Monday, October 20, 2008
A Harlot's Progress: Plate 1
Since Hogarth has already educated us on the dangers of a fashionable marriage, it is time for us to, once again, seek his insight on other issues of the age. I had a hard time deciding which series to do next: A Rake's Progress, or A Harlot's Progress. Then, my dear friend Carolyn told me, "Ladies first!" and I realized she was absolutely right! So take heed, my impressionable young lady-gossips, here is a story to think of when trouble may lead you astray.
Here we have the mild-mannered Moll Hackabout, who is beginning the first day of the rest of her life. She has moved out of her parents' home and is looking to make her start in the big city; in this case: Cheapside. She is dropped off by the wagon full of other young ladies trying to make an honest pound in London. First impressions tell us that Moll is young, pretty, neatly dressed, and looking for a job as a seamstress (as judged by the scissors and pincushion on her arm). But is this overdressed woman in this backstreet really a seamstress? And if she is a seamstress, why is she poking a proding young Moll as if she were a piece of meat? Indeed, this woman is actually a procuress, "Mother" Needham who was such a legandary "abbess" that when she was later sentenced to stand in a pillory, the crowds were so large that a boy was crushed to death. Rumour has it, Mother Needham was too. Another famous deviant stands behind the two women. This is the rake and rapist, Francis Charteris. Hogarth had no sympathy for characters like him. He comes out of, what we can assume to be, a brothel; either a satisfied customer or a partner in Mother Needham's dark business deal. Charteris also appears to be, ahem, excited about the prospective new employee.
While poor Moll's downfall seems to be unfolding before everyone's eyes in these dank streets, a priest passes on his horse. He is too interested in finding his way than saving the girl's innocence. To further insist on his blatant disregard for Moll, his horse is shown to knock down a teetering stack of pots. This is a reference that the French artist, Greuze would commonly use to show loss of innocence or virginity among young girls. There is no doubt that is Hogarth's intention too. Another important Hogarthian symbol (that we should always be keeping an eye out for) is the dead goose in the corner. This hints to Moll's gullibility. Poor Moll, she has no idea what she is about to get into.