Just like Fanny Hill (1748)is erotica pretending to be a cautionary tale by a fallen woman, this print of the Progress of a Woman of Pleasure (1796) is less a moral warning then an excuse to display the protagonist's voluptuous attractions, and her remarkably extensive wardrobe, too. Even near death in the last image, she still hasn't exactly wasted away. (She's also one more example of the robust female ideal of beauty of the late 18th c.) There's none of the graphic illness and physical decay that appear in William Hogarth's earlier Harlot's Progress(1732), nor any of the next generation's guilt and remorse that would drive fallen women in Victorian art to hurl themselves off bridges. Instead this woman reminds me of the little cartoon "playmates" that decorated the pages of vintage Playboy magazines: a stylish, pneumatic male fantasy of a good-time party girl.
If there's an adolescent obsession with bared breasts in the Progress, it could be because the artist was only nineteen. Richard Newton (1777-1798) was the boy-prodigy of the great Georgian caricaturists, publishing his first satirical drawing at age 14 for London publisher William Holland. Just like his subject, Newton's own career was sadly meteoric; he was dead of 'prison fever' (Typhoid) at 21.
While you can (and should) click on the image above to enlarge it, the hand-written captions aren't easy to read. But because they're meant to be satirically amusing, I've transcribed them below, plus added a few explanations.
• Your first step for preferment will be to a great Lady in King's Place.*
• I see you now waiting in full dress for an introduction to a fine Gentleman with a world of money!
• You are now in high keeping and you accompany your Adonis to the Masquerade in the character of a Bacchante.
• Not being used to Champagne and not possessing the sweetest temper in the world in liquor, you give your Keeper a sample of it in flinging a glass of wine in his face!
• You are now turned off, and your only consolation is that your Hair Dresser promised to marry you.
• He loves you to distraction but he thought you'd have an annuity of 200 a year! I heard you roar out - "You dirty rascal I could get the smartest Linen Draper's Man in London with that money!"
• You now move to Marybone** and exhibit yourself in the Promenade in Oxford Street.
• Having met with a Crown customer, you tell him to go treat his Wife and Brats at Bagnigge Wells – you expected Five Guineas at least from him!
• You take a bumper of Brandy to comfort you after the disappointment and you drink 'bad luck all scaly fellows!'
• You now dance away at the Hop in Queen Ann Street East, and captivate all the men with your airs and graces!
• You wind up the evening with a Boxing match and a Warrant and Two Black Eyes salute you in the Morning.
• You are now over head and ears in debt in Marybone Parish and I see you shifting or removing your little wardrobe to Covent Garden***.
• You are glad of a Half Crown customer now, in a Prentice Boy who has just robbed his Master's Till.
• You are now the Mistress of a Player, who principally lives by Gambling; you ride out with him, cut a dash, and run him in debt; and to give him a sample of your spirit before you part you exercise a Horsewhip on his shoulders!
• You are now in a Spunging House****, heart sick at disappointment from all your Friends, and you stupify yourself with Gin.
• Having in a few years been the Mistress of Two Highwaymen, a Qui Tam Attorney*****, and two Shopmen who were Transported, I know see you at your last shift pawning your silver Thimble for a groat to purchase a Breakfast.
• Your Sun is now setting very fast, and I see you're the Servant of a woman who was formerly your Servant, you live on Board Wages, which seldom affords you more than a Bunch of Raddishes and a Pint of Porter for your Dinner.
• You take sick in the service of this female monster and she turns you out of doors fearing your Funeral expenses should fall upon her.
* King's-Place was the location of an infamous, high-class brothel run by the notorious madam Charlotte Hayes. ** Marybone (Mary-le-bone) was an area of London bordered by Oxford Street, and known for pleasure gardens, prostitutes, bear-bating, & prizefights. ***Covent Garden was the center of lower-class prostitution in 18th c London. ****A Sponging House was a place of temporary confinement for chronic debtors. *****A Qui Tam attorney specialized in disreputable qui tam cases ******Board wages were wages paid, usually to servants, in the form of board (food) & lodging, generally of poor quality. Above: Progress of a Woman of Pleasure by Richard Newton, 1796, hand-colored etching printed by William Holland, London.
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.