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Hogart's "Progress" : a detailed analysis Crockford, Charles Henry

Abstract

In this study, two of William Hogarth's graphic series, "A Harlot's Progress" and "A Rake's Progress," are examined in detail. In order to carry out this examination, Hogarth's original prints were closely studied, and an exhaustive study was made of the literature pertaining to these two series, as well as of the literature pertaining, to Eighteenth Century English art and life in Eighteenth Century England. It was found that "A Harlot's Progress," which first appeared in 1732, tells the story of a young woman from the time she arrives in London to the time she dies. In Plate 1, the series' central character, Miss Hackabout, has just arrived in the British capital, and seems to have just been approached by a person said to be "Mother" Needham, the proprietress of a fashionable London bagnio, who is no doubt taking advantage of Miss Hackabout's naivete. In the second scene, Miss Hackabout is apparently the mistress of a well-to-do gentleman; when we see her, she is diverting the latter's attention while another man leaves her room. The third plate shows Miss Hackabout in a room in a disreputable neighborhood; she now appears to be a common prostitute. Some men are seen entering her room; one of these is said to be Sir John Gonson, a magistrate noted for his vigorous apprehension of "women of the night." Plate 4 shows Miss Hackabout confined in a house of correction; she is apparently being threatened with punishment if she does not beat the hemp that is in front of her. In the next scene Miss Hackabout is either gravely ill, or else has just passed away, and in the sixth and final plate the figure of Miss Hackabout is not one of those depicted, as her body lies in a coffin seen in the center of the print. Hogarth's "A Rake's Progress," which first appeared in 1735, commences with a scene in which Tom Rakewell, the series' main character, is attempting to "buy off" a young lady named Sarah Young whom he has, wronged; while he does this, the inheritance left him by his father is being calculated. The second scene indicates that Tom is now residing in a fine house, and has adopted the ways of the "upper class," and in Plate 3 Tom is seen, carousing in a tavern. In the next print, Tom is in the process of being arrested (probably for debt) while on his way to St. James' Palace in a sedan chair; however, Sarah Young has happened along at this moment, and she is offering her own money to help Tom. The fifth plate shows Tom marrying an older woman, most likely for her money, and the next plate shows him in a gambling house presumably after he has just lost a substantial sum. In the seventh scene Tom is shown confined in the Fleet Prison, a prison to which debtors were sent. And in the eighth and last plate, Tom is mentally unbalanced, as he is confined in Bethlehem hospital (otherwise known as Bedlam); in addition, there is a possibility that when we see him he is dying. It was also noted that while the incidents and details in "A Rake's Progress" and "A Harlot's Progress" must be examined if these series are to be fully understood and appreciated, both series are much more than "interesting stories." And it was further observed that, while both illustrate the moral precept that a departure from virtue is a descent from happiness, "Hogarth the Moralist" is overshadowed by "Hogarth the Social Commentator" and "Hogarth the Satirist."

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