Cinematic Techniques in William Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress.
Fall 99, Vol. 33 Issue 2, pp. 49-65
Journal of Popular Culture
by Philip Momberger


Recent and illuminating analyses of William Hogarth's serial engravings--A Harlot's Progress (1732), A Rake's Progress (1735), Marriage a la Mode (1745), and Industry and Idleness (1747)--have explored his brilliant synthesizing of traditional pictorial forms with elements drawn from the popular arts of his eighteenth century London milieu, among them theater, pantomime, ballad opera, sensational journalism and erotica, book illustration, pictorial and verse satire, the traditional emblem book, and the newly emergent novel. Other commentaries have noted his anticipatings of such later forms as the comic strip, the comic book, and the political cartoon.(n1) As yet unremarked, but at least as striking, are the uncanny presagings of cinematic device and structure that Hogarth devised in 1731-1732 for the first and most powerful of his pictorial narratives, A Harlot's Progress. Examined as if they composed a motion picture's preparatory "story board" or were still frames in a black-and-white silent film, those six engravings prophesy major strategies in the filmic art that would lie nearly two centuries in the future.

Before exploring those proto-cinematic devices, it will be necessary to summarize the course of Hogarth's pictorial narrative through its succeeding frames. In his Harlot's Progress Hogarth unfolds the brief, unhappy history--the ironic non-progress--of a naive country lass, one "Mary Hackabout," who journeys from her home in rural Yorkshire to London, there to seek her modest fortune as a seamstress or in some other honest trade. Mary is soon drawn, however, into a life of vice that finally destroys her.

In frame one, Mary has just alighted from the covered York-to-London Wagon at the Sign of the Bell tavern and gambling den in seamy Cheapside. Attired in a simple white country dress and straw hat, with a white rose of innocence pinned to her bosom and her sewing kit dangling from her arm, Mary expects to be met and aided by her city cousin, for whom she has brought the gift goose at the lower right corner of the frame. Mary's clumsily lettered, semi-literate gift tag bespeaks her lack of education: "For my Lofing Cosen in Tems Stret in London." Baneful chance and urban corruption intervene, however. The supposedly "loving" cousin does not appear, and Mary is welcomed instead by a notorious old procuress, clad in rich satins but with a syphletically cankered face, who will flatter and seduce the naively susceptible girl into the life of vice.

At first Mary prospers on that low road, where she soon acquires a taste for the trappings of fashion and wealth. In frame two, a rich Jewish merchant with an elongated caricatured nose has established her as his mistress in a luxurious apartment with elegant wall covering, expensive furniture and oil paintings, a lady's maid, an exotic black child servant, and even a fashionable pet monkey. Mary, however, has evidently--and imprudently--been two-timing her much older patron. She snaps her fingers and kicks over the tea table in order to distract his attention from the handsome young gallant--Mary's overnight companion--who is shushing the wide-eyed maid and exiting on shoeless tiptoe at the left rear.

In frame three, we infer that Mary's patron has discovered her duplicity, and cast her out. No longer a kept and pampered mistress, Mary now plies the common whore's trade in far humbler surroundings, and for a much less savory clientele. The "Drury Lane" tavern markings on the pilfered tankard at the lower right indicate that Mary has been reduced to streetwalking in seamy Covent Garden. It is again tea-time, but telling contrasts between this frame and its predecessor dramatize the decline in Mary's circumstances. The lady's maid and exotic child servant of frame two have been replaced by an aging bunter with a disease-ravaged face; the elegant furnishings and tea set by a clutter of worn and merely functional objects; the fashionable pet monkey by a common alley cat, and the richly mounted oil paintings by the crude penny prints tacked to Mary's wall. One depicts "Captain Mackheath," the highwayman hero of John Gay's Beggar's Opera (1728), and the labeled wig box stored atop Mary's bed canopy awaits the return of its owner, James Dalton, a notorious thief. Moreover, the witch's hat and bundle of birch sticks hanging by Mary's bed suggest that she is catering not only to criminals, but to deviant tastes. More ominously still, the marks of disease are spreading on Mary's face.

