Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Guest Blogger Barbara Monajem on Why the Caricature is Mightier than the Sword

We’re welcoming author Barbara Monajem as today’s guest blogger. I fell in love with her Lady Rosamund Regency-set mysteries because she takes such care to stay true to the history and culture of the times…and writes a darn good story!  An important part of the Lady Rosamund stories are caricatures—basically the political cartoons of the 19th century, though they went far beyond politics to comment on many different aspects of society and life as well. I’ll let Barbara take it from there…

* * * * *

Do you read the tabloids at the supermarket? I don’t, but I can’t help but notice the photos of celebs and royals. Often, the tabloids take a grimace and blow it up into a feud, doctoring the photos to show people screaming at one another. Horrid, isn’t it? And so unkind.

Believe it or not, this is nothing new. The Regency equivalent of the tabloid photographer was the caricaturist. Caricatures were printed from etchings or engravings and distributed all over England. They ranged from social and political commentary to downright scandal. Wealthy patrons might have subscriptions, while others purchased copies at stationers or print shops. Even illiterates benefited from the entertaining spin on current affairs, as the prints were displayed in shop windows, and a literate onlooker might helpfully read the captions aloud.

My favorite of the well-known caricaturists is James Gillray. He was relentless in his satires of the royal family, in particular the Prince of Wales (who, one has to admit, was really asking for it; he wasn’t at all well-behaved). Here is one where the King, Queen and Prince are all eating gold coins, enriching their coffers at the expense of the people. But while the King and Queen hold onto their money in craws attached to their necks, the Prince’s craw is empty, for he wasted vast sums.

Gillray drew a very famous caricature imagining what it would be like if the royal family were ousted, like in France. This enraged the Prince of Wales so much that he paid to have the print suppressed and the original plate destroyed (it wasn’t). Gillray also satirized Napoleon, whose outraged reaction was much like the Prince’s.

Gillray also depicted current issues, such as controversy over the cowpox vaccination to prevent smallpox. His caricature shows vaccinated people with little cows growing out of their arms, heads, bums, etc. Doesn’t sound too different from the vaccine controversies of today!

He also satirized various excesses of fashion, such as tight lacing or preposterously high ostrich feathers. Here is one suggesting that the current style of gown was too revealing.

Other famous caricaturists were Isaac Cruikshank and his sons, Isaac Robert and George. This 1850 drawing by George Cruikshank satirizes the crinoline. Isaac Robert Cruikshank caricatured dandies and their absurdly high collars/cravats.

Lastly, another of my favorites is Thomas Rowlandson. I like this caricature of the Bluestockings – intellectual or literary ladies – who are violently brawling with one another. It probably implies that women are incapable of intellectual pursuits, and that those who attempt to do so are unladylike, and squabble like women of ill repute. But to me it also suggests that when it comes to allowing petty differences to escalate into violence, men and women can be much the same. I suppose it depends on who is interpreting it!  

I guess all this explains why I chose to make a caricaturist one of the main characters in my Lady Rosamund mysteries. It’s just so much fun imagining the spin a clever caricaturist could put on anything he chose. He could comment on the follies of society, poke fun at the rich and famous, and even invent a scandal for the fun of it. (And no one gets harmed in real life, because this is fiction.)

* * * * *

In addition to the Lady Rosamund series, USA Today bestselling author Barbara Monajem is the author of more than thirty novels and novellas. She wrote her first story at eight years old about apple tree gnomes. After publishing a middle-grade fantasy, she settled on historical mysteries and romances with intrepid heroines and long-suffering heroes (or vice versa). Sometimes there’s a bit of fantasy mixed in, because she wants to avoid reality as much as possible. She lives near Atlanta with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and feline strays. Learn more at www.BarbaraMonajem.com.