'Those scandalous prints' : caricatures of the elite in France and Britain, c.1740-1795
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This thesis explores caricatures of elite individuals produced in France and Britain between 1740 and 1795. It argues that the urban public spheres of France and Britain were increasingly critical of the elite in this period, and that caricatures were a significant means of expressing this criticism. It is a comparative study of British and French caricatures, analysing the similarities in popular urban attitudes towards the elite in both countries, and the ways in which these attitudes were visually depicted. The eighteenth century saw significant expansion of a public sphere which facilitated widespread discussion about the social and political makeup of society in both countries. Scholarship of eighteenth-century European caricature has largely focused on 1789-1800. By examining sources which cross from the ancien régime and into the early years of the French Revolution, it becomes possible to explore how shifting popular attitudes towards the elite were manifested in visual culture. By analysing recurrent motifs in British and French caricatures, this study argues that the reiteration of these motifs constituted a ‘language’ by which caricaturists communicated with viewers in a visual format. In doing so, it identifies, and assesses the significance of, the following key themes: the development of the urban public sphere, the emergence of a modern celebrity culture, and changing cultural attitudes towards the elite. The thesis contributes to recent historiography on eighteenth-century celebrity and the public sphere by exploring how caricatures participated in the development of these cultures, particularly in the capital cities of London and Paris. It also considers the extent to which British and French caricatures contributed to contemporary popular discourse on the purpose and traditional roles of elite members of society. Overall, the thesis argues that caricatures were a crucial mode of public discourse on the socio-political elite in France and Britain between 1740 and 1795.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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