The Triumph of Sentiment - The Prospect of Happiness - or, a Picture for Dotards

London: S. W. Fores, Nov. 1, 1800.

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A widow anticipates sexual satisfaction, her young groom claims her wealth, and his sweetheart bides her time and takes inventory of all she'll inherit

(Item #5629) The Triumph of Sentiment - The Prospect of Happiness - or, a Picture for Dotards. Erotic Satire, Widows, Sexuality.

The Triumph of Sentiment - The Prospect of Happiness - or, a Picture for Dotards

London: S. W. Fores, Nov. 1, 1800. First edition. Illustrated hand-colored broadside measuring 270 x 400mm and printed to verso only. Faint offsetting to recto and faint traces of mounting to corners. In all, a Fine example of this visual satire commenting on the phenomenon of younger men seeking marriage with elderly widows for their own financial gain -- and the cultural anxiety surrounding the marital sexuality of such brides. Unrecorded in ESTC and OCLC, we have located two examples of the present work at the British Museum and Yale.

The present broadside draws together a wide matrix of debates and social anxieties surrounding the economic and sexual status of widows, and the financial motivations for marriage among second sons and men of the middle class. Though women were more frequently forced into experiencing marriage as a form of 'honorable prostitution' in which their physical desirability served as their key for accessing wealth and stability under coverture, it was increasingly acknowledged that large swaths of young men also suffered under this system. And while widows could escape the system -- shifting from the disempowered femme covert to the more legally independent femme sole on their husbands' deaths -- there was both a social fantasy of reinserting them into the marriage market (as a means for regaining control over their money and bodies) as well as a social anxiety about their ability to corrupt (through the range of knowledge and authority they gained through previous marital experience). Here, a young man walks his aging crone down the aisle. Ornately clad and expressing her anticipation for "the comforts of matrimony," she is ridiculed by the ministers at the pulpit who posit that if "matrimony was first ordained...for a remedy against fornication," then "the remedy will be worse than the disease" in this instance. Untroubled, the young groom focuses on the land deeds, bank notes, and jewelry accounts which stuff his pockets -- assets which will legally become his after the ceremony and which serve as his marital comforts. Meanwhile, two young women observe from the sidelines, one of them planning her future with the groom after his aging bride's eventual demise. "Those jewels will look better on me than on the last owner," she notes as her companion whispers hopefully "you'll let me take a morning ride with you sometimes..."

A visual commentary on the financial and social issues surrounding marriage under coverture, which Daniel Defoe would deride as "matrimonial whoredom."


British Museum 1935.0522.8.109. Yale Center for British Art B1974.12.328.
(Item #5629)

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The Triumph of Sentiment - The Prospect of Happiness - or, a Picture for Dotards