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A Rake’s Progress VI

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 have been publishing and commenting on the 8 engravings in sequence, one each month, and will continue to do so until we finally arrive at Bethlem where the last act of the drama unfolds.


The sixth engraving in the series shows what use Tom made of his fortunes once renewed by his marriage of convenience: he is back in a gambling house, “suffering enormous and repeated losses”.1 At the centre of the engraving, “his countenance distorted with agony, and his soul agitated almost to madness, he imprecates vengeance upon his head.”2 This time, he has no means of pulling back from the brink of ruin. “Like a train that had ceased to answer to the break, the acceleration grows, and a frightful, unavoidable smash-up follows…His second [and last] empire had come to a frightfully fast decay.”3

To be continued.