chapter  4
‘This scarlet intruder’: Biography interrupted in the Dining Room at Tatton Park Mansion
ByDining Room at Tatton Park Mansion ELEANOR QUINCE
Pages 18

Diderot’s essay begins with a consideration of the qualities which were present within his old dressing gown. Always ‘quick to be of service’ the old dressing gown served as a duster and a pen-wiper and as a protector against rainwater leaking through the roof and sparks from the open fire.6 It was an aid to his writing, enabling him to perform the simple tasks, such as unblocking his pen and blotting his paper, with ease. The stains, burns and patches of ink on the dressing gown were a testament to the carelessness with which Diderot treated his homely object. This was all in contrast with his new dressing gown, a stiff, rich scarlet affair that he was almost too afraid to put on, and which he could never envisage cleaning his pen nib on or placing too close to the fire: ‘I was master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one.’7 The new dressing gown, the scarlet intruder, had a devastating effect on Diderot’s sense of aesthetics, and subsequently upon his living quarters:

[m]y old dressing gown was in perfect accord with the rest of the poor bric-a-brac that filled my room. A chair made out of woven straw, a

rough wooden table, a cheap Bergamo tapestry, a pine board that served for a bookshelf, a few grimy engravings without frames, tacked by the corners to the tapestry, and three or four plaster casts that hung between the engravings – all these harmonized with my old dressing gown to make a perfect picture of honest poverty. Now the harmony is destroyed. Now there is no more consistency, no more unity, and no more beauty.8