Now deprived of a patron's protection, Mary is left vulnerable to the first hazard of the harlot's trade. Led by a puritanical magistrate, the district vice squad enters at the right rear to arrest her, and send her in frame four to Bridewell Prison. There, with fellow prostitutes, a professional gambler, and other miscreants, Mary is set to work pounding hemp for rope-making. A glaring jailer directs her more conscientious attention to that task, and we see no evidence of honor or fellowship in the criminal class to which Mary has sunk. The one-eyed prisoner to the jailer's left is picking Mary's pocket, while the tattered whore at the frame's far right grins at the pretentious absurdity of Mary's elegant attire in so squalid a setting.

Released from prison, Mary is succumbing in frame five to the further--and final--risks of prostitution: unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease. Mary's lice-scratching little boy is dangerously close to the fire as he reaches for a chunk of broiling meat, but no one bothers to notice the child's hunger or his peril. Swathed by the fire in the "sweating blankets" prescribed for syphilis, the dying Mary is likewise ignored by the two quack physicians who squabble over which useless medicine to administer, and by the corpse-washer and layer-out who rifles Mary's trunk at the lower left. Even her beaklike nose and humpbacked form suggest a scavenging vulture.

Mary's wake in frame six is hardly a scene of gravity or grieving. As is indicated by the mock-heraldic coat of arms with keg taps that hangs on the rear wall, her "mourners" are assembled in a decrepit tavern's back room, where they use Mary's coffin as a buffet table, and where the urban vice and predation that have destroyed her continue unabated.(n2) In the left foreground, the presiding minister fondles the seated young lady who conceals his lecherous fumbling with his broad black mourning hat. By the window to the right, the undertaker seductively strokes one arm of the young woman who picks his pocket with the other, and the remaining mourners are similarly preoccupied with everything but the deceased. Is the wailing woman at the lower right grieving for poor Mary or, as seems more likely, has the open "Nants" brandy jug at her feet induced a bout of delirium tremens? The sniffling young lady to the right rear seems to be weeping only over an injured finger. The mirror-gazing woman behind her exhibits the same vanity that has helped bring poor Mary to her doom, and Mary's little boy in formal mourning garb plays with his toy top, ignored again by his elders and as oblivious as they to his mother's death. Only the white-dressed young woman at the frame's center peers with dismay into Mary's coffin, and to that figure's visual and thematic functions we shall shortly return.

Hogarth's primary clientele for his serial engravings was, of course, the rising London bourgeoisie.(n3) How, then, might those purchasers of these best-selling prints have construed the meaning and moral of his Harlot's doleful "progress" from innocence through corruption to death? In those terms dearest, of course, to the pragmatic bourgeois soul: As witness the monitory fate of Mary Hackabout, vice and crime are to be scrupulously eschewed--not because they are unkind to our neighbors or offensive to God, but because they do not pay. And, while applauding that affirmation of the bourgeois straight-and-narrow, the London purchaser of Mary's pictorial history would also have been powerfully confirmed in what he or she already knew: That the big city is a dangerous environment where predators of every stripe will exploit and consume the unwary, and at last cast them callously away. That recognition would in turn have reminded Hogarth's purchaser of his Christian enjoinment to compassion and forgiveness. Pretty young Mary is, after all, not so much wicked as she is naive, vain, malleable, shallowly ambitious, and rather stupid--a fatal compound that attracts London's corrupt and corrupting despoilers as surely as the whiff of blood draws sharks. Thus, Mary as victim is more to be pitied than censured; and in either event, whether condescending to condemn or to excuse, the bourgeois purchaser would rest comfortably assured of his own moral superiority to Hogarth's non-heroine.(n4)

