City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century Londonby Vic Gatrell
Between 1770 and 1830, London was the world's largest and richest city, the center of hectic social ferment and spectacular sexual liberation. These singular conditions prompted revolutionary modes of thought, novel sensibilities, and constant debate about the relations between men and women. Such an atmosphere also stimulated outrageous behavior, from James
Between 1770 and 1830, London was the world's largest and richest city, the center of hectic social ferment and spectacular sexual liberation. These singular conditions prompted revolutionary modes of thought, novel sensibilities, and constant debate about the relations between men and women. Such an atmosphere also stimulated outrageous behavior, from James Boswell's copulating on Westminster Bridge to the Prince Regent's attempt to seduce a woman by pleading, sobbing, and stabbing himself with a pen-knife. And nowhere was London's lewdness and iconoclasm more vividly represented than its satire.
City of Laughter chronicles the rise and fall of a great tradition of ridicule and of the satirical, humorous, and widely circulated prints that sustained it. Focusing not on the polished wit upon which polite society prided itself, but rather on malicious, sardonic and satirical humorhumor that was bawdy, knowing and ironicVic Gatrell explores what this tradition says about Georgian views of the world and about their own pretensions. Taking the reader into the clubs and taverns where laughter flowed most freely, Gatrell examines how Londoners laughed about sex, scandal, fashion, drink and similar pleasures of life.
Combining words and images–including more than 300 original drawings by Cruikshank, Gillray, Rowlandson, and othersCity of Laughter offers a brilliantly original panorama of the era, providing a ground-breaking reappraisal of a period of change and a unique account of the origins of our attitudes toward sex, celebrity and satire today.
Scott H. Silverman
“The fact that high and low coexisted in the minds and behaviors of actual Georgians is a bit of a leap for us. So too is an appreciation of these engravings, which are at once an expression of an extraordinarily refined visual facility and a ribald, often vicious temperament. The city that produced them and whose life is the real subject of Gatrell's book is similarly exotic terrain. Late Georgian London was a teeming and vibrant place, home to 10% of the country's people, ground zero for its aristocratic politics and its striving, though still fragile, middle class...It was the same place, of course, the same mixture of high and low, the same blend of want and opportunity. It was our world struggling to be born, and Gatrell has given us a vibrant album of its strange snap-shots.” Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times
“Laughter may be universal, but what provokes it is not. Even within a culture, humor can change drastically over a relatively short period. This truth is abundantly documented in "City of Laughter," Vic Gatrell's study of comic prints produced in London during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a period he deems the golden age of satire…The prints themselves, hundreds of them, are wonderful, and Gillray, in full flight, can be hilarious, with a surreal touch that makes him seem much more modern than his peers. Mr. Gatrell provides expert, detailed commentary on each and every one.” William Grimes, The New York Times
“[An] exhilarating history...Gatrell's book features nearly three hundred irreverently foul examples, to which he is an entertaining and appropriately digressive guide. In his hands, the prints provide a bewildering, sometimes nauseating, but ultimately enlightening portrait of a vigorously satirical time that lasted until the great settling down of the Victorian era.” The New Yorker
“Graphic sex, booze and personal attacks were staples of the visual satire of 18th-century England, as Vic Gatrell's "City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London" illustrates in delicious detail...A vivid social history...A refreshing, sometimes startling account...An invaluable history of these artists, engravers and print sellers and the raunchy, fleshy world they inhabited and depicted...The glory of "City of Laughter" is the nearly 300 illustrations, most in gorgeous color, that decorate its pages throughout. Walker & Company has done Gatrell proud: The entire book is printed on glossy paper that retains color and the clarity of the illustrations' often intricate details, even though most of the prints are reduced in size from their originals, sometimes considerably...This is a scholarly work that you might approach as a coffee-table art book, or as some of us do the New Yorker, paging through the cartoons first. Filled with vibrant images celebrating the bawdy, the salacious and the grotesque, "City of Laughter" is a visual delight.” Kathryn Shevelow, San Diego Union-Tribune
“A lively, erudite study.” Kirkus Reviews
“Rarely has a book matched its subject better than "City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth- Century London.'' Those times were gargantuan and teeming with life, and so is Vic Gatrell's 695-page, richly illustrated work.” George Walden, Bloomberg.com
“A wonderfully original, surprising, informative, fascinating and entertaining book. For years historians have been describing the rise of polite culture and polite manners in eighteenth-century London. Gatrell has spent those years examining the vast and almost entirely unresearched archive of comic and bawdy prints that tell us what made Londoners laugh around 1800. He tells us instead about the rudeness in the streets, the bedrooms, the taverns and the brothels, that pointed its joyful arse at the polite world.” Professor John Barrell, University of York
- Atlantic Books
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- 5.79(w) x 9.21(h) x 1.50(d)
Meet the Author
Vic Gatrell is a professor of British history at the University of Essex, a life fllow of Gonville and Caius College, and a member of the Cambridge history faculty. He lives in Cambridge.
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