The role of the Confidant - or Confidante if feminine - has been important in any dramatic story since Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were writing their plays in the 6th century BC. Although secondary the person is relied upon to harbour the secret thoughts and desires of the main character, and so honouring that trust will save the day while betrayal of it leads to tragedy. Such characters showing both human traits became popular in French theatre during the mid-18th century, when a small sofa for two people was introduced whereon such secrets could be exchanged without fear of eavesdroppers. Now there's a strange expression. Originally eavesdrop referred to the water that dropped from the eaves of a house, then the ground on which the water fell. Soon it was used to describe a person that stood under the eaves in order to hear any conversation inside. But I digress. The new two-seat sofa was different inasmuch as the sitters were divided by an upholstered arm rest and more importantly they faced opposite directions. As it allowed a confidential conversation without the need to turn heads or appear to be whispering it too was given the name Confidante. Naturally it was soon introduced into English society and George Hepplewhite illustrated one in his Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide (1788). In the 19th century the form was a natural one for the Victorian desire for propriety and intrigue on the one hand and love of plush upholstery on the other with lines and shape in the earlier French style. One glorious example of such furniture is a suite in Raby Castle, County Durham attributed to the company of George Morant and Son, furniture suppliers to H.M.William IV and granted Royal Appointment to her Majesty Queen Victoria as Interior Decorators and Upholsterers from 1839. The Confidante illustrated is also attributed to Morant, relying heavily on what we call the 'French Hepplewhite' style with its gently scrolling show-wood legs and frame. I wonder what secrets passed across those armrests in the last century and a half, confidentially speaking of course.
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