When Hogarth's client had wearied of such weighty moral reflections, he could have indulged in some lighter pleasures as well. He might have smiled, for example, at the artist's caricaturing of familiar public figures. The falsely friendly madame and the leering aristocrat fondling his genitals in the tavern doorway in frame one, the tight-lipped magistrate in frame three, and the disputatious quack doctors in frame five all have been identified as prominent Londoners whom Hogarth's contemporaries would instantly have recognized, with what Aristotle terms "the pleasure of the familiar."(n5) Or, having purchased these Harlot's Progress engravings, the proud owner might have had them framed and mounted on his domestic walls, and would thus have felt himself elevated from bourgeois merchant or clerk to aristocratic patron of the arts.(n6) Or, on a less exalted plane, the purchaser might have relished the erotic titillation that the artist-salesman has shrewdly packaged in an homiletic wrapper. Hogarth's subject is, after all, harlotry; and his Mary in frames two and three has shed the modest country garb and downcast gaze of frame one for the provocative attire and come-hither expression appropriate to the very softest pornography. We may be sure that Hogarth's original consumers were not altogether averse to that allure. Scratch a strait-laced bourgeois puritan--in any century--and one is likely to find a panting libido as often as not. Hogarth himself implies as much in frame three of his Harlot's Progress. There, as Bindman observes, the rabidly puritanical magistrate Sir John Gonson "as he enters appears to hesitate as if caught by lust at the sight of the Harlot's seductive presence, for it was an old saw that such moralizing zeal was essentially prurient" (58). Hogarth confirms that suggestion by drawing emphatic visual correspondences between the puritanical magistrate and the lecherous aristocrat of frame one. In each frame the bewigged and socially powerful male figure stands with his male assistant or assistants at the right rear near an open doorway, gazes diagonally across and "down" the frame, looks over and past an intervening older and poxy female figure, fixes his stare on the alluring young Mary at the left, and simultaneously reaches for his groin.

Hogarth's occasional caricaturing of public figures like the magistrate and the aristocrat, with its implicit criticism of the powerful, would in the next century evolve into the more topically focused art of the political cartoon. His invitation to the middle class to mimic-on-the-cheap the art-collecting proclivities of its social superiors would in our century flower into the merchandising genius of the Franklin Mint and other such purveyors of ersatz Ming miniature vases, plastic Faberge eggs, and replicated first-edition books bound in finest Naugahyde. And Hogarth's sly wrapping of erotic skin within didactic sermon prophesies nothing so much as the fleshy Biblical epics of the Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille.

Since William Hogarth arguably is the first modern, mass-producing visual artist successfully to court middle-class tastes and commercial patronage, further such comparisons of his work to the popular arts of our own time will of course suggest themselves to every student of those arts. My present interest, however, is in Hogarth's uncanny presagings of the narrative cinema that would lie nearly two hundred years in the future. I hasten to add that I am as inclined as anyone to doubt the paternity of children born centuries after their alleged fathers, that I know of no film-maker who has claimed or lauded Hogarth as an ancestor, and that I am not arguing for a linear historical influence or descent. Nevertheless, I am speculatively persuaded that were Hogarth the serial engraver our contemporary, he would be a film director, and a most resourceful one. Conversely, his eighteenth century pictorial narrative may have much to teach the twentieth century cinema and its students.

Consider first Hogarth's skillful composing of pictorial elements--of sets, props, actors, costumes, lighting, space--in a rectangular frame, his calculated assemblage of mise-en-scene so that visual image will generate both drama and meaning.

Frame one--in cinematic terms, Hogarth's "establishing shot"--will serve to illustrate. Here Mary Hackabout arrives in London's Cheapside slum, at a topographically actual crossroads that becomes, metaphorically, a moral one. To the right in the frame are the sinister figures who tempt and menace her: the richly clad but syphletically cankered madame and the lecherous aristocrat in the tavern door. Fatefully absent is the city cousin who could have guided and protected her, but just behind Mary in the left middle distance is another potential savior: a black-robed clergyman on horseback. Unfortunately, the good minister will not be spurring his white horse to the imperiled maiden's rescue, for he is preoccupied with scrutinizing a letter of introduction that he hopes may advance his ecclesiastical career. As myopic as his blinkered steed, the minister fails to notice Mary's danger, or even that his grazing horse has toppled the stack of buckets at the frame's far left. Thus, neither family nor church will come to Mary's aid; indeed, the clergyman has unwittingly turned his back on her.(n7) She is endangered by figures both criminally low-life and aristocratic, and her wholesome rural past is vanishing to the left with the covered York-to-London cart that has delivered Mary, and other white-clad country girls too poor to pay coach fare, to the corrupt and predatory city.

