Hogarth’s Eighteenth Century

Amy Witherbee, Department of English, Boston College

This course is designed to take a cultural studies approach to the eighteenth century from within a department of literature. The students are Boston College literature majors, who all have had some exposure to eighteenth-century literature through the College’s core curriculum or other classes. The class’s primary themes, the stage, the marketplace, colonial travel, marriage and sex, and race, are all familiar mainstays of eighteenth century studies. In building a course around the work of William Hogarth, however, I also want to experiment with a teaching approach to literature that thoroughly integrates the visual culture in which eighteenth century poetry and novels emerged.

Hogarth’s work is remarkable for its ability to challenge the limits of visual genres. His paintings and engravings probed the habits, fears, and desires of the day for visual references in which a broad range of patrons could share. Of course, we can’t share in Hogarth’s “stories” in quite the same way that an eighteenth-century contemporary might have done. But if Hogarth’s visual narratives are no longer crystal clear, they do pose a fascinating challenge for the twenty-first century scholar.

Students will be asked to look beyond the apparent moral or purpose of Hogarth works to find, identify, and explore the signifiers with which these works are packed. As we pull apart references and meanings in Hogarth’s visual work, we will put that work back into conversation with literary and dramatic works of the age. In the final unit on “Marriage and Other Institutions,” we will move with Jane Austen beyond Hogarth’s age to the early nineteenth century, re-envisioning the dawning of a new century through the adventure, excess, and anxieties of the eighteenth.

I need to give credit to Carrie Hintz’s 2004 prize-winning course on “Nell Gwyn and Restoration Culture” for helping to inspire a course that explores the wealth of an entire century through the figure of one noteworthy individual.

Course Structure

The course is structured in four units: “All the world’s a stage,” “Adventure, commodity, and excess,” “What kind of race?” and “On being committed: marriage and other institutions.” Each unit begins with one or more of Hogarth’s works and periodically returns to that work, putting it in conversation with assigned literary or dramatic texts. The first week also involves some reading and discussion of two visually based texts, Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and a chapter from Tobin’s Picturing Imperial Power. These and other supplementary texts will provide models for classroom discussion for written assignments. However, we will begin each unit with our own “reading” of Hogarth’s work, rather than that of another scholar.

I have tried to provide a certain amount of thematic separation among the five units of the course in order to allow students the opportunity to move in different conceptual directions as they look at the eighteenth century. We start with the eighteenth-century stage, not only because performance was a cultural centerpiece during the period, but also because performance as a metaphor continues to help us keep two or more related versions of reality in the air at once, an important skill for the purposes of cultural study. Students are then introduced more directly to the imperial eighteenth century with “Adventure, commodity, and excess.” Hogarth’s South Sea Bubble introduces some of the anxieties of a relatively new economic system, while Captain Lord George Graham works playfully with the adventure and novelty of a rapidly expanding world. Paired with Gulliver’s Travels and “ Windsor Forest” the South Sea Bubble and Captain Lord George Graham should open up conversations about how a mercantile, colonial, and credit-based economy reflects itself in cultural practices and literary aesthetics. Along the same lines, this unit pairs Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress and A Harlot’s Progress with excerpts from Mandeville’s The Bees. How do 18 th century understandings of economics create real or imagined conflicts between the nation’s well-being and that of the individual? Why is Hogarth’s narrative-inspired format important in this debate?

In the third unit, the class turns to questions of race. I have left the term “race” deliberately vague to let both skin tone and aristocratic breeding have their places in the discussion. Behn’s Oroonoko allows a free play of both concepts, as does Marriage-á-la-Mode, the Hogarth series that will start off the unit. Hopefully, Mary Leapor’s depiction of the domestics in “Crumble Hall” will permit us to keep both versions of “race” in play. We will continue with Marriage-á-la-Mode in the final unit, but will pair it with Austen’s much later text in order to reflect back on eighteenth-century themes, anxieties, and above all, images that lay waiting in Austen’s early nineteenth-century text.

Class Structure

I ask students to work in groups during each unit’s first class period to examine, question, and challenge the work presented before joining into a class-wide discussion of our analyses. In their examinations of the work, the groups first will be asked to guess at the issues raised by the work, specifying how the clothing, facial expression, gazes, and object placement, as well as composition, color, perspective, and framing produce meaning in the work. Next, each group will create a list of questions ranging from the most concrete “what is that?” to the more complex questions of cultural significance and historical relevance, “does that object carry symbolic significance?” “Who is the figure depicted?” or even “if this engraving is an argument, who or what is it arguing against?”(I have attached to the end of the syllabus a prepared a list of topics to spur on these questions). We will periodically return to this classroom structure in order to introduce other visual works.

