So our little Peg has lost her virginity...
....actually let’s back track for a moment to give her situation some further context.
After her mother died her life changed for the worse. She doesn’t mention her age when this happened, but I would put her in her early teens. For the next few years, her brother was physically and mentally abusive and her father stood by and allowed it to happen. On one occasion, she stayed overnight with a neighbouring family without asking her brother's permission. On her return:
I had no sooner entered the door, than my brother Christopher fell on me with his horse-whip, and beat me so cruelly that I vomited blood, and kept my bed near three months with the bruises he had given me: being several times at the point of death, and nothing but my youth and the natural strength of my constitution could have brought me through it.
Enough was enough. As soon as she was able to walk again, she escaped and went to live with her sister in Dublin - the one with the china shop. She arrived she said, weakened in body and spirit with no taste or ability to see the pleasure in life. In was in this state that the still teenage Peg met Mr Dardis.
Mr Dardis spoke with softness. Mr Dardis offered friendship. Mr Dardis was a mate of her older sister's husband. He was undoubtably older than Peg. She was a damaged child who needed love. Instead she was groomed for seduction. Shame on you Mr Dardis! Bad play Sir, bad play!
Peg believed she slept with Mr Dardis willingly. Perhaps she did. Perhaps they both fancied themselves in love and planned to marry. Maria Luddy and Mary O'Dowd write about informal marriages saying it was common for couples in eighteenth-century Ireland to ‘marry’ by just having a verbal agreement between each other . Perhaps Peg had, or thought she had, such an arrangement. She tells us that
Mr. Dardis constantly repeated his visits, both public and private. He did not drop his assurances of his honourable intentions, and gave me incessant marks of his esteem.
And then she became pregnant. They could have married at that stage. Luddy and O'Dowd relate that two people could marry extremely easily in eighteenth century Ireland: either a legitimate clergyman could be summoned to the house within hours of a decision to marry , or a couple beggar, a disbarred clergyman, would perform the ceremony for as little as 3d . Mr Dardis had a better idea. He thought Peg should leave her sisters house in the dead of night and hide away in a lodging house he found for her on Clarendon Street. This lodging house, the home of a Mrs Butler, was actually a brothel. Peg was such an innocent she never realised.
In her memoirs, when writes about this time, she sounds practical and resolute. She doesn't consider the Foundling Hospital which was an option for many unmarried mothers. She does not consider infanticide. Instead she talks about her affection for Mr Dardis and how she believes they will soon be together as a family. I wonder was she excited.
When I was planning the illustration for this stage of her life, I though back to how I felt during pregnancy. I also asked other women to share their experiences. Some women told me how anxious they were about the health of their baby. Some divulged that they were not married and family disaproval was an issue. Each of us had our own story but what was universal was that it was an important time. A time of waiting. A time of knowing that our lives were going to change but not yet sure how. I remember I had Miriam Stoppard's Conception Pregnancy and Birth. I would study the pictures of the baby growing for hours. I would murmur “she is the size of a raspberry now” to myself as I walked to work. "She is now the size of pear..."
This comparing a growing baby to the size of different fruits became the inspiration for my drawing of Pregnant Peg. At first I thought I would create a still-life type of image.
But this is too dark. Too sombre. And too subtle. And I don't like the way she is posed.
Here's the same image looking a little happier A more sensitive pose.
But it is still too subtle. I had a little rethink and decided I wanted to go down a joyful, bursting with life, full-on-abundance route. I placed the figure of Peg centre stage. I added some daisies at her feet to symbolise childhood innocence. The top of the picture shows the ripening fruit.
Bountiful, fertile, expectant Peg. She does not yet know what lies ahead. She is still a child but she is becoming a woman.
1. Marriage in Ireland, 1660 - 1925 p31
2. ibid p 149
3. ibid p 78