A virtuous alternative, however, yet remains. On the tenement balcony to the rear, just above Mary's head, is a poor but respectable housewife engaged in mending and hanging out her laundry. A straight and narrow slot of light joins the elevated housewife at once to heaven above and to the white-dressed Mary below. This first frame will be the only one set out-of-doors, and here the converging connotations of space and freedom and light and cleansing and what analysts of pictorial design term "vertical escape" define the positive possibilities of humble domestic virtue that the innocent Mary at her crossroads still might choose. But, unhappily, in corrupting London the city's crumbling buildings threaten to squeeze out heaven's light. The respectable housewife recedes and dwindles in comparison to the foreground figures of temptation and vice; and, as preoccupied as the minister with her own affairs, she takes no more notice than he of Mary's peril. The dark-clad old bawd is by far the largest figure in the frame, and she dominates the white-dressed Mary just as the black-robed minister rules his white horse. Indeed, the recruiting madame seems in horse-dealer fashion about to inspect Mary's teeth, and visual emblems that Mary faces to the right of the frame ominously prophesy her fate. Her black, initialed trunk resembles a coffin and appropriately will reappear in Mary's death scene in frame five; and her dead goose calls to mind the proverbial "silly goose," "gone goose," or "goose cooked" that Mary soon and finally will be. Moreover, as Paulson reports, "`green goose' or `Winchester goose'" were "contemporary slang for whore" (The Modern Moral Subject 262).

No later master of cinematic mise en scene, not even Eisenstein or Hitchcock, has more effectively enframed pictorial elements for the dramatization of theme. Those directors, however, could elaborate such meanings as their moving "movie" pictures moved. Hogarth the engraver of course cannot, and one senses his impatience with his static pictorial medium throughout his Harlot's Progress sequence. Here the artist strives repeatedly for "snapshot" effects that will suggest motion only fleetingly, momentarily arrested and ongoing. Hogarth's human figures, for example, seem never posed or at rest but always caught in an instant of suspended motion, and the props that surround them are similarly dynamic. The stacked buckets are tumbling in frame one, the kicked tea table and crockery falling in frame two, the hot water pouring in frame three, the mallets rising or descending in frame four, the doctor's chair toppling backward and the stewpot forward in frame five, and the lecherous minister's wine glass spilling in frame six, with a none too subtle hinting at ejaculation. Moreover, recurrent visual references to time--to bell and watches and dated documents--serve as constant reminders of the temporal dimension in which motion and change inhere.

Such momentary freezings of motion remain, however, just that: frozen, in pictorial engraving's inescapably static mode. To induce the effect of motion, Hogarth must shift his reliance from his static prints to the unfettered mobility of the viewer's eye: to the optical mobility of the eye that roams searchingly up and down and across and into and out of each richly detailed frame; and, more importantly, to the figurative "eye" of visual memory that, as in film experience, shuttles between and among discrete visual data, joining image to image, event to event, frame to frame--and in that dynamic process actively extracting meaning.

At the simplest level of constructing meaning through visual memory and association, the active viewer of A Harlot's Progress infers relations of cause to effect, precisely as he would in watching a narrative silent film. The bad choice impending in frame one, for example, has its visible effect in Mary's reduction to kept woman in frame two. In turn, the betrayal depicted there causes the effect of Mary's demotion from pampered mistress to lowlife whore in frame three. Mary's approaching arrest in that frame causes her imprisonment in the next. And, ultimately, Mary's wrong turn at the moral crossroads in frame one initiates the inexorably unfolding causal chain that will propel her at last into her coffin.

