Monday, 13 July 2015

Vivienne - Beneath the Surface

Known as the 'Ambition', Vivienne is the verbose, shrewd and magnificent First Enchanter of the Montsimmard Circle of Magi. As an individual, she has been graced with mixed reception by both stalwart fans and newcomers to Thedas alike. Some see her as a typical establishment mage, indoctrinated by the very chantry which suppresses her freedom to the extent that she pro-actively seeks to extend these limitations (some might refer to such things as injustices) to others of her 'kind'. Others, however, view her as a particularly caring and maternal figure who simply wishes to keep the world in good shape, despite the many instabilities and new-found forces who seek to usurp it.

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So, without further ado, let us turn our attention to the pillar of order that is Madame de Fer. 

The Imperial Game

Though she was born in the Free Marches, Vivienne was transferred to the Circle of Montsimmard whilst still an apprentice. We know not what means she came from, but we can be certain that the move to Orlais and her subsequent victories have served as a major improvement in her social standing. She became the mistress to Duke Bastien de Ghyslain, the head of the Council of Heralds (a political body responsible for reconciling all heraldic disputes and which has a role in determining claims to nobility). From here, Vivienne has pursued the completion of her goals and her own advancement doggedly and has refused to allow any to stand in her way. For this reason, many regard her as a 'heartless bitch' or a 'typical social climber'. 

Of course, Vivienne has shown us that what she wants is to make a place for herself in the tumultuous world of Thedas, a difficult task for any Mage, let alone when one is attempting to achieve such a thing within the Imperial Court of Orlais without the boon of noble birth. In order to do this, she has had to play the great game to the best of her abilities and as demonstrated consistently that she is enjoys it. She has followed the hierarchy as it has been presented to her, climbing to the rank of First Enchanter and from there claimed an almost entirely ceremonial role as Enchanter to the Imperial Court. Before her appointment to this role (which would not have been possible without the endorsement of her lover) it held few political advantages. Upon taking it, Vivienne has transformed it into a position of great importance and prestige. 

Rightly, Vivienne is named 'The Ambition' by the developers and she has earned herself the title Madame de Fer, the lady of iron, for she is both respected and feared. We are told that she finds such a title amusing. She is headstrong and can be stubborn, but she acts relentlessly and in spite of that which may seek to divide her from her goals.
"Rest assured, dear Seeker. I'm never truly out of my element."
Naturally, her links with Bastien opened many doors, and many fans of the games have dismissed her a social climber, who is perfectly willing to exploit others and manipulate them to her own advantage. Of course, this is certainly the case, for she could not have attained such a position without indulging in such behaviour. From what insights we have gained of the imperial court, one cannot be honest and hope to endure within it for long. However, the charge that she does not care about Bastien is certainly unfounded. Those who have followed Vivienne's personal quest-line (Bring Me The Heart of Snow White), fetched the heart of a snowy wyvern and followed her to what will become Bastien's deathbed, will know the genuine sadness and upset caused by watching him die. Some have said that her upset is selfish, for she can no longer use his position to her advantage, but the truth is that she does not need to. She has already established herself as a First Enchanter and the Enchanter to the Imperial Court of Orlais, two of the highest positions a mage could hope to claim. Any tears she sheds for him are genuine. Furthermore, why would one spend so many resources attempting to prolong the life of someone for whom one only has an instrumental care?

Already, we can see that Vivienne is an emotional human being, though one who possesses a thick skin and who has become accustomed, mainly due to her experiences within the empire, to always maintaining a fa├žade. Within Orlais, if one's only mask is the very literal garment upon one's face, then one is not playing the game well at all.

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Thus, from a very early stage in her life, she has lived within the Masked Empire of Orlais and this is certainly noticeable in the manner through which she conducts herself politically. Each of her actions is calculated and she holds appearance in the highest regard. Some might dismiss this as shallowness or some 'lack of character' but the care with which she fosters a perfect outward appearance is not done out of vanity or pride, at least not primarily. Instead, her experiences within Orlais have taught her the importance of how one presents themselves. The Empire places great weight upon appearance and one's conduct and, in order for one to make a place for themselves at court, one has to be willing to cultivate these things. 

Her experiences within the empire have had extensive formative impacts upon her character, fostering her desire to improve her station as well as instilling her with keen social awareness. She knows how to act, how to dress, what is expected of her and to what extent she is able to ignore these demands and how much she should co-operate with them. The result is an ostentatious, astute figure who has learnt the importance of adaptability and what can be gained from the tactical employment of social graces. In many ways, she is a natural product of the imperial environment into which she has both been flung and flung herself. 

Blackwall: You must miss the comforts of your mansion, travelling with us as you do.
 Vivienne: I miss them. I do not require them. But please, continue to imagine me a pampered lady, if it makes you feel superior.

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The Chantry and The Chant

"We need an institution to protect and nurture magic. Maker knows, magic will find neither on its own."

