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A Rake’s Progress II


Bethlem’s most famous fictional patient is probably Tom Rakewell, the creation of the artist and satirist William Hogarth (1697-1764). A Rake’s Progress, a series of paintings (later published as engravings) depicting scenes from Tom’s life, was Hogarth’s exposé of the cruelty, depravity and hypocrisy which he saw in London society, as well as a morality play in which evil finally comes down on the head of the evildoer. Here on the blog we are publishing and commenting on the 8 engravings in sequence, one each month, until we finally arrive at Bethlem where the last act of the drama unfolds.

The second engraving in the series shows Tom as a wealthy and well-connected “man about town”,1 preening and basking in the refined society of the London elite.

“Having equipped himself with all the necessaries to constitute him a man of taste, he plunges at once into all the fashionable excesses…We view him now at his levée [evening drinks reception], attended by masters of various professions, supposed to be here offering him their interested services.”2

The interest of these hangers-on, Hogarth implies, is simply in Rakewell's wealth, and is liable to vanish without warning.

To be continued.