Frame one also introduces a rich complex of pictorial parallels and symbols that the viewer's visual memory will associate into continuously evolving and thus "mobile" patterns of meaning. The telling visual correspondences between the criminal and judicial lechers in frames one and three have been noted above, and "animal" images compose another such dynamic that unfolds from frame to frame. The feeding horse in frame one is driven by the animal needs that in turn precipitate the stacked buckets' fall, just as humanity's own animal drives will propel the innocent Mary to her own "fall," and ultimately to the doom that her dead goose prophesies. The sexual "monkey business" imagistically pointed up in frame two "makes a monkey out of" Mary's lustful patron, whose facial profile exactly mirrors her simian pet's. The monkey is associated as well with Mary, with a scrap of whose frilly clothing the animal has draped itself. Just as the monkey is Mary's pet, so is she her keeper's. And just as monkeys are said to "ape" human gestures and expressions, so the socially ambitious Mary is for her part mimicking the fashions of London's great ladies--in luxurious idleness, in elegant costume and furnishings, and even in the "unfaithful" taking of a handsome young lover.(n8)

Humanity's imaged descent to brutishness continues in frame three, where the female cat-in-heat that sniffs under Mary's dress is a sardonic comment on her behavior, and on that of Mary's clients as well. As the dog image at the lower center of frame four confirms, Mary has there gone-to-the-dogs, leads a dog's life in prison, and like a canine pack animal has allowed brute instincts to submerge her prior, visually autonomous individuality into the criminal crowd. No animal images appear as such in frames five and six, nor need they there appear. The dominance of bestial impulse in Mary's life and world has by then been visually established, and we need only be reminded in those concluding frames of our animal needs (to feed and to breed) and of the ultimate and humbling animal destiny that we share with Mary Hackabout: to fall ill and die and decompose. The final stage in that process is grimly predicted in frame five, in the vulturous form of the kneeling corpse-washer and in the mended screen door and hanging fly trap to the scavenger's rear. In frame six, Mary's corpse has in fact not yet sunk to its final dissolution, but she is there invisible to the viewer and thus has been prophetically reduced to corporeal nullity.

The viewer's visual memory brings still other images into associative conjunction as that faculty "moves" forward and back and forward again from frame to frame. The natural light and outdoor space that Mary had enjoyed in frame one, for example, will steadily diminish in the succeeding "indoor" frames. Light dims, windows darken, open doors close, ceilings and walls seem increasingly "barred," and space contracts as Mary's entrapping circumstances usurp her freedom and squeeze her at last into her narrow coffin. Similarly, the changing image of the canopied bed epitomizes the biologically determined course of Mary's--or anyone's--life, for it is in bed that one is born, enjoys sex, usually breeds, and finally dies. The bed image expands radically and brazenly from frames two to three; vanishes in frame four, for Mary will enjoy neither sex nor comfortable rest in Bridewell Prison; reappears only to recede and contract as Mary is dying in frame five, and shrinks at last to Mary's covered casket.

Absent a sound track with dialogue or voice-over, and absent even the dramatic cartoonist's "speech balloons," we of course cannot know precisely what the wordless Mary thinks or feels about what is happening to her, and in particular how she may regard the hypocrisy of the dominant male sex whose members first solicit her favors, and then condemn and persecute her for complying. On the one hand, it is appropriate that Mary be presented to us less as a conscious and feeling "subject" than as an exploitable "object," for that is how her urban environment regards and treats her. On the other hand, however, Hogarth does through the series modulate his rendering of Mary's eyes, the conventional "windows of the soul," to provide a degree of access to her changing interior state.

