Eight Types of 18th-Century Lady Drunks (Some NSFW)

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Sept. 27 2013 12:15 PM

Eight Types of 18th-Century Lady Drunks (Some NSFW)

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This print, by the British caricaturist Richard Newton, depicts eight types of inebriated women (some NSFW). Titled “Samples of Sweethearts and Wives!,” the print presents a catalog of female debauchery: women lolling on couches, vomiting copiously, running into posts, and being carried home by long-suffering men.

The “gin epidemic” of the first half of the 18th century saw a big increase in alcohol consumption after unregulated distillation made cheap gin available to all classes in London. While the height of that craze would have been over by the time this print was published in 1795, it had been widely satirized, not least by printmaker William Hogarth. Newton’s “Sweethearts” shows how the influence of that era persisted, both in actual alcohol consumption and in artists’ fascination with the topic.

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Eighteenth-century satirical prints pushed the boundaries of propriety, as these ladies in their various states of undress and illness show, and Newton’s caricatures were particularly saucy. Prints such as these were often considered unfit for ladies to view. So it seems that “Samples of Sweethearts and Wives!” would have remained a joke among men.

London publisher William Holland printed Newton’s work, and, as historian David Alexander notes, often wrote the captions. In the last panel, a sober-seeming “my dear Charlotte” turns a knowing eye to the viewer while her male companion stumbles beside her. Holland’s caption, capturing his ramblings, seems to remind the male reader that drunken men could be ridiculous, too.

Click on the image below to arrive at a larger, zoomable version, or visit the print’s page in Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library’s digital collection. 

I first saw this print on writer and historian Emily Brand’s blog, The History of Love.


Rebecca Onion Rebecca Onion

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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