WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Abbess

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Abbess

Well, if turnabout is fair play, it’s time to examine A Harlot’s Progress by William Hogarth. I’ll be the first to admit: Moll’s story seems much sadder to me than Tom Rakewell’s.

The history behind the art is fascinating. There were two schools of thought in conflict in the war on prostitution at the time of Hogarth’s painting. The official attempts at eradication were championed by Justice John Gonson, whose fervent enthusiasm to clean up London – especially Covent Garden – was regularly documented in the city papers. Both brothel and street prostitutes were initially portrayed as “vain, artful temptresses” wholly responsible for “moral corruption and the spread of disease.” With a little time and investigation, however, public perception became tempered by a new impression of the prostitute as a blameless country girl who came to the city, alone and entirely vulnerable, only to be gulled into harlotry by malicious a brothel keeper.

Hogarth combined these two depictions into his Harlot, Moll Hackabout, and even referenced several real-life characters in some scenes (including Justice Gonson). He struck upon the idea of painting the story of his fictional Moll after painting the portrait of a prostitute in her living quarters on Drury Lane. He decided to paint Moll’s life from her arrival in London from the country through her eventual death in the city in an allegorical manner similar to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Moll’s story then led him to paint A Rake’s Progress and, ten years later, Marriage à-la-mode.

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.


A bawd, the mistress of a brothel.

A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 1 – Moll Hackabout Arrives in London, by Willliam Hogarth, 1732, Public Domain.

From the Wikipedia description:

The protagonist, Moll Hackabout, has arrived in London’s Cheapside. Moll carries scissors and a pincushion hanging on her arm, suggesting that she sought employment as a seamstress. Instead, she is being inspected by the pox-ridden Elizabeth Needham, a notorious procuress and brothel-keeper, who wants to secure Moll for prostitution. The notorious rake Colonel Francis Charteris and his pimp, John Gourlay, look on, also interested in Moll. The two stand in front of a decaying building, symbolic of their moral bankruptcy. Charteris fondles himself in expectation.

Close up of brothel owner – Abbess – A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 1 – Moll Hackabout Arrives in London, by Willliam Hogarth, 1732, Public Domain.

Londoners ignore the scene, and even a mounted clergyman ignores her predicament, just as he ignores the fact of his horse knocking over a pile of pans.

Moll appears to have been deceived by the possibility of legitimate employment. A goose in Moll’s luggage is addressed to “My lofing cosen in Tems Stret in London”: suggesting that she has been misled; this “cousin” might have been a recruiter or a paid-off dupe of the bawdy keepers. Moll is dressed in white, in contrast to those around her, illustrating her innocence and naiveté. The dead goose in or near Moll’s luggage, similarly white, foreshadows Moll’s death as a result of her gullibility.

The inn sign, with a picture of a bell, may refer to the belle (French for beautiful woman) who has newly arrived from the country. The teetering pile of pans alludes to Moll’s imminent “fall”. The goose and the teetering pans also mimic the inevitable impotence that ensues from syphilis, foreshadowing Moll’s specific fate.

The composition resembles that of a Visitation, i.e. the visit of Mary with Elizabeth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke 1:39–56.

Close up of clergyman ignoring Moll – A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 1 – Moll Hackabout Arrives in London, by Willliam Hogarth, 1732, Public Domain.


A Legend to Love: The Promise of the Bells by Elizabeth Ellen Carter

A Legend to Love: The Promise of the Bells by Elizabeth Ellen Carter

This week’s new release in the A Legend to Love series is based on a legend that’s a bit different: Dick Whittington and his cat.

Most have heard the story of the poor boy who went to London to make his fortune, believing the roads were paved with gold. He found work with a merchant, but the housekeeper was mean to him and he was miserable. Dick found solace in his cat (who was also handy at keeping away rats). One day, the merchant announced he was going to take a trip abroad, and servants were welcome to give him something of value to trade.

Dick gave up his cat – his dearest possession. Again, he was treated poorly – and was about to leave London for good – when he heard the church bells that appeared to be calling him to return, and that he would be Lord Mayor of London three times.

He returned and discovered the merchant also returned with Dick’s fortune. One night, when the merchant was dining with an Eastern king, the dining hall was overrun with rats. The merchant told the king he had a cat who would deal with the rats. The cat did and the king was so delighted that he paid a fortune in gold for the cat.

But there is a twist in the tale – Dick Whittington was an actual historical figure. Richard (Dick) Whittington was actually Lord Mayor of London in the 14th century.

Unlike the legend that grew up from the late 17th century, Whittington was a younger son of a aristocratic family and a successful merchant. He was known for his probity, honesty and charity. He was also a shrewd political operator too. As Lord Mayor of London, he was in charge of great wealth and kept on the good side of both Richard II and Henry IV. He commissioned a great number of public works including sanitation and was also major benefactor of St Thomas’ Hospital, endowing a wing to look after unwed mothers and their babies. No one knows where the cat entered the picture, and there is no evidence that he ever had one but it is now so entwined with the legend that it is impossible to tell the story without it.


Young Richard Whiting comes from a poor family but he’s given a golden opportunity – to move to London to further his education. On the way there, he is befriended by Lord Ambrose and his young daughter, Catherine ‘Cat’ Swanston, and Richard and Catherine become sweethearts.

In order to make his fortune, Richard is pulled into a different life but the young couple vow beneath the tolllng bells of the churches of London to always be there for one another.

Years later, now an up and coming barrister, Richard learns that Catherine needs help. Her father is missing, and His Lordship’s business partner refuses to provide any information. It will take Catherine’s bravery and Richard’s legal cunning for there to be a happily ever after…

The Promise of the Bells is a sweet romance. Richard and Catherine are such a lovely couple – and you get to meet Mog, Richard’s Calico cat!

Get your copy today!