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GOD the Victorian/Edwardian English loved their tableaus.
Yeah, I know, "Cartoonist enjoys pictures that tell a story," BIG SHOCK THERE. But c'mon, they're pretty great.

Especially the SOCIAL MORALIST stuff. The English spent DECADES absolutely CHURNING OUT the most killer paintings about the perils of modern, immoral behavior.
And they're awesome. Seriously the best, if you know how to read them.

The granddaddy of them all was William Hogarth, quite successful during his own lifetime as a painter, but also a cartoonist and satirist.
(His dog, BTW, is a pug. That is what pugs used to look like.)

He worked in an age when fine art was becoming commercialized, and a new form of writing, the "novel," was popular. Hogarth decided to paint as if he were telling the same sort of stories the novels often were.
Some of Hogarth's narrative, moralizing series of paintings, which I encourage you to Google:

-A Harlot's Progress (Don't be a slut)
-A Rake's Progress (Don't be a rich slut)
-Marriage a la Mode (Only jerks marry for money)
-Industry and Idleness (Basically Goofus and Gallant)
-The Four Stages of Cruelty (People who are cruel to animals inevitably move on to humans, maybe let's not ignore this, huh everybody?)
- Beer Street and Gin Lane (Beer good! The drink of happy, moral, industrious people! Gin bad! Make you drop your baby down the steps!)
But frankly, my favorite series of "Hogarthian" moralist art is "Past and Present," by Augustus Egg. Like all fabulous moralist art, it's JAM-PACKED with symbolism and metaphor, a veritable scavenger hunt image that tells you everything you need to know without a single word.
Here's Past and Present, No. 1.

It's a parlor scene in a middle-class home. Wife has THROWN HERSELF at the feet of Husband, hands clasped, begging wretchedly. Husband is shell-shocked, emotionally stunned. He's holding a letter.

Okay, so what's going on? Let's look around.
Miniature portraits of the couple hang on the back wall. Husband's is below a stony shoreline, blasted by waves, reflecting his turmoil. But Wife? Her portrait is below a depiction of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden.
To bring it on home, on the table is half an apple, STABBED. On the floor is the second half of the apple, and we can see the core is rotten.

This is not a coincidence. Nothing in these paintings are coincidences. THAT'S WHY THEY RULE SO HARD.
And if all this is too subtle for you? Wife's bracelets, casually positioned on her wrists as if they were handcuffs, are in the shape of SERPENTS.

She is sinful! She has wronged Husband, and in a deep and unforgivable way! He is overcome with horror and grief! O, woe!
Their children, innocent and ignorant, but nonetheless beginning to become alarmed by the scene, turn to watch. As they do, the literal HOUSE OF CARDS they're building BEGINS TO FALL, a metaphor for the disintegration of the marriage AND their mother's ruse.
Because that's what's happening! Wife has been unfaithful in her marriage (totally cool for men at the time, who could keep mistresses mostly without reproach, but for women, instant destruction of life and reputation upon discovery). Husband is holding a discovered love letter.
A door reflected in the mirror foreshadow's Wife's inevitable departure from the house; no adulterous woman could be KEPT A WIFE, after all. This Perfect Victorian Home is in its last moments.

Past and Present, No. 2.

Uh oh. There's only ONE REASON to dress like THAT in Victorian England.
We see the miniature portraits of Husband and Wife again, now moved to a bedroom. That parlor we saw before? Likely gone, just a memory.

Because Husband is dead. These are the children of the marriage, a few years older, but now recently orphaned by the passing of their dad.
Daughter One, in the high mourning of head-to-toe black she'll be mandated by custom to wear for a full year, gazes out the window as Daughter Two, in her nightgown but unable to sleep, sobs in her lap.

Their mom should BE HERE. But she's NOT!

An empty chair sits under Wife's photograph. Where is she? The kids sure don't know! She's been gone for years! Daughter One is likely contemplating her long-lost mom as she gazes out of the window, over the rooftops, up at the moon.
The room they're in is much less colorful and sumptuous than the room of their childhood; not impoverished, but very plain. Hardly better than a servant's quarters, and maybe that's what they are now? Or at the very least, burdening the relatives that have taken them in.
Their futures are uncertain, their plight is miserable! What will become of them?! WE CAN NEVER KNOW. And all because Wife had to cheat, destroying the constitution of Husband and likely contributing to his later death. Boo hoo!

What do you have to say for yourself, Wife???
*clears throat*

And even though I know how very far apart we are,
It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star!
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big skyyyyy~♪

Past and Present No. 3.
SAME MOON AND CLOUD. The exact same moon, and cloud beneath it, as Past and Present No. 2, denoting this is the SAME EXACT MOMENT in time.

And here's Wife! Under a bridge. Homeless, filthy, and alone.
Tucked underneath her cloak is a THIRD CHILD; we can see its bare legs dangling over her leg as she squats in the filth and trash.

It's young, a toddler easily, and she left her husband YEARS ago. So this is indisputably a CHILD OF SIN.
Some argue that this third child is dead, due to its limp and pale legs, some say it's not. It honestly doesn't matter either way; it's a punishment, a permanent stain on her already-irreparably-destroyed reputation.
On the wall behind her, but also dangling over her head, are posters advertising the stage plays "Victims" by Tom Taylor and "The Cure for Love" by Tom Parry, both stories of unhappy marriages.

Where is her lover? Clearly long gone, having abandoned her, as rakes always do.
There is nothing ahead for Wife, just a continuing spiral into agony and destitution, a drop in social class there was no coming back from. Survival sex and inescapable poverty loom in the future.

Are her daughters across the water, in the skyline beyond? Unreachable? YEP.
SO BEWARE, WOMAN. Stay faithful to your husband! Take no lovers, or REAP THE WHIRLWIND.

Heavy-handed? Yeah. A double standard enabled by a smothering patriarchy that reduced women to property? Oh, YOU BET. But absolutely awesome paintings.
BONUS VIDEO: Enjoy a short (12 minute) video dissecting and explaining "Marriage a la Mode," one of Hogarth's most popular series.
(Except this video is wrong about "Marriage à-la-mode: 4. The Toilette;" Silvertongue is not the singer, he's the guy in black on the far right, lounging with his feet on the couch and shoes off, suggesting he and the Countess attend the masked ball together.)
(The singer, who is richly dressed and dandified (LOOK AT ALL THE RINGS), is possibly a reference to Farinelli, an Italian castrato opera singer who made ALL the cultured 18th-century ladies swoon, just like the redhead in the painting.)
(The Countess even has a PAINTING of Silvertongue in her private chambers (far upper left), making it clear her husband NEVER visits her.)
Farinelli deserves his own thread, honestly. Imagine having your testicles chopped off at 12 because your dad died, and you suddenly became the primary bread-winner because of your beautiful singing voice. And that singing voice had to stay high and pure... no matter WHAT.
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