The rest of the course should function as a means of answering these questions. Periodic lecture time and a supplemental reading list give the class a beginning point for this work, but will hold some of our questions in abeyance while we turn to a textual or theatrical work. I have chosen eighteenth-century texts and plays that raise their own issues, but can also be put into a conversation with the Hogarth at our starting point. Students will be asked, occasionally in groups but usually as a class, to examine how each text approaches the questions suggested by the unit. As with our analysis of the Hogarth, we should look at questions of “character” and apparent “plot,” but also pay attention to “framing” such as narrators, witnesses, and cultural referents.

Possible Problems

Even before it begins, the course has some potential problems. Given my emphasis on visual work, we should be looking at other the work of other artists of the period. Thanks to a suggestion from fellow panelist, Cameron McFarlane, I will be putting paintings and engravings from other eighteenth-century artists on the screen at the start of class. Hopefully, we can draw our experiences of those images into the discussions of Hogarth and contemporary authors. If not, though, I might need to rework some of the classes to accommodate a wider range of eighteenth-century visual pieces. And, of course, the problem of where to put, say, Reynolds, is part of a larger question of what gets left out. In the original course design, planned for a Tuesday/Thursday schedule, I assigned Lillo’s London Merchant as part of the marketplace discussion in Unit II. I expect to find many more texts and works that could have or should have found their ways into the syllabus over the course of the semester.

Prof. Amy Witherbee EN56201

amy.witherbee.1@bc.edu Fall 236

Office: Carne 236 Mondays 4:30-6:30

WebCT page off-campus access: http://webct.bc.edu:8900


Harlots, Rakes, and Gin Alley: the Visual 18 th Century

In this class, we will look at the tumultuous world of 18th-century London through the eyes of William Hogarth, one of Britain’s most famous and influential artists. From London’s darkest corners to the sheltered grandeur of its aristocratic homes, Hogarth’s work will lead us toward some of the most pressing questions of a newly emerged modernity and give us new perspectives on the written and performed works of his contemporaries. No prior visual studies background required.

Required texts available from BC Bookstore:

Required texts include Hogarth’s Engravings, William Shakespeare Richard III, Aphra Behn Oroonoko, Thomas Southerne Oroonoko (yes, there are two), Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels, and Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice. I will make excerpts and shorter texts available as handouts, links, and documents on our WebCT page. Hogarth’s works are available in books, catalogues, and on the worldwide web at sites listed in the bibliography.

Course Requirements and Grading:

Student grades will be based on class participation (15%), historical response papers (20%), a midterm paper of 5-7 pages (25%), and a final research paper of 10-15 pages (40%). There is no final exam in this class.

Response papers: Response papers are designed to let students follow up on some of the historical questions that arise during the class. Papers should be no more than two pages each and are primarily research papers. You will take some element of the works we’ve looked at in class and do some quick research on its role/meaning/function during the period. For example, a student might follow up on a visual image of pottery in one of Hogarth’s engravings with a summary of where pottery was made at the time and/or which social strata were able to acquire it.

Essays: The midterm paper will address one of the works we’ve looked at during the semester and may focus on either a visual work, drama, or prose text. You will not be required to do research beyond the information given to you in the course for this paper. You might, however, include research work you’ve already done within a response paper.

The final essay will be your chance to more fully develop your own interests in the works that we’ve studied. You may expand upon the first paper or choose a new topic. As with the first paper, you can choose to write on a visual, dramatic, or textual work. In this paper, however, you must show research beyond the primary materials given in the course (at least 3 secondary sources).

Important notes:

More than three (3) unexcused absences will adversely affect your grade. Unless you make arrangements with me ahead of time, grades for papers that are not turned in on time will be decreased by one grade level for each week that the paper is late.

Boston College ’s policy on academic integrity, including plagiarism, is available online. I have added a link to that page on our WebCT page. In keeping with that policy, all instances of plagiarism will be reported to the appropriate Dean and may result in the student failing to pass the course.



September 11

Introduction to Hogarth and the themes of the course

Lecture: Life and Times of William Hogarth.

Class discussion: Readings and Hogarth “Self-Portrait with a Pug” and plate from Marriage-à-la-Mode.


UNIT I: All the world’s a stage.

In this unit, we look at ideas of performance and theatre, but not always in the context of an actual theatre. Hogarth shows us a performance in a wealthy home and a performance at Southwark Fair. He also shows us a popular actor of the day, but in a scene from Richard III that evokes the Jacobite rebellion of the same year. Within the textual selections from The Tatler, we will look further into performance, acting, and theatre as metaphors for social interactions off-stage. Finally, we will look at Shakespeare’s 16 th century play, Richard III, from an 18 th-century perspective. How does an eighteenth-century context change the meanings and impact of this drama?

