Louvre, a lovely synchronicity. Richardson wrapped the painting deliciously around Conceit‘s spine, and won an honourable mention from the Alcuin Society for the book’s exterior and interior design.
For me, the short boyish haircut captured Pegge just after she’d had the pox, at age fourteen. The Louvre website says that the girl is coiffed à la Titus. I knew that Titus was a Roman emperor, and thought no more of it until a few days ago when I decided to check further. Apparently, the Titus was the short haircut given to the condemned before being guillotined, so as not to restrict the downward action of the blade. It was all the rage for both men and women during the French Revolution, and the most famous person with this hairstyle was Napoleon himself.