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Posted January 22, 2009
engaging illustrated critique of historical British prints
Gatrell seamlessly blends art history and appreciation with social history for an elaborate, panoramic treatment of the spirit of ribaldry and satire captured in numerous comic prints of the era. The author goes well beyond the best known satirical artists of Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, and Cruickshank to include numerous others as well. (The treatment carries over into the early nineteenth century.) Nearly 300 of the prints are reproduced in color in varying sizes from full-page to one-third of the 5' x 10' page size. In this century of sweeping social change from the old order to a much more democratic society, the artists took full advantage of their new freedoms and the growing number of newspapers and other media including posters to portray the antics and vices of English men and women. No one, not royalty or high politicians, escaped the scathing portraits of Hogarth, Rowlandson, and the others though many of the prints had generic characters such as lechers, lusty women, hypocrites, and drunkards. Pornographic and scatological material and illustration knew no bounds. Still, much of the art of caricature and satire had a moralistic or political intent. In the early 1800s, the 'radical commentary turned solemn and earnest on the whole, as a new optimism about the prospects for social- and self-improvement developed.' Democratic society had grown to understand itself, its potentials, and its desirable proprieties better. The Victorian era was dawning. Adulterers, drunkards, etc., were no longer to be simply ridiculed, but reformed. Besides, it was becoming increasingly risky to make merciless and often bitter fun of recognizable leaders of society--the legal and financial troubles of some of the satirists moderated others. But generally, as democratic, middle-class values and tastes spread throughout the society, the wicked satire which could send a heir to the throne into seclusion and evoke 'wild, coarse, reckless, ribald laughter...was beginning to be taught good manners,' as the novelist Thackeray saw. Gatrell is a professor of British history in England.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.