Vivienne is often regarded as a typical traditionalist, valuing the pre-existing norms of society and choosing to stand for this order whilst dismissing the subversive voices. This is due to her relatively conservative views regarding magic and those who are able to use it. Vivienne is a firm supporter of the circles, regarding them as entirely necessary for those who are capable of working with magic. She equally understands the Templar Order as a necessity, for not all who are given the ability to wield the power of the Fade are quite up to the task. Her distrust of uncontrolled magic spills out through her initial interactions with Dorian, during which she constantly derides him and Tevinter for their foolish and lax attitudes toward magic. Without such institutions in place, able to provide the requisite guidance and tutelage to young mages, the world would be forever ravaged by abominations, with no capable force at the ready to protect the innocent. She sees the Chantry as the only force able to stand between a civilised world and one of blood magic, possession and chaos. 

"In my own experience, nothing is more deadly to young mage than a lack of knowledge."

But she does not hold these views for the sole benefit of those who do not possess magic. To her, the circles ensure the protection of mages, granting them a haven from a world which has been forever trained to hate them and what they perceive to be their curse. Of course, she is aware that this ideal has, in places (she does specifically mention Kirkwall as among the worst), entirely failed. The Templar Order has become a shadow of what it should be, enabling the abuse of young mages, which is certainly not something that she permits. She is aware that all who live within the circles have vastly different experiences and that there is no such thing as a singular vision of circle life. Furthermore, she understands this as something which is necessarily going to happen, but her vision is a circle that is a haven for mages, but not one which values their personal freedoms above collective safety. 
"I will once again ensure they are protected from a world that hates and fears them."
Many think that she simply wishes to revert to the old system, but should one decide to endorse her as divine, one clearly sees that this is not the case. True enough she re-establishes the Templar Order as well as the Circles, but the mages are granted additional freedoms (which come hand in hand with responsibilities) and the Templars are more firmly leashed under her control. We can surmise that mages under her vision are more like she is: able to understand the power of magic and to respect it, but also trained to use it masterfully and able to enjoy a life outside of the circle. 

"Kirkwall gave the world a reason to remember its fear of magic. A mage killed hundreds with a snap of their fingers. Across Thedas, a new tangible fear of magic grew. Commoners and nobles alike called out to the Chantry for protection. But the malcontents in the towers thought nothing of this.

In truth, she treats her those of her former colleagues who have openly embraced the mage rebellion with open disdain, bordering on disgust. Considering the timing of the rebellion, (which followed the terrorist destruction of the Kirkwall Chantry by Anders at the end of Dragon Age II) she views the separation from the Chantry as hugely damaging, as the rebel mages were fleeing into a world which had just renewed the vigor of its anti-magic sentiment. 

"Magic is dangerous, just as fire is dangerous. Anyone who forgets this truth gets burned."

Due to these views, as well as her willingness to become Divine if the option is given her, it is relatively safe to assume the Vivienne is Adrastian. It is because of this attitude that Vivienne is rightly understood as a pillar of order, but that it is also wrong to regard her as an indoctrinated zealot who has been trained through years of conditioning to simply tow the line. In truth, however, Vivienne demonstrates a canny grasp of the political forces operating within Thedas and whilst some might dismiss her as cold, she has a well-reasoned point to make concerning the politics of magic.

"I never worry, darling. A leash can be pulled from either end."
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From the Inside

Of course, Vivienne's own experience as a mage of the Circle and all that entails have served to shape her views on the proper place of magic, as well has her treatment of other characters. 

I have already mentioned her initial interactions with Dorian, through which she uncovers a deep-rooted rejection of the altogether overly-liberal attitudes of Tevinter. She wishes to hold true to the catechism at the heart of the Chantry's teaching that 'Magic Exists to Serve Man' and this comes with a wholesale rejection of the very image of a Tevinter mage, who lords his power over those who are unable to resist him and seeks only his own advancement. This image is fixed within her mind and thus informs her expectations of Dorian. It is not until later that she allows herself to question.

Dorian: Vivienne, are you saying you wouldn't rather live in a land where mages aren't herded into cages like dogs?
Vivienne: Which land is that? The one where mages are feared and despised as tyrants?

I do not intend to imply that Vivienne is not critical of the structures of power which operate around her, for I think I have already established the opposite to be the case. Instead, I wish to press the point that Vivienne is cautious wherever anything concerning magic arrises. Those who detract from her and regard her as 'typically establishment' often forget what a devastating force magic can be for those who can wield it (particularly unwitting) as well as for those around them. Particularly where the Fade is concerned, and it often is, being the source of magic, there is the potential for possession, the entire loss of the self which often leads to far more destructive ends. Magic is a mighty force and much of it is not understood. 

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Solas: Your rigorous training lays a solid foundation, true. It also creates boundaries, limits, where none need 
Vivienne: I do prefer to have boundaries between myself and the demons, my dear.

In conversation with Solas, it is clear that he regards her as restricted and close-minded, unable to even begin to understand anything outside of her ivory tower. When Vivienne invites Solas to make a claim against he responds with "You would not believe me. You have learned your lessons all too well." It is also true that when Solas seeks to advise her, she responds with "I sincerely doubt you could add anything." Further banter occurs in which Vivienne criticises Solas' lack of technique and he in turn makes jibes about imperfections within her own magic. Notably, when Solas attempts to encourage her to abandon her training, she responds with "Ah, the temptation to leave the path. You sound like a pride demon."