September 18

Reading for class: Excerpt from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Beth Fowkes Tobin’s “Cultural Cross-Dressing in British America” from Picturing Imperial Power, and from The Tatler no. 12 Saturday, May 7, 1709 (Steele on the Barbaric State of “Publick Diversions.”

Class Discussion: Hogarth’s A Scene from “The Indian Emperor” (1732-5), Southwark Fair (1733), and readings.

September 25

Reading for class: Shakespeare’s Richard III, and excerpts from edition, p. 83-94 (Cibber and Garrick).

Class Discussion: Hogarth Garrick as Richard III (1745), Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn (1738), The March to Finchley (1749-50), and Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Response paper due.


UNIT II: Adventure, commodity, and excess

There is a long tradition of looking at the early and mid-eighteenth century as a period characterized by order, balance, and compromise, for which we tend to point to the essays of Alexander Pope. This sense of order, however, has a counterpart in a general sense of excess that also permeates the century. In this second unit, we will look at Jonathan Swift’s satire on the period’s many non-fiction, semi-fictional, and entirely incredible adventure narratives alongside Hogarth works that comment on mercantile adventures in different ways. We will follow this up with a look at the visit of the Indian Kings to England and at Alexander Pope’s effort to envision the ties between England and the mercantile/colonial project through the image of Windsor Forest.

As we go through this section, ask how Hogarth and other eighteenth-century commentators used narratives, images, personifications, and contrasts to frame an acceptable understanding of the period in which they lived.

October 2

Reading for class: Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels and Hawes essay from your edition.

Class Discussion: Hogarth’s South Sea Bubble and Captain Lord George Graham in His Cabin, and Gulliver’s Travels.

October 9: Columbus Day – no class

October 16

Reading for class: Campisi “John Simon’s Engravings of the Four Kings: More than Meets the Eye” (available online at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center website and by WebCT link), Addison “Remarks on the English by the Indian Kings” from The Spectator no. 50 (27 April 1711), and Alexander Pope “ Windsor Forest” (WebCT link)

Class Discussion: Readings and Hogarth Captain Lord George Graham in His Cabin and “ Windsor Forest.”

Response paper due.

October 23

Reading for class: Mackie from “Introduction: Cultural and Historical Background” in The Commerce of Everyday Life and “On Shopping” from The Female Tatler Nos. 9 and 67.

Class Discussion: Plates from Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress and readings.

First Paper Due

October 30

Reading for class: Selections from Bernard Mandeville The Fable of the Bees.

Class Discussion: The Fable of the Bees and Hogarth A Rake’s Progress.


UNIT III: What kind of race?

With Unit III, we turn to issues of race, but with an understanding that we are looking at a period that understood the term “race” as embodying an older concept of “nobility” and an emerging means of classifying human beings according to certain visual characteristics. Looking at Hogarth’s Marriage-à-la-Mode and both Behn’s and Southerne’s versions of Oroonoko, what can we suggest about this shift? How do these three works understand race differently? Does the difference in medium (novella, drama, engraving) make a difference in their portrayals or our understandings of race within these works? How do the readings in the final week undermine or reinforce our conclusions?

November 6

Reading for class: Aphra Behn Oroonoko and a brief excerpt from your edition.

Class Discussion: Hogarth Marriage-à-la-Mode, plates I and IV and Behn’s Ooronoko.

November 13

Reading for class: Southerne’s Oroonoko

Class Discussion: Southerne’s Oroonoko

November 20

Readings for class: Roxann Wheeler “The Complexion of Desire: Racial Ideology and Mid-Eighteenth-Century British Novels” (handout), Steele from The Spectator 13 March 1711 (“Inkle and Yarico”) and Mary Leapor “Crumble Hall.”

Class discussion: Readings and Hogarth “Noon” from Four Times of Day.

Response paper due.


UNIT IV: On Being Committed: Marriage and Other Institutions

Our last unit puts Hogarth alongside an author whose work comes substantially later. Jane Austen publishes Pride and Prejudice in 1813, less than two decades before Queen Victoria takes the throne in England. Looking at Austen’s work alongside of Hogarth’s images, how can we see the later author responding to Hogarth and his contemporaries? What imagery, symbolism, or tensions still hold sway in Austen’s work that we have seen evoked or created in Hogarth’s time?

November 27

Start reading Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice and excerpt from your edition.

Class Discussion: Hogarth’s Marriage-à-la-Mode.

