Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession, and Representation in English Visual Culture, 1665-1800

By Marcia Pointon | Go to book overview

5
Portraiture, Excess, and Mythology: Mary Hale, Emma Hamilton, and Others . . . 'in Bacchante'

In 1776 Richard Graves, author of The Spiritual Quixote,1 published a collection of poems called Euphrosyne: or, Amusements on the Road of Life.2 Included in this collection is ' The Love of Order' addressed to William Jones, Esq. of Denford, Berkshire. In a section of this poem entitled ' The Cottage Garden', Graves (who was by this time celebrated for his humorously subversive and anti-heroic version of pastoral) describes himself reclining beneath his 'rustic grott | the cares of life awhile forgot'. As he sits there 'wrapt in a deep, poetic trance' he sees advancing the three Graces 'by ancient Bards so often seen'. They are not, however, clothed in 'their antique Grecian dress | the genuine charms of nakedness | But such as now-a-days one sees, | In gauze, and lace and negligees'. Fixed in rapture and surprise, he then observes that they are followed by Apollo, who turns out on closer scrutiny to be Graves's neighbour and friend. An explanation of the 'heavenly vision' is then offered by his neighbour. It is none other than his own wife and daughters: 'In her own work my wife has deck'd her | Not one of us e'er tasted Nectar.'

In this delightful narrative of a reverie, Graves articulates the fantasy of a continuum between classical mythology and present-day humanity. It was a continuum that provided, for eighteenth-century writers, a wealth of conceits and a rich vocabulary in popular parlance. Young women are addressed as

A shorter version of this chapter was published in British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies (Spring 1994). I am grateful to the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies for an invitation to address its annual meeting in 1993, and to Leeds University Fine Art Dept. for the opportunity to present my ideas there in the same year. The spelling of 'Bacchante' varies greatly across a range of 18th-cent. visual sources; Romney, Reynolds and other artists, as well as authors like Charles Burney, employ different spellings. I have standardized the spelling throughout.

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