These exchanges establish not only Vivienne's trust in the circle, but also her dependence upon them. Whilst her talents are great, she is in many ways limited by them. Above all, Vivienne requires control, an environment in which she is able to keep herself in check and for her, this is the circle. Outside of it, she is nothing and has no guiding principle which she can turn to. This is her support, her world, and its principles are deeply her own. Those who turn away from the doctrine of the circle leave themselves open to disorder and through this disarray they are rendered open to becoming tolls wielded by demonic hands.
Solas: "You need never concern yourself with the possibility that your Circle was wrong."
Magic is often an agent of chaos and destruction, capable of dealing great harm to all who come into contact with it. It is control and self-restraint alone which prevent a mage from becoming possessed or turning their power on an innocent. For Vivienne, the only institution capable of providing the instruction conducive to this level of discipline is the Circle, where mages pass their wisdom on to others, whilst also protected from themselves by the Templars. 

Importantly, many of Vivienne's attitudes are revealed through her interactions with Cole. Revealed to be a spirit of compassion, Cole joins the Inquisition because he wants to help. Vivienne does eventually come to care for Cole, though she keeps this attitude very much to herself, but initially she is outright hostile to him, regarding him as a demon and an influence which should be expunged from the Inquisition, for he could undo it from within.

Her scepticism is born from a life spent learning of the dangers of the Fade, learning that its denizens are malicious and cannot be trusted, for they all they seek is possession or the death of any mage. Having been told all her life that the Fade is universally a place of peril and that all which hails from within it only serves to undo the precarious order the Circle seek to preserve, she naturally is suspicious. Furthermore, Vivenne's experience of spirits is limited, for the Circle actively avoid such things and study into such areas is restricted if not completely forbidden.
"The Circle taught me the tricks demons play to gain the trust of any mage foolish enough to listen."
A notable exception is the Harrowing, a trial by fire through which a mage is forced into the Fade to face a demon, to demonstrate that their will is strong enough to resist possession. We learn of Vivienne's Harrowing through conversation with Cole. 
Cole: Everything bright, roar of anger as the demon rears. No, I will not fall. No one will control me ever again. Flash of white as the world comes back. Shaking, hollow, Harrowed, but smiling at templars to show them I'm me. I am not like that. I can protect you. If templars come for you, I will kill them.
Vivienne is not only Harrowed, note the capital, but she is hollow and shaking. Her only known experience within the Fade (we might presume, due to her extensive time in the Imperial Court, that she had little time to run around the world of dreams) has evidently been traumatic, thus preventing her from becoming open to the possibilities of spirits. Not only has she been taught to view all spirits as malignant, but she has also only extensively experienced the wrath of demons.

Considering how dangerous magic has been clearly established as being throughout the Dragon Age series (think on just how many renegade mages within Kirkwall suddenly flipped out as a demon took control), Vivienne's response to Cole, though naive and incorrect, is entirely reasonable. Even Cole admits that he might be a demon, that he simply does not know and that is enough for Vivienne to rightly be suspicious. Not only that, but Cole is clearly using her memories to get closer to her, as spirits do, and she interprets this as trying to coerce her into lowering her guard. He further makes matters worse by offering to kill templars, mimicing the offer made to apprentice mages by many demons "I will protect you and give you the power to free yourself from your chains". 

This interaction reveals Vivienne's dependence upon the Circle and its structure. Though she is wary of the templars and evidently fears them, she does not wish them dead, as they are an integral part of her own security. Above all, she fears possession and a loss of control. She never wishes to be at the whim of external forces and for this reason, she endeavours to become the very image of a perfectly disciplined mage, which is only possible through the circle. She then seeks to extend this to others, for what she perceives to be their own benefit. 


Through this entry, I hope to have established Vivienne as not only a pillar of the established order, but provided her reasons for serving as such. She is not the unthinking follower of a doctrine, for she consistently demonstrates an acute awareness of how things are working and it is perhaps this insight into the bigger picture which leads her to what many view as a conservative stance regarding magic. Sure, her extensive experiences within the Chantry have contributed to her views significantly, but they are not the sole reason she thinks as she does. 

Despite her title as Madame de Fer, Vivienne acts as she does because she genuinely believes that she acts in the best interest of the mages. She is warm of heart and evidently cares very deeply about the situation the mages have found themselves in, though she does not mince words and is quick to curtly remind those who have only made matters worse of their errors, lest they forget. Were one to elect her as Divine Victoria, she would create world in which mages could prosper within their circles, given proper security and tutelage. Surely, there would still be malcontents wishing to live libertarian lives independent of the Chantry entirely, but that will always be the case. If her vision were to be realised, magic might slowly become less and less stigmatised and things could be better. Of course, this is pure speculation. 

On a final note, I stand by my claim in an earlier entry that Vivienne is an ENFJ. Though she might be mistaken for an ENTJ, she is simply too aware of the feelings of others and to able to manipulate them too fluidly for this latter typing to be accurate.

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