December 3

Reading for class: Pride and Prejudice.

Class Discussion:Pride and Prejudice and the institution of marriage.


December 11:Final paper due (no class)


Hogarth Bibliography

Bindman, David and Scott Wilcox, eds. “Among the whores and thieves”: William Hogarth and The beggar’s opera. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 1997.

Cowley, Robert L.S. Hogarth’s Marriage-a-la-mode. Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1983.

Craske, Matthew. William Hogarth. London: Tate; Princeton N.J.: Princeton UP, 2000.

Dabydeen, David. Hogarth’s Blacks: images of Blacks in eighteenth century English art. Athens, GA: U. Georgia Press, 1987.

Einberg, Elizabeth. The age of Hogarth: British painters born 1675-1709. London: Gallery, 1988.

---. Hogarth the Painter. London: Tate, 1997.

Fort, Bernadette and Angela Rosenthal, eds. The other Hogarth: aesthetics of difference. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 2001.

Hallett, Mark. Hogarth. London: Phaidon, 2000.

Haslam, Fiona. From Hogarth to Rowlandson: medicine in art in eighteenth-century Britain. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 1996.

Hogarth, William. The Analysis of Beauty. Ed. Ronald Paulson. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997.

---. The Art of Hogarth. Ed. Ronald Paulson. London: Phaidon; New York: Praeger, 1975.

---. Engravings by Hogarth. Ed. Sean Shesgreen. New York: Dover, 1973.

Jarrett, Derek. England in the age of Hogarth. London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1974.

Johnson, E.D.H. Paintings of the British Social Scene: from Hogarth to Sickert. New York: Rizzoli, 1986.

Lindsay, Jack. Hogarth: his art and his world. New York: Taplinger, 1979.

Manners and Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760. London: Tate, 1987.

Ogée, Frédéric. The dumb show: image and society in the works of William Hogarth. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1997.

Paulson, Ronald. The Beautiful, novel, and strange: aesthetics and heterodoxy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.

---. Hogarth. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers UP, 1991.

---. Hogarth’s Harlot: sacred parody in Enlightenment England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., 2003.

---. Hogarth: his life, art, and times. New Haven: Yale UP, 1974.

---. Popular and polite art in the age of Hogarth and Fielding. Notre Dame, IN: U. Notre Dame Press, 1979.

Shesgreen, Sean. Hogarth and the times-of-the-day tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1983.

Tharp, Lars. Hogarth’s china: Hogarth’s paintings and eighteenth-century ceramics. London: Merrell Holberton, 1997.

Uglow, Jenny. Hogarth: a life and a world. London, Faber, 1997.

Voogd, Peter Jan de. Henry Fielding and William Hogarth: the correspondences of the arts. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1981.


Websites of Interest:

Lynch, Jack. Eighteenth-Century Resources.


“William Hogarth.” Artcyclopedia. John Malyon and Artcyclopedia. <http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/hogarth_william.html>.

(includes links to museums and galleries with Hogarth works).

William Hogarth (1697-1764). Haley & Steele. <http://www.haleysteele.com/hogarth/toc.html>.

William Hogarth and 18 th-Century Print Culture. The Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern Univ. Northwestern University Library. <http://www.library.northwestern.edu/spec/hogarth/main.html>.

William Hogarth’s Realm. Shaun Wourm. < http://hogarth.althacker.com/>.

You may also want to make use of Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, an online database available through Boston College.


Class Discussion Questions:

  • Topic/Plot: What does the painting/engraving seem to be describing? Does

the work appear to making an argument, and if so, what is that argument?

    • Composition: How has the artist related the shapes, colors, and areas of the work to one another? What facets of the work stand out? What recedes? Does the arrangement and/or lighting create lines within the work and what is the effect of those lines on you, the viewer?

  • Lighting: Pay close attention to lighting. Where are the shadows? What gets highlighted? Does the lighting create a division or several divisions within the painting/engraving? Is the effect dramatic? Diffuse?

    • Characters: How are the human figures positioned with regard to one another and is their positioning suggestive of anything?

    • Sidekicks: Look for animals depicted in the painting/engraving. What sort of animals do you see? How are they positioned with regard to the human figures or to props in the work? What might this suggest about the subject of the painting?

    • Props: Look carefully at the objects, furniture, art, and even clothing depicted in the painting/engraving. Consider how they relate to the human subjects, but also consider their associations with a particular country, continent, or social class.

    • Hidden Text: Hogarth has a penchant for hiding storefront signs, newspapers, books, and other text in his paintings and engravings. If possible, try to find the hidden text and think about what it is doing in the work.