In frame one, the innocent Mary's eyes are modestly downcast and in a provincial newcomer's passive shyness nearly closed. In frame two, however, Mary has learned both deceptive cynicism and aggressiveness: as she distractingly snaps her fingers and kicks over the tea table, she fixes her startled patron with a challenging gaze. Mary has grown more brazen still in frame three as she makes direct eye contact with the viewer, to whom she displays a probably stolen watch. Mary's stare is ambiguous: Is she inviting the viewer to make a timed appointment, or pointing out that he is late for one? Is she proudly displaying a criminal trophy? Or is she making the viewer a silent witness and thus an accessory to theft? In any case, Mary's calculating boldness and her quest for initiative advantage have continued to grow, but to a degree unwarranted by the realities of social power and the vulnerability of her situation. Unbeknownst to the watch-flaunting Mary, her time is about to "run out." When the approaching magistrate has arrested her, Mary will lose any hope of choosing and initiating action as a "subject" and will thereafter be only acted upon as a passive "object." That realization has come home to the imprisoned Mary in frame four, as her now humbled gaze reveals. Here she dare not meet the jailer's threatening glare. She is too humiliated and fearful to make eye contact with her fellow convicts or with the viewer, and her now anxious eyes look down and out of the frame, perhaps in avoidance of her immediate circumstances, or perhaps in despairing search of a succor that of course will not come. Her victimization completed, Mary's eyes are closing in death in frame five, in a mordant echo of her demurely downcast gaze in frame one. In frame six, the dead Mary's soul has departed this world, and its ocular "windows" are accordingly unseen.(n9)

There may well be dozens more of such incrementally evolving images, but let us conclude by examining a final cinematic device in A Harlot's Progress. Many great films have appealed to the viewer's visual memory by ending, visually, as they had begun. One thinks, for example, of the pictorially circular structures of Welles' Citizen Kane, Wilder's Double Indemnity, Clayton's The Innocents, and Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Such visual symmetry can yield a sense of dramatic closure and, more importantly, of thematic development epitomized and fulfilled. The initial and final frames of A Harlot's Progress achieve in conjunction precisely those effects.

In frame one, Mary had arrived in youthful life and hope near a London tavern's front door. In frame six, she will be borne from a tavern's back room, defeated and dead. In frame one, Mary had been surrounded by open space and outdoor light. In frame six, she is encoffined in indoor gloom. The preoccupied clergyman in frame one had been oblivious to Mary's need. His counterpart in frame six is deliberately and even obscenely indifferent. In frame one, the old procuress had pretended a friendly interest in Mary. If, as Bindman suggests, the aging bawd reappears in frame six as the wailing woman "lamenting the loss of revenue" (61) that Mary's death has caused her, then hypocrisy has been unmasked and the underlying reality of exploitation most hideously revealed.(n10) Frame one had hinted at drinking and sexual predation and corruption. Frame six seems a prelude to orgy. Evil, it appears, has not only come full circle; it has intensified. The inscribed plate on Mary's coffin records her date of death as 2 September 1731--the sixty-fifth anniversary, as Bindman points out, of the Great Fire of London, a catastrophe popularly regarded as "a manifestation of the wrath of God at the sins of Londoners" (93). On the visual evidence of frame six, the time for another such judgment would seem at hand.

We may now attend to the mysterious young woman in white who gazes with unique dismay into Mary's coffin at the center of that final frame. Published commentaries have assumed that she is simply one of the many prostitutes who have assembled to bid a colleague farewell, and that she peers at the dead Mary's face as a memento mori. The symmetrical construction of the series as a whole and the focal emphasis accorded the figure, however, suggest more extended and richer possibilities. Might the young woman be the London cousin expected but disastrously absent in frame one, and now at last but far too late arrived? Perhaps so. A country girl's beribboned white hat hangs just above her head on the rear wall, however, just as the imprisoned gambler's tricorn had hung above his head in frame four. If the hat is hers, then her rural headgear suggests that the young woman is the next Mary Hackabout, arriving in London at an overhead tavern sign just as Mary had: white-dressed and white-hatted, clear-skinned, focally central, flanked on the left by a preoccupied clergyman and on the right by an old procuress, facing to our right, gazing down, luminous in a surrounding gloom, perhaps just descended from a covered rural meat wagon into an urban sea of sharks.(n11) The dead Mary is now invisible to the viewer, for the newcomer has replaced her at the pictorial and dramatic center; and the young woman seems all but certain to re-enact the "progress" of the predecessor whose dead, coffin-framed face she contemplates, much as the nearby woman stares at her own rectangularly framed and mirrored image.

