William Hogarth’s Marriage A-la Mode

Published 13 Jun 2017

In Marriage A-la-Mode William Hogarth brilliantly satirizes arranged marriages of the 18th century. He uses his brush to absurdly exaggerate what goes on in these marriages. And, though it is a satire, Hogarth is trying to make a point. He wishes to show that arrange marriages do not work and are, in fact, harmful to the couple. Not only that, Hogarth wants the viewer to see who is harmed in the arranged marriage. As evidenced through his art, it is not the parents who are hurt, and it is not the extended families—it is first and foremost the wife and, also, the husband and children.

In the second painting, Hogarth shows how the wife is cheated on by her philandering husband; he depicts the husband just entering the home after a night of carousing. And, in all of the paintings, he displays the wife as a pawn, a piece of property, in the hands of cruel, ill-mannered men. Also, in the second painting, Hogarth paints a cupid among ruins, representing the fact that any love which the couple had between them has now been destroyed.

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By the time the third painting is seen, the husband is now cheating on his wife with a child mistress. Hogarth adds some humor to this painting by showing that the husband’s cheating has earned him a venereal disease. But, even worse, in the next painting Hogarth depicts the wife as a mother. Thus, the poor woman who was forced into an arranged marriage is now forever tied to her unkind husband because she has born him a child. So, now, even if she somehow manages to leave this immoral man, she will forever carry a piece of him with her, and he will want to be near and known to that very personal piece of himself.

What is even more sorrowful and gut-wrenching though, is that the women finds love for herself. She is neglected by her husband, and resorts to adultery, as well. She falls for the lawyer, and he fulfills her where the husband cannot and will not. However, the depth of their love causes him to kill her evil husband. The lawyer must depart, then, because he has murdered the husband. This act of violence forever severs the poor wife’s only source of happiness. But, even more devastating for the wife, is the fact that she learns her lover has been hanged for the murder. She responds to the news by committing suicide with poison in the final painting.

And, to cap off the final, brilliant painting, Hogarth depicts the girl’s father leaning over her dead corpse, removing her priceless ring. No image better exemplifies the father. He was a man who cared nothing for his daughter’s happiness or safety. He wanted only to use her to advance his position in life. And, that is what Hogarth is criticizing. He is condemning the parents who use their young children to forward their family name, family wealth, and family power. He finds this to be despicable and uses his brush to make an unmistakable statement about it.

Unfortunately, these types of marriages have not been completely eliminated. Yes, today, no one is forced into marriages, as they were in the 1700s, but countless wealthy and famous figures are goaded into politically savvy marriages by their parents. To think Donald Trump would allow any of his kids to marry a member of the proletariat is laughable, or to believe any member of the Bush family would wed someone who possessed no power, no prestige, no Ivy League education, and no money is quite foolish. Still to this day members of society’s upper crust do not condescend and marry members of the lower classes. It is a sad commentary on our culture and should be condemned more readily in our society. Also, we should applaud marriages based on love which pay no attention to family background or money. For it is love, that makes the foundation for a happy, healthy marriage.

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