Mothers and daughters warring over clothes is nothing new, with each generation pushing the limits of fashion to the horror of the previous one. Young Anne, left, has returned home to the country after a sojourn in London. She's dressed in the literal height of fashion, with towering hair and a richly trimmed gown displaying considerable bosom, and even a trendy little lapdog. Her modestly dressed mother is justifiably shocked, and cannot believe that this expensive creature is her daughter. (We've also seen country boys morph into macaronis in London, like the one here.)
Of course, with young country women in 18th c prints, there's always a more sinister (or at least cynical) explanation for wearing the latest London finery. In John Cleland's infamous 1748 novel Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the orphaned and impoverished yet still innocent Fanny desires to go to London to "seek her fortune" ("a phrase, which, by the bye, has ruined more adventurers of both sexes, from the country, than ever it made, or advanced") only after admiring the stylish clothes of a visiting friend, Esther Davis:
"Nor can I remember, without laughing, the innocent admiration, not without a spice of envy, with which we poor girls, whose church-going cloaths did not rise about dowlass [coarse linen] shifts and snuff [thin wool] gowns, beheld Esther's scower'd sattin-gown, caps border'd with an inch of lace; taudry ribbons, and shoes belaced with silver! all of which we imagined grew in London....[I believed Esther when she explained how] several maids out of the country had made themselves and all their kin for ever, that by presarving their VARTUE, some had taken so with their masters, that they had married them, and kept them coaches, and lived vastly grand, and happy, and some, may-hap came to be Dutchesses: Luck was all, and why not I as well as another."
Once in London, Fanny soon learns that "VARTUE" was not rewarded nearly as profitably as sin, and receives her satin gown and carriage only after becoming the mistress to a wealthy lord. Could that be what the horrified mother in this print suspects, too?
Above: Heyday! Is this my daughter Anne! by F.E.Adams, published 1779 by Robert Wilkinson, with an early version published 1771 by Carington Bowles. Copyright the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.