Mary Hackabout's surname had predicted and epitomized her destiny. A "hack," like a prostitute, is a vehicle for hire and it daily runs a circular course, starting from its cab garage, then like a streetwalker moving randomly "about" in search of clients, and finally returning to the resting point from which its motion had begun. The visually circular patterning of Mary's sad "progress" complements that sense of futile movement, and the components of the final frame recapitulate the forces that have converged to destroy her: negligent clergyman, exploitative old bawd, unwanted child, selfish indifference, the disease that marks several prostitutes' faces, alcohol, theft, mirror of vanity, closed and "barred" space, and sexual predation. Accentuated and extended by the large semicircular shadow in the right foreground and the circular yew-tray on the floor, those elements now form a larger circle that is closing around the white-dressed newcomer at the frame's and the gathering's center. An inexorably entrapping cycle of destruction, it seems, is about to begin once more.

Conventional wisdom holds that one picture is worth a thousand words; but that equation would depend, one supposes, upon the worth of the picture, and of the words. In the case of William Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress, six serial pictures incorporate perhaps a thousand pictorial details that, in their dynamic continuity and interplay, earn their prophetic art a single word of description, and of praise: "Cinematic."

And brilliantly so.


(n1)Every student of Hogarth is indebted to the monumental scholarship of Ronald Paulson, including his Hogarth's Graphic Works: First Complete Edition, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1965; rev. eds. 1970, 1989); Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1971); Hogarth: The "Modern Moral Subject," 1697-1732 (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1991), and Popular and Polite Art in the Age of Hogarth and Fielding (South Bend: U of Notre Dame P, 1979). Other useful studies include those by Antal, Bindman, and Cowley listed below; David Kunzle, The Early Comic Strip (Berkeley: U of California P, 1973); Jack Lindsay, Hogarth: His Art and His World (New York: Taplinger, 1979); Neil McWilliam, Hogarth (London: Studio Editions, 1993); Robert Etheridge Moore, Hogarth's Literary Relationships (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1948), and Jenny Uglow, Hogarth: A Life and a World (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1997).

(n2)Paulson takes the vulgar coat of arms to be Mary's: ". . . a mocking set of armorial bearings for the deceased hangs on the wall. Needless to say, such did not accompany the funerals of whores" (Hogarth's Graphic Works, I, 148-49). Paulson thus interprets the escutcheon to be a final sardonic comment on Mary's affectations of gentility. Given that the "arms" consist of three keg taps, that whores could claim no such armorial distinction, and that the wine is flowing at the wake, I take the plaque to be a tavern sign and thus to be a visual reminder of Mary's arrival at a tavern in London in frame one. Hogarth has been consistently at pains to specify the kind of setting in which his Harlot finds herself and to make frames one and six symmetrical, and such a sign would be the only pertinent visual clue in frame six. No church would be hosting a whore's bibulous wake, and Mary plainly is not being "buried from home," for the cramped garret depicted in the preceding frame would not have accommodated the crowd assembled and drinking at her funeral. A tavern's back room accordingly seems the likeliest setting.

(n3)Antal offers a thorough, if relentlessly Marxist, account of the "bourgeois" character and patronage of Hogarth's art.

(n4)A contemporary dramatization of that moral ambivalence has come down to us. Four years after Hogarth's death, his widow Jane Thornhill agreed to a re-engraved reissue of seventy-eight of his prints, including A Harlot's Progress, with each plate to be accompanied by a didactic commentary written by the Rev. John Trusler. The edition was aptly titled Hogarth Moralized (London, 1768). In Trusler's extended gloss on A Harlot's Progress, he cannot decide whether he wants to castigate Mary as a slut or to denounce sinful London's betrayal of her sweet innocence. He therefore does both, with no apparent awareness of inconsistency, and no doubt with a doubled assurance of his own superior righteousness.

