Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Marriage a la Mode, Part 6: The Lady's Death

Alas! All good things must come to an end, and so it is here that Hogarth concludes his painted tale of a fashionable marriage.

When we last saw the couple, the Earl was dying by the hands of his wife's lover, the lawyer, Silvertongue. Now it appears that the lover has been found guilty of his crime and was hanged. His dying speech lies at our mistress' feet. Speaking of dying, she doesn't look too good either! In her despair over her lost love, the lovely wife had ordered her daft servant to fetch her laudanum so that she may do away with herself. Her lost love being Silvertongue, not her Doherty-looking husband, the earl. Her suicide is here discovered, in the moments before her death. While the poor mentally-challenged servant is punished for his fatal error, the nursemaid brings the couples' only child, a daughter, to bid farewell to her mother. The child itself is rather sickly. It seems to have caught syphilis from one of its parents, as indicated by the black spot on her neck. She also has the misfortune of being crippled; probably due to rickets: the children's version of gout. While she kisses her mother one last time her grandfather slips his daughter's wedding ring off her finger before she goes all stiff. Suicides' possessions were forfeited to the state, so he has to make sure he gets what is left of her wealth. The deeper symbolism here ultimately describes the father's lack of compassion and guilt in his daughter's untimely death. While her soul slowly drifts into the hands of the devil, her own father is still only thinking of the money which she can bring him. But what money? The splendor of her atmosphere seems to have gone by the time of this last edition. It appears that the finery that once surrounded the countess has been replaced with a quaint little house on the Thames. Cobwebs decorate the space instead of gilded edges and curtains.

Some reoccurring themes once again appear in this painting. The art on the wall, as always, leaves clues as to what else is happening in the scene. Instead of the rich Italian masters, the walls are now graced with Dutch genre scenes. These were popular market paintings in the 17th century, but not suitable for a wife of a peerage. They depict the poorer classes being amused by simple things; which also references the dim-witted servant. Another reoccurring theme seen here is that of the dog. This dog, is unlike the others, it is a skin and bones street dog who is taking advantage of the the commotion to steal food (a pig's head) off the table. The symbolism isn't that deep here. The family is now poverty-stricken and has resorted to less-than-stellar food.

To finish this circle of sad events Hogarth reminds us of the first scene in which the marriage was formed. A family tree was displayed by the earl's father to indicate his intentions for the marriage. Now, the only legitimate child of the couple is a daughter, severing the growth of the family and marking it's untimely end. Even the Countess' greedy father did not gain wealth from the match because his daughter's suicide forfeits all of her possessions to the state. The loveless match created with no respect to the peoples involved has sown exactly what was planted in it: greed, stupidity, and misfortune. Nothing good was produced from the foul seed. As always Hogarth makes his point in his very decided and opinionated manner. Fashionable marriages were common and usually had disastrous results. Two easy examples of this is both Marie Antoinette and Georgiana's marriages. Hogarth's opinion is delivered alongside his great humor but the message, however exaggerated, is not to be made light of. It is from his satires in paint and print that we have discovered much about 18th century culture. Marriage a la Mode is one of the more historically significant of Hogarth's works because it criticizes the age-old tradition of arranged marriages and perhaps aided in it becoming unfashionable.

Marriage a la Mode, Part 1
Marriage a la Mode, Part 2
Marriage a la Mode, Part 3
Marriage a la Mode, Part 4
Marriage a la Mode, Part 5


  1. How horrible! The series really cuts to the quick of the matter much better than even a book! Any more series' planned?

  2. I'll take any requests as always, but I was debating whether I'd rather do Rakes or Harlots next. Decisions, decisions!

  3. I think the silver cup/bucket? on the table looks like it has a skull on it.

  4. This is absolutely brilliant blogging, very well done. Have you read Raymond Williams' "The Country and the City"? I wonder if he would provide other insights into the social and economic contexts of works like this.

  5. Hi Dave, I'm glad you like the blog. I haven't read Williams' book but I love Hogarth because of the insight he provides about the 18th Century...he never sugar-coats things!

  6. Hi, I'm Isabel, and I've just started following your lovely blog. I'm a young college student with a passion for the 18th century. I actually took a course in 18th century literature this past semester, and we studied this series in our anthology - it was terrific. I love how Hogarth can tell a riveting tale with a solid message without ever clobbering his viewers over the head with it. By the way, if you'd care to check out my blog, here's the address: fanciesandfrivolities.blogspot.com