THE RISE OF VICTORIAN CARICATURE by Ian Haywood, Reviewed by Richard Scully
 


THE RISE OF VICTORIAN CARICATURE
By Ian Haywood
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) xvii + 296 pp.
Reviewed by Richard Scully on 2020-10-17.

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Scholarship on Victorian-era cartooning and caricature has lately been undergoing a quiet resurgence. Brian Maidment, Henry Miller, Fintan Cullen and Richard Gaunt have all enlarged our understanding of this crucial era in the development of graphic satire; I myself have expended a lot of ink on the Doyle dynasty, the men of Punch, and the rivals to "Mr Punch"; and Ian Haywood has already had much to say in Romanticism and Caricature (2013).

With this new book, Haywood picks up where he left off at the nominal end-date of his previous study (1832, and the turmoil of the Reform Bill). Though he calls his latest book something of a "sequel" (albeit with a very different structure and focus), it is much more than that. In fact, The Rise of Victorian Caricature consummates a decades-long campaign -- begun by David Kunzle in the 1970s and '80s, and continued by Brian Maidment in the '90s and 2000s -- to revive the radical voice of British caricature and cartooning and revise the dominant story about this topic, which is that the "Golden Age" of Gillray led inevitably to the Victorianism of Punch. Against the well-known story of how the middle class came to dominate cartooning and caricature, Haywood's book illuminates "the largely unknown back story" (3).

First popularized by Thackeray, the dominant story of caricature and cartooning has been underscored by David Low in his self-serving historical and autobiographical accounts, and despite the hard work of Kunzle, Maidment, and others, it has persisted. As Haywood notes, the demise of the "'Golden Age' of Georgian graphic satire" (4) is long thought to have made caricature disappear, and the founding of Punch in 1841 is supposed to have turned a once-bawdy artform into something of genteel sophistication. As Haywood also notes, this teleological narrative privileges Punch above all by treating the intervening decades (c.1811-1840) as merely a "period of experimentation and ephemera which laid some of the groundwork for the new publication" (4). Haywood takes aim at this story. While critics such as Henry Miller have anticipated his critique, and while Haywood accepts "the importance and achievements of Punch," he nevertheless aims to "put Punch in its place" (278).

Scotching any expectation of a separate chapter on Punch and making no reference to the London Charivari, his account of Victorian caricature admirably privileges the radical (even working-class) satirical penny press. That press -- with its great practitioners -- was by no means a "crude and aesthetically impoverished" precursor to the glories of Punch (6), for Haywood shows quite clearly how Georgian-era styles of caricature maintained their potency and influence well into the Victorian age (143-144). In fact, as Richard D. Altick began to hint in Punch: the Lively Youth of a British Institution (1994) and as Maidment emphasised in Comedy, Caricature and the Social Order (2013), the early years of Punch were essentially an extension of the Regency and Reform-era culture explored so capably in the present book. No less than "the heyday of radical domination of the popular satirical image" (3), the inheritance of this period was what gave Punch its early vibrancy, before it began to transform and domesticate graphic satire in the late 1840s and 1850s, at the dawn of the age of equipoise.

For Punch and its cartoonists Haywood substitutes another set of heroic publications and people. They include Thomas McLean's Monthly Sheet of Caricatures, or the Looking Glass (1830-36), exposed in all is glory as seldom before (20-61), and the English comic paper Figaro in London (1831-1838), which Haywood definitely proves to have been far more than a rudimentary precursor to the London Charivari (61-84).

While these remarkable publications are featured throughout the book, they are closely analyzed in chapter 2 (following a very strong Introduction as chapter 1). In highlighting the career of the "prolific and yet elusive artist" named Charles Jameson Grant (fl.1830--1852), chapter 3 does for him what Maidment did for Robert Seymour (1798-1836) in the book cited above. Moving towards a thematic analysis, the last three chapters (4 to 6) mine another group of periodicals that "together mounted a sustained and powerful offensive against the British state" (182): John Cleave's various Gazettes (c.1834-1844), the Penny Satirist (1837-1846), and the Odd Fellow (1839-1842). The pickings here are rich. Just as chapter 2 explored Looking Glass and Figaro, chapter 4 presents a fascinating history of these neglected early satirical magazines.

Chapter 5, in Hayward's words, is "the first study" of how popular political culture reflected Chartism (11). Along with other papers like the Northern Star, Haywood uses Cleave's Gazettes, the Penny Satirist, and the Odd Fellow to remind us of the sheer immensity of Chartism, with its monster meetings and even larger petitions such as that of 1842, whose 3,317,752 signatures were thrice the votes cast in the 1841 General Election. Among pictorial responses to Chartism, Haywood has discovered in the U.S. Library of Congress some fascinating early sketches by Richard "Dickie" Doyle (1824-1883), whose Illustrated Letters...to His Father I recently reviewed on this site. These hitherto unknown sketches of the Birmingham Chartist riots of 1839 (see below) not only shed light on those disturbances but also mark the evolution of Doyle as an artist and underscore his essential status as the bridge between the career of his father (John "HB" Doyle) and the ascendancy of Punch.

Richard Doyle, unpublished sketch of the Chartist riots in Birmingham (August 1839). Sketchbook, U.S. Library of Congress.