(n5)Hogarth's contemporary and fellow engraver George Vertue in his notebooks identified several of the actual persons depicted in A Harlot's Progress, and modern scholarship has confirmed and extended Vertue's identifications. The aging procuress in frame one is "Mother" Elizabeth Needham, who in 1731 was sentenced (fatally) to the pillory for keeping a disorderly house and was notorious enough to be satirized in Fielding's Covent Garden Tragedy and Pope's Dunciad. The lecherous aristocrat in the same frame is the still more infamous gambler and rapist Colonel Francis Charteris, whose powerful friends regularly connived to protect him from the law. At Charteris' side is his pimp, "Trusty Jack" Gourly. The arresting magistrate in frame three is Sir John Gonson, a bordello-raider famed and often mocked in Hogarth's London as the rabidly puritanical "Scourge of Whores." The quack physicians in frame five have been identified as Drs. Richard Rock and Jean Misaubin, who regularly advertised spurious cures for venereal disease. Paulson offers a detailed account of those and other sources for Hogarth's characterizations in contemporary press accounts of crime and political scandal (Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times, I, 240-55).

(n6)Hogarth expected his purchaser to have the Harlot's Progress engravings framed and hung as what Hogarth called "furniture," and accordingly sized his plates at approximately 12" x 14". Paulson reports that the prints usually were framed and domestically mounted in two horizontal rows of three (Modern Moral Subject 282). Antal notes that the Harlot pictures were often reproduced on the inexpensive chinaware, decorative box lids, and fan mounts that bourgeois consumers liked to acquire in low-cost emulation of aristocratic tastes (52).

(n7)Hogarth apparently told his friend and Continental publicist Jean Andre Rouquet that the mounted clergyman is Mary's father, who has accompanied her from Yorkshire to London in pursuit of his own advancement (Paulson, Modern Moral Subject 328). Trusler repeats that identification, presumably on the authority of Hogarth's widow, in Hogarth Moralized. If the identification is accepted (albeit with no supporting visual evidence), then Mary's abandonment by her family is the more striking and shameful still.

(n8)I am indebted to Paulson's Modern Moral Subject at many points, but here especially (263).

(n9)Hogarth occasionally incorporates verbal pointers into A Harlot's Progress, e.g., the gift tag and the letter of introduction in frame one and the labeled wig box and "Mackheath" print in frame three; but he relies almost entirely upon visual data to advance narrative and articulate theme. The artist's confidence in the communicative power of purely pictorial images seems subsequently to have waned, however. For his next graphic narrative, A Rake's Progress (1735), Hogarth commissioned a poet friend to write explanatory and moralizing verse commentaries that were printed at the bottom of each frame. That hybridizing of the visual and the verbal persists in Hogarth's Industry and Idleness (1747) and in the verbally annotated reissue of A Harlot's Progress that he authorized in 1744.

(n10)Antal follows some contemporary accounts in identifying the wailing woman as "the deceased's employer, a well-known London character, an old procuress named Mother Bentley . . ." (101). Paulson endorses no specific identification for the figure, but concurs that she "must be [Mary's] bawd. This explains her passionate lamentation" over income lost (Hogarth's Graphic Works, I, 149).

(n11)Regarding the wall-hung hat, Cowley in pursuit of religious iconology notes that "Hogarth . . . used innocent objects as haloes frequently" in his early "progress" series "to mock-sanctify his characters. A hat on the wall behind one of the harlots who mourns . . . in A Harlot's Progress VI makes hers the role of a sorrowing magdalen" (136). Perhaps so. In any case, the shiny white "halo" hat suspended over the young woman's head distinctly recalls the heavenly light that had bathed the innocent and luminous Mary in frame one and thus further reinforces the figural correspondence argued here.

Works Cited

Antal, Frederick. Hogarth and His Place in European Art. New York: Basic Books, 1962.

Bindman, David. Hogarth. New York: Oxford UP, 1981.

Cowley, Robert L. S. Marriage-a-la-Mode. A Re-view of Hogarth's Narrative Art. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1983.

Paulson, Ronald. Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale UP, 1971.

-----. Hogarth: The "Modern Moral Subject." 1697-1732. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1991.

-----. Hogarth's Graphic Works. First Complete Ed. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale UP, 1965. Rev. eds. 1970, 1989.

Philip Momberger is Associate Professor of English at the University of West Florida.

Copyright: Journal of Popular Culture. Text is intended solely for the use of the individual user.