marriage a la mode

marriage a la mode

Deren Temel
HU/SS 102
Topic 1: “Satire and Status”

The preservation of bloodlines may seem like an archaic notion to you, but once you realize that nineteen United States presidents have been directly related to the King Edward(s) of England and that thirty-four U.S. Presidents have claimed descent from Charlemagne then it must become eerily clear that a force specifically directed this genealogical lineage. This astonishing fact is no mere anomaly or evidence of a “master family” conspiracy. It is a result of surreptitious interbreeding of the power hungry bourgeoisie with the royalty of Europe. The royalties’ desperate attempt to protect their pristine bloodlines and the floundering of their prestige once the bourgeoisie was admitted among their ranks are satirically highlighted in the works of Voltaire and Hogarth. Although these two philosophers both viewed the decline of royalty it’s was Hogarth’s hypothesis as to how the bourgeoisie initiated estate regicide that history holds true over Voltaire’s incomplete hypothesis.
Although they differ in conclusion both Voltaire and Hogarth agree that the royalties were compulsive about protecting their lineage from being sullied. Voltaire roasts nobility’s attitude when he describes a noble woman who refused to marry a man “ because he could prove only seventy-one generations of noble lineage” (Voltaire, 41). Hogarth would agree with Voltaire’s ludicrous depiction of noble fixation on bloodline for in the first painting of his serial painting Marriage a la Mode (1743) Hogarth shows a noble man’s family tree spilling over the conference table during a marriage arrangement. Voltaire and Hogarth both make jests at noble lineage, however the true departure between these two men’s thinking is that unlike Voltaire’s unwavering noble Hogarth’s noble is willing to spoil their regality by wedding away his immaculate bloodline in exchange for something more valuable than noble privilege; money.
The encroachment of the bourgeoisie into noble bloodlines through marriage would eventually consume the nobility and usher in social and economic reform to Europe.  Hogarth’s serial painting Marriage a la Mode follows the destruction of a nobleman’s estate and ultimately his life through his marriage to a bourgeois woman. As a whole Hogarth’s paintings theorize that although it was detrimental to nobility as an estate, paradoxically the nobility invited the fourth estate into their bloodlines. With the medieval estate system crumbling the nobility sought to marry into the wealthy bourgeoisie to secure their decadent lifestyle. This desire for stability would push the royalty off their instable position in society.
Hogarth’s second painting from Marriage a la Mode shows the young noble man being irresponsible with his bills. It is precisely this irresponsible fiscal attitude that made the nobility beg the fourth estate to have marriages of convenience in order to mend their debts. Hogarth shows this in the second painting to convey that the financial crisis of the irresponsible noblemen needs immediate addressing. If we examine the painting it is clear that the nobleman, whose decaying prestige is illustrated by his cracked and tasteless decorations, has married the wealthy woman in order to reap the benefits of their marriage of convenience. It seems that the marriage of the fashion is really a marriage of convenience. Hogarth moves from this portrayal of weakened noble power to show the cause of the coming revolution and introduces the next painting to show us the reaction by the bourgeoisie to excessive noble consumption.
The 3rd painting shows the Enlightenment alive in the salon of the wealthy young woman who married the young noble. While the young noble is absent, presumably indulging in some type of debauchery, the Enlightenment, which seeks to end the nobility and remnants of the ancein regime, is flourishing in his home.  The gathering at first seems benign, but if examined is treacherous of the wife to support such a gathering. By inviting in the enemy of nobility the young woman is symbolically showing that she identifies with her bourgeois comrades and their motives more than her husband of convenience. Her class identification will lead to his demise.
Hogarth ends Marriage a la Mode with the death of the young noble at the hands of a bourgeois man who the young woman has fallen in love with.  The painting concludes that the bourgeoisie remain loyal to their ideals and that the marriage, which was intended to support the nobility by infusing the bourgeoisie, only fostered the bourgeois rebellion. Hogarth’s works support the idea that the nobility’s willingness to accept the bourgeoisie for self-interested reasons was their funeral. Although this is a compelling argument Voltaire would take a different yet equally satiric spin on the destruction of the nobility.
Throughout Voltaire’s 1759 novel Candide the young Candide works tirelessly to rescue and marry a woman of noble birth. However, no matter what continent he is on or danger he has faced for her, her older brother, the guardian of their bloodlines, staunchly refuses to allow him to marry her. He arrogantly says she cannot marry anyone except “ a baron of an empire”. Voltaire continues by writing that due to the nobleman’s unwavering prejudice Candide and Pangloss, the physical embodiment of the Enlightenment, are compelled to write a treatise that uses enlightened ideals to announce that the nobleman no longer has an power. Voltaire has Candide write this mock declaration as a jest to the coming declarations of the Enlightenment. Along with the treatise Voltaire is saying that the arrogance of the nobility became intolerable and it became necessary to admonish them.
Although both satiric comments as to how and why the nobility collapsed are valid, Hogarth’s bourgeois invasion of the family tree can still be proven to this day. Most of the richest people in the western world are still able to link themselves to ancient royalty whom their ancestors intermarried. So Hogarth’s hypothesis of intermarriage is the most effective way to account for the decay of the royalty and the explanation of why nineteen U.S. Presidents can be linked to nobility if you examine their old dusty family trees.

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