In another major contribution that goes well-beyond the period and the periodicals, chapter 6 explores the early reception of Queen Victoria, a monarch very much "born into caricature" (233). This sort of analysis nicely complements the new emphasis in studies of the British monarchy such as Edward Owens's The Family Firm (2019), his book on the House of Windsor. Like myself (in Eminent Victorian Cartoonists, 2018), others have read the new imagery of Victoria as a sharp, respectful departure from the grotesquerie of Georgian and Regency imaginings of George III, George IV, and William IV. But in a compelling riposte, Haywood shows how radical cartoonists sought deliberately to "counter this feminized reinvention of royalty" (235) by forging in "the 'other' Queen Victoria a comic persona who was no less than a flat contradiction of the official narrative" (240). Eschewing the Victorian respectability of Punch and its imitators to revive the Gillray-Rowlandson tradition, a remarkable corpus of sharply critical graphic satires caricatured both her marriage to Prince Albert and the birth of their successive royal children (see below).

Charles Jameson Grant, "The Royal Prodigy," Penny Satirist (5 December, 1840)

Besides illuminating caricature, this book enriches our understanding of so many other key fields that it should be required reading in British history courses. Building upon and surpassing previous work by Miles Taylor ("John Bull and the Iconography of Public Opinion in England," 1992) and Ben Rogers (Beef and Liberty: Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation, 2003), Haywood shows how Victorian caricaturists transformed the figure of John Bull. He brings sound gender-awareness to the study of the "separate spheres" ideology, which only rarely allowed women to be shown in positions of power or influence "beyond the domestic sphere" (9). He sheds a volume of new light on the evolving class system. And he admirably joins the ongoing debate over the "democratization of caricature" (5) that has animated work by Diana Donald (The Age of Caricature, 1996), Marc Baer (The Rise and Fall of Radical Westminster, 2012), Anorthe Kremers (Loyal Subversion?, 2014), James Baker (The Business of Satirical Prints in Late-Georgian England, 2017), and David Francis Taylor (The Politics of Parody, 2018). As Haywood shows so clearly, his subject-matter lets him "argue for the democratization of caricature on sound bibliographic grounds, avoiding the continuing scepticism about the social reach of visual satire which still pertains in scholarship on Georgian caricature" (5).

On the ever-present question of what cartoons and cartoonists achieved, Haywood is clear and unequivocal: "[I]t is unreasonable or misguided," he writes, "to require empirical proof of agency or impact as this information is simply not there (and even if it was, it would only be one type of validation)" (7-8). After all, as he points out, art historians do not require such proof from other forms of art or other sources; just because a political cartoon or caricature is meant to intervene in politics does not mean it should be expected to change political careers and trajectories. One is reminded of Peter Cook's famous quip about the golden age of Weimar satire, "which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War."

Palgrave has produced this book very well. Aside from few typos, a broken URL, and some overlong paragraphs (sometimes sprawling an entire page or more), this is a very fine volume--in the e-book as well as hard copy. As Haywood says in acknowledging Jon Turner and Camille Davies, "the inclusion of colour images" in both electronic and print versions of the book "sets [it] apart and restores some of the former glory of these wonderful caricatures" (vii). It does indeed. Besides the well-chosen cover illustration, the book displays no less than ninety images drawn from sources as varied as the Huntington Library, British Museum, Yale Centre for British Art, Lewis Walpole Library, Library of Congress, Hathi Trust, British Library, and the private collection of Brian Maidment himself, the doyen of early-Victorian caricature studies. Along with the highest quality of reproduction and all the work required to gain rights and permissions, this wealth of illustrative material should be applauded.

As those ninety images attest, and as Haywood points out, this study invites much further exploration of its topic. Since he hopes the book will motivate other scholars to study these freshly retrieved caricatures and "turn these 'graphic arguments' into arguments of their own" (12), he offers a delightful prospect for undergraduate and postgraduate students hungry for something new and meaningful.

Like the scholarship of Kunzle and Maidment (whose very style and tone it echoes), this book is radically Romantic: an unapologetic homage to the working classes and a deliberate riposte to the middle-class liberal (and neoliberal) emphases of recent times. "The true mission of graphic satire," Haywood writes, "was and is to hold the powerful to account by steering public opinion in a progressive not retrogressive direction" (9). In chapter 16 of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, a "poor, pinched, sharp-featured man" who recognizes himself in a caricature makes a comment that Haywood quotes at the very beginning of his book and that should really be part of every cartoonist's apprenticeship in the twenty-first century:


I could laugh at a jest as well as e'er the best on 'em, though it did tell again myself, if I were not clemming [going hungry]... It seems to make me sad that there is any as can make game on what they've never know'd; as can make such laughable pictures on men, whose very hearts within 'em are so raw and sore... (qtd. 2).

This is cautionary: the oppressed workers so cruelly caricatured by Harry Carson in Mary Barton plot to assassinate him -- anticipating the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo in 2015, something not lost on Haywood (14). "To ridicule the oppressed and powerless," he writes, "is morally indefensible' (2). Just as it was then, so it is today.

Richard Scully is Associate Professor in Modern History at the University of New England, Australia.


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