Have you heard of Moll Hackabout? An innocent lass who came to London to seek her fortune in the early eighteenth century? She hoped to work as a seamstress and become a wife and mother. Instead, she fell into a world of vice and prostitution. She was arrested, spent time in prison and eventually died of syphilis..... all by the time she reached age 23.
Or how about Peg Plunkett? An innocent lass, set to marry, came to Dublin and fell into vice and prostitution. She too spent time in prison and eventually died of syphilis.
Moll Hackabout is a fictional character - the subject of a series of prints. Her tale is depressing. Peg Plunkett is a real Irish woman, a valiant heroine, a wit, a flirt and a triumph!
Moll's sad tale is charted through A Harlot’s Progress, a set of six engravings created by William Hogarth in 1732. Hogarth intended them as a satirical observation on the morals of his time: he wasn't judging Moll, rather the society that enabled her exploitation. The prints were wildly popular. So much so, that that many plagiarised versions came to the market, leading Hogarth to lobby parliament to pass the first copyright law recognising the rights of visual artists. For his next series of engravings he proved a canny business man, employing a subscription model, generating interest and sales during the creation of the work.
For a while now, I have had a major girl-crush on Peg Plunkett. I'm fascinated by how she refused to be constrained by her gender or class. Over the course of her 70 years, she received many knocks but each time, she picked herself up, dusted herself off and went back into the ring. She was brave. She was kind. She was clever. She was reckless with money. She lived life to the max.
For the next few months, I am going to immerse myself in Peg's story. Like Hogarth, I intend to create a limited set of prints illustrating her life. I am also planning a self-guided trail and a book about eighteenth century Dublin. Like Hogarth, I want to show the work as it progresses in the hope that I can garner and gauge the interest before I print the work.
I want to really try to understand Peg and her life. Admittedly I will be responding to the facts I discover from a modern view point. However, unlike Hogarth, my response will be from a woman's perspective.
Come along for the ride (not sure if this pun is intended)!