Based on the setting depicted here, there is clearly a sense of chaos at Newgate prison. Perhaps this depiction seeks to criticize the prison and disciplinary system of 19th century London in general. From this book, the history of Newgate reaches back to medieval times but it wasn’t until the “seventeenth and eighteenth centuries [that] Newgate served as a embarkation point for those who were to be hanged (or worse) at Tyburn” (Halliday). In fact, it seems Newgate is Roman in its origins. If that be the case, then how does that interact with London’s legal system? Perhaps this iconic prison serves as a representation of London’s bastardized attempts at civilizing its population. The Romans are seen as the model of civility and when juxtaposed with Newgate’s corrupt system of imprisonment, I can’t help but ponder if Gay is criticizing London’s high vision of itself. Whether Gay knew Newgate’s Roman history or not, my modern reading of this prison “for gentlemen” as Macheath calls it seems all too ironically a place for those who don’t fit into society.
Depicted here is a frozen moment of time, the turning point of a lady’s journey from high class to the slums of the city. This conclusion is proved by a number of qualities in the photo, such as the lighting and body language.
Immediately we see the woman in the center. For the sake of this blog post, I’ll call her Miss White. Her features are the most well-lit and defined, especially when compared to the other woman in the background, or even the gentleman escorting her into what appears to be a wine shop. I believe this effect is meant to show the difference in class between Miss White and those surrounding her and make it visually apparent that she is clearly out of place. She does not belong here. And yet, here she is after, perhaps, being dropped off my the carriage that is just fading away into the background. The quickness in gaining attention adds to her role in this frame as a target, or victim. She is positioned in the center of everything, as if we as an audience are meant to clearly notice her and how the gentleman, torch boy and pickpocket are all looking to her, too, for varying reasons. I think the lighting also shows the degree of their morality, and that Hogarth does so intentionally. This thinking would align with the pickpocket who is the darkest in this print and with Miss White who has freshly arrived and has not been corrupted by this neighborhood the way the pickpocket, prostitute, and men have. Miss White can be even more of a victim because she seems to be walking towards the light, as though she is trying to stay on a moral path, but in reality is only walking in and towards a darker place just ahead. This trickery warns those looking upon Miss White that the slums are not what they seem and that darkness lurks all around.
Body language is also a useful tool here. One of the first things I noticed about Miss White is that her eyes are looking downwards, an action that is often seen as a show of shame or timidness. Her unwillingness to look anyone in the eye shows how she feels insecure and is unable to see her surroundings for what they truly are. In contrast to the prostitute in the background who looks directly into the eye of her male pursuant, Miss White embodies the image of a lady caught in the wrong web. Her feet are also interesting to note. One foot points away from the darkness and towards the onlooker, implying she has a chance at being saved from her moral downfall. But, her other foot totally parallels that of the man escorting her towards the wine shop, so there is the foreshadowing of her being led astray.
This print is a great example of Hogarth’s judgment on morality. We as onlooking bystanders witness this scene and his underlying criticism is that intervention must take place in order for her to be saved. From the darkness surrounding her to the openness of her body language to the audience, Hogarth wants to instill an urge to pluck this innocent woman away from this toxic environment because that is the best way to help her.
This blog is dedicated to responses, research and other gathered media for the “Literary London: Tales of Two Cities” English class (English 119 for anyone familiar with the course catalog) I’m taking here at UCLA. These posts won’t be anything too formal in structure so as to dedicate my attentions to the content rather than format. Cheers to this ten week adventure in London!