LGBT History Month Poster: ‘Taste in High Life’, William Hogarth, 1746

Taste in High Life, Metropolitan Museum, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Eighteenth century Britons did not recognize gay or straight sexualities and identities in the way we do today.  Gay sexual relations were still illegal, though only for men, and could be punished severely. Nevertheless, especially among elites, some men adopted fluid gender identities and maintained romantic relationships with other men.  In art, theatre, and fiction, one could often find such characters depicted, and the era especially saw the emergence of the “macaroni”; a very fashionably-dressed effeminate man who was a trend-setting member of London high society.

 William Hogarth was very famous for his popular portrayals of London life.  This print, like many others, is an engraving of one of his paintings, produced for mass consumption among the middling classes of early modern Britain. Here, Hogarth is satirising the lifestyles of the London elite.  The characters he chooses to do this include an enslaved African servant, a wealthy older woman but also, on the far right, a macaroni-like figure. Known for incorporating rich symbolism into his works, Hogarth here communicates the sexual ambiguity of the macaroni with a number of visual cues.  The man is thin and dressed effeminately.  His cane and pigtail are phallic symbols, and he is wooing a rich older woman who is intended to be viewed as physically unattractive. Finally, he is holding a fur muff in front of his crotch to suggest his gender should be female.  Nevertheless his hand is in the muff, also hinting at heterosexual interest. This man is neither gay nor straight, but he is representative of the fluid gender identities that were highly visible in eighteenth century society.

Source

Further reading:

Jody Greene, ‘Public Secrets: Sodomy and the Pillory in the Eighteenth Century and Beyond’ The Eighteenth Century, vol. 44, 2003, 203-32.

Karen Harvey, ‘The Century of Sex? Gender, Bodies and Sexuality in the Long Eighteenth Century‘ Historical Journal, vol. 45.4, 899-917.

Amelia Rauser, ‘Hair, Authenticity and the Self-Made Macaroni’ Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 38, 2004, 101-17.

Tim Hitchcock, ‘Redefining Sex in Eighteenth-Century England’  History Workshop Journal, vol.  41, 1996, 72-90.

Randolph Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution, vol. 1: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)

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