Satirising the breast: women’s bodies in late Georgian graphic satire
Date: 12 July 2021
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in English
This thesis examines over one hundred caricatures from Britain in the late eighteenth century, exploring the social, cultural, medical and political meanings attached to the breast in contemporary graphic satire. Caricaturists such as William Hogarth, James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and Isaac Cruikshank recycled and reimagined the ...
This thesis examines over one hundred caricatures from Britain in the late eighteenth century, exploring the social, cultural, medical and political meanings attached to the breast in contemporary graphic satire. Caricaturists such as William Hogarth, James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and Isaac Cruikshank recycled and reimagined the symbolism of the breast to capture, interpret and intervene in important aspects of Georgian life. The breadth and depth of satirists’ engagement with the breast as a satirical motif necessitates closer investigation. By working outwards from the breast rather than taking a panoptic view of women in prints, this thesis moves beyond existing histories of gendered representations in graphic satire. Making connections between the graphic body, the physical body and social experience, it identifies four recurring themes which frame caricatures of breasts; these form the basis of each chapter. The first demonstrates how the transgressive breast was employed as a motif of maternal selfishness; the second explores how fashion satires used the breast to condemn the nefarious influence of fashion; the third addresses how grotesque breasts emblematised civic corruption and decline, and the final chapter scrutinises how breasts were appropriated for propagandist agendas in anti- revolutionary prints. These discussions shed critical light on complex ideological debates on women’s bodies, exploring discourses on the family, domesticity, sex, sexuality, class, social ills, artificiality and ‘nature’, ageing, moral decline, political disorder and more. Alongside a close examination of graphic satire as visual discourse, this thesis draws on medical treatises, lady’s magazines, conduct books, poetry, philosophical works and sentimental art to contextualise the aesthetic and intellectual processes which framed specific caricatures of the breast. In the context of national preoccupations with questions of health, morality and prosperity, answers were sought in the false ideal of the nurturing, virtuous female body. As the first major study of breasts in satirical prints, this thesis offer scholars of gender, medicine and visual culture an original and nuanced perspective on the political representation of the female body.
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