We’re halfway through A Harlot’s Progress, up to Plate 3 – Moll as a Prostitute. I think the whole of the series is progression of sadness, but this plate always brings home the reality of Moll’s life to me. I think there must be some hope – even if it’s only delusion – when one is a mistress. Yes, you’re a kept woman, looked down on by polite society, but you’re not on the street, not in a brothel, and have a modicum of control over your life. But now that Moll has sunk from mistress to prostitute, what little sovereignty she had has evaporated.
A Harlot’s Progress was a series of six paintings and engravings. The paintings were destroyed in a fire at Fonthill House in 1755, but the original engraving plates survived, and are in the public domain.
Covent Garden Nun
From the Wikipedia description:
Moll has gone from kept woman to common prostitute. Her maid is now old and syphilitic, and Henry Fielding, in Tom Jones (2:3), would say that the maid looks like his character of Mrs. Partridge. Her bed is her only major piece of furniture, and the cat poses to suggest Moll’s new posture. The witch hat and birch rods on the wall suggest either black magic, or more importantly that prostitution is the devil’s work. Her heroes are on the wall: Macheath from The Beggar’s Opera and Henry Sacheverell, and two cures for syphilis are above them. The wig box of highwayman James Dalton (hanged on 11 May 1730) is stored over her bed, suggesting a romantic dalliance with the criminal. The magistrate, Sir John Gonson, with three armed bailiffs, is coming through the door on the right side of the frame to arrest Moll for her activities. Moll is showing off a new watch (perhaps a present from Dalton, perhaps stolen from another lover) and exposing her left breast. Gonson, however, is fixed upon the witch’s hat and ‘broom’ or the periwig hanging from the wall above Moll’s bed.
The composition satirically resembles that of an Annunciation, i.e. the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke 1:26–39.
Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.