To discuss "portraits" of marriage in the eighteenth century
Hogarth's series, Marriage A-la-Mode consists of six plates that tell
the commonplace narrative of a loveless marriage contracted between an aristocratic though
bankrupt male and a rich tradesman's daughter. As you "read" the pictures, try to see with the
visual imagination of the eighteenth-century reader, and try to understand the iconography
of images, the connotations of visual arrangements and the meaning of gestures. The visual
text should begin to help us see the ways in which the verbal literary text is also
understood in terms of symbol, icon, and gesture.
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
Please feel free to respond to the following questions on Fantomina
Note the two letters that Beauplasir writes to Fantomina and
Mrs. Bloomer. What do their differences suggest? What do
their similarities suggest? What is Fantomina's reaction?
She continues on with this deception to gratify "the
inclination she had for his agreeable person, in as full
a manner as she could wish" (2577). What does this suggest
The narrator suggests that pride goeth before the fall:
"Thus did she pride herself as if secure she never should
have any Reason to repent the present Gaiety of Humour" (2580-1).
And the narrator further suggests that the enjoyment of such
an amour is limited. What do these indicate about the
narrator's attitude toward Fantomina? In what ways does the female body itself
Things change rapidly when Fantomina's mother returns to
town and Fantomina finds herself pregnant. Explain the
mother's response to discovering her daughter's pregnancy.
Explain Beauplasir's response to being named the father.
Why is he exonerated?
What does the story conclude? What are the implications
of such an abbreviated ending?
Alexander Pope's poem "Of the Characters of Women" begins with the following lines:
Nothing so true as what you once let fall,
What does it mean that women have no characters? If true, then what distinguishes them? How does Fantomina construct
her character? Does she have an abundance of character (or characters) or an extreme lack of character? Why?
'Most women have no characters at all.'
Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear,
And best distinguished by black, brown, or fair.
Consider Pope's lines and Haywood's story as commenting on the nature of female character or subjectivity. What motivates
Fantomina's repeated changes? What does the story suggest about female "nature", is it constructed or is it determined
Compare the representation (or construction) of gender and sexuality (male and female) in this work with that in
"The Disappointment," "The Imperfect Enjoyment," "Eloisa to Abelard," and "Epistle from Mrs. Yonge." Look to the language
used to describe the behaviors and the implications of the images and terms.
Is female sexual desire the same or different than male sexual desire in these works?
Based on these readings, what generalizations might you make about early eighteenth-century representations of female
sexuality? This is important because such constructions
begin to shift with the rise of middle class readers and their taste for
domestic, chaste female characters. Certainly by Victorian times, a Fantomina or a Mrs. Yonge would be
marginalized as monstrous.
Is female sexual behavior natural or monstrous?
Is male promiscuity natural or monstrous?
How do we know?
What are the consequences for women of fulfilling sexual desire?
What are the consequences for men?
How does each work represent the female body? Some ideas to consider include: is it described? Is it present? Powerful?
Seductive? Dangerous? Playful? Exchanged? Commodified? Mysterious? Pleasurable? Punished? Frightening? Absent?
Each plate contains a set of ideas that conveys a moral, and the entire series works to
tell the progressive tale of this ill-fated marriage. What is the moral of each plate?
What is the overall moral of the series?
Examine the physical representation of the bodies in these plates. What do the different
figures signify? For example contrast the father and son in the first plate. Or examine
and compare the disposition of the bodies in plate 2. How does Hogarth use the physical
body to convey character (or moral)? Note the representation of sick or injured bodies in
the later plates. How are these different? What symbolic or moral connotations do they
Hogarth creates numerous visual metaphors in his print. Examine the details carefully
to gain a fuller appreciation of the meaning of the story. For example, what do the two
dogs in the first plate have in common with the engaged couple above them? (Note the
picture detail.) How does the half-disclosed baudy picture on the wall of plate two
compare with the scene below? How is the doctor's office (plate three) like a torture
chamber? What other visual metaphors can you find?
How does Hogarth depict marriage a-la-mode? What does the title suggest?
How does Hogarth's visual narrative compare with other representations of marriage
or courtship we have read? What is the point of his satire?
What social criticism is evident in these plates?
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