Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Harlot's Progress: Plate 4

This does not look good.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Just think, Moll once was comfortably situated in a rich home that she didn't even have to pay for and now she has found herself in Bridewell Prison. Bridewell was once a palace of Henry VIII but was converted into a prison. By the 18th century it was chiefly used to house women, mostly prostitutes, who spent their days being whipped and beating hemp in public-view. This just happens to be exactly what we have come find Moll doing, beating hemp to make nooses. She isn't the only one. Moll is at the head of a line of inmates which also is a heirarchy of wealth. Next to her is a gamester who couldn't leave home without his dog. Beside him is a girl who is so young that she may not even be a teenager-she'll grow up to be a worthy tart. At the very end of the line is a pregnant African or West Indies woman who likely pled her belly in lieu of a death penalty.

Moll, meanwhile, is getting yelled at by the jailer who menicingly holds a switch. Next to him stands his wife who winks as she steals the clothes of Moll's back. Who the heck is she even winking at? Why, it's Moll's servant who we saw in the last plate. Just as Moll's fellow inmate brought his cherished pet to prison with him, Moll brought her cherished servant, who winks back at the jailer's wife as she puts Moll's shoes on. Behind Moll is a man in hanging from gallows which state "Better to work than stand thus." I'm sure Moll would argue that she was working until the magistrate took her to this godawful place. Her answer to that would be on the post behind all the prisoners which reads, "The Wage of Idleness." Sure, Moll "worked" at night but but it was that line of work that got her to Bridewell. Will Moll ever get out Prison? Or is this the end of the line for her?

A Harlot's Progress Plate 1

A Harlot's Progress Plate 2
A Harlot's Progress Plate 3
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  1. Poor Moll--corrupted innocence punished. It just ain't fair.
    I had always thought that the man with the dog was slumming---or shopping ;) So he's an inmate as well? Well, he won't keep those fine clothes very long, since prison life isn't cheap. (And don't you love that even in debtor's prison, one still had to pay for one's needs? The irony would be funny if it weren't so sad.)

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  2. Oh my gosh, so many questions, and from ony tiny picture! How could a young girl end up in prison? And allowing to bring pets and servants? Who fed them? Does one pay for stuff in prison? What becomes of infants born to inmates? Where men and women housed together?

  3. Ooo all good questions! Anyone could end up in prison, young girls who commonly found themselves on the streets would resort to pickpocketing or prostitution. Emma Hamilton was barely 13 when she became a streetwalker. And yes pets and servants could go to prison with you, especially debtors prison. In fact, debtors prison was just like being forced to move into a crappy tenement and pay rent. Whole families moved in but could go out to do the grocery shopping. Many children were born in prison, if it was to unwed mothers they could always be left at the foundlings hospital. Actually, I should just do a post on prisons come to think of it!

    A great account of debtors prison life can be found in Perdita the biography on Mary Robinson.

  4. ahhhh she is beating hemp. I never could figure out what she was hitting in this one. It looks sort of like a big pickle.

  5. The whole thing makes me feel gross. Makes you wonder what her life would've been like if she never turned to prostitution.... would she be happily married, with children and her own clothes and a nice house? It's sad.