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Caricatures from the late 19th Century and early 20th
July 21, 2008 5:15 AM   Subscribe

900 caricatures of noted Victorian and Edwardian personages from British society magazine Vanity Fair which ran from 1868 to 1914. Among those pictured are Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Alfred Dreyfus, Teddy Roosevelt, Gustave Eiffel and Charles Boycott (from whose name comes the word). A couple are mildly not safe for work, a few quite racist, as was the prevalent attitude of the time, and at least one is both.
posted by Kattullus (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Melville caricature is actually George John Whyte-Melville. Calling poor Herman Melville "The novelist of Society" in 1871 would be like calling John Travolta "The King of Hollywood" in 1987.
posted by dyoneo at 5:50 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, so this Charles Boycott was the victim of a boycott! I did not know that. I love MetaFilter.

Oh, and, nice caricatures. Thanks Kattulus!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:00 AM on July 21, 2008


Thanks, dyoneo, for setting me straight. There's a few not-who-you-think-they-are images, like Jung and Dickens.
posted by Kattullus at 6:01 AM on July 21, 2008


By the by, the Jung in question is Sir Mir Turab Ali Khan, Salar Jung I.
posted by Kattullus at 6:06 AM on July 21, 2008


Dickens?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:08 AM on July 21, 2008


I don't have the time to comb through this right now, but it looks quite promising. I hope other commenters will pull and share the famous and interesting personages as they come across them!
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:22 AM on July 21, 2008


Oscar Wilde was rather full-lipped, but that caricature has him looking positively negroid. He's clearly Caucasian when it comes to his action figure.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:25 AM on July 21, 2008


I'm wondering if some of the subjects were photographed and then drawn ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:32 AM on July 21, 2008


Wow. Yeah, they drew Wilde as a black guy with frizzy hair and big lips. And Disraeli has a gigantic jew-nose. Talk about your racism.

The recent New Yorker cover is tame by comparison.
posted by Justinian at 7:05 AM on July 21, 2008


I do like Sam Clemens & Rudyard Kipling.

The Archbishop of York (my home town) is William Thomson.

No mention of Oscar Wilde should be let pass without the rather wonderful James Whistler.

Oh and WTF?

Excellent find, thanks for the post.
posted by hardcode at 7:13 AM on July 21, 2008


They're caricatures. They're supposed to blow elements of your appearance and personality out of proportion. They're seeking the iconic under the mundane face you see in the mirror every day, and that's why it works so well for great personages: celebrity in that era was tied less closely to appearance, and more closely to class and achievement. So ordinary-looking people had to be made to seem extraordinary, which is what these caricatures do.

In contrast, the New Yorker cover took elements of racist fantasies and incorporated them in the same way you'd blow up ears or a chin, suggesting to some that the character traits portrayed were present in the subjects themselves. I see why people are offended, because caricatures are generally supposed to portray a kind of magical realist version of the person, not complete falsehoods. That said, I thought the Obama cover was pretty ingeniously done to 'deflate the hate' or 'fight the smears' with gentle elbowing and humor, and I would have liked to see a little less seriousness in the responses.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:20 AM on July 21, 2008


They're supposed to blow elements of your appearance and personality out of proportion.

Did you look at the Wilde and Disraeli caricatures? Pure racist stereotype. Both of appearance and behavior, in Wilde's case. (The negro as sex-starved maniac, frex).
posted by Justinian at 7:25 AM on July 21, 2008


The Disraeli is actually the first Vanity Fair caricature, period. I own two of the later Disraeli prints, "The Junior Ambassador" (also by Pellegrini/"Ape") and "Power & Place," which don't really do the hooked-nose thing.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:31 AM on July 21, 2008


Oops--the two later Disraeli prints.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:33 AM on July 21, 2008


Separated at birth

(I've heard the theory, if I'm remembering it right, that the one was based on t'other, but I'd never seen a picture of the original so had nothing to base it on.)
posted by DU at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2008


Did you look at the Wilde and Disraeli caricatures? Pure racist stereotype.

I'm not convinced. These people were popular and well-liked... if anything, the use of familiar visual motifs served to create a narrative background in which their fame and achievement could raise the estimation of the groups to which they belonged. Archetypes always create a tension between the idiosyncratic and the common idiom, and it's not clear to me that the particular always suffers by being connected with the general. Of course, to have this discussion in full we'd have to talk about the difference between tokens and signs, work out the relationship between structure and play, and maybe inject some critical vocabulary like 'performance' and 'transgression.' Ultimately, though, Disraeli was popular and I don't think it hurt him or the Jews to remind everyone that this popular statesman belonged to a reviled minority.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:52 AM on July 21, 2008


Excellent find. (But I do wish the University of Virginia had captioned the images properly, instead of just dumping them onto their website with no identification. This anorexic cleric, for example, is Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury, but you'd never know that from the caption, which just calls him 'Canterbury'. This gentleman with the fine whiskers is Hugh Reginald Haweis, clergyman and spiritualist, but again you'd have a hard time working that out from the caption, which just says 'Hyweis'.)

Famous faces include: Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin (with a strangely sinister grin), Thomas Hardy, Thomas Huxley, Rudyard Kipling (excellent likeness), Henry Liddell (father of Alice in Wonderland), John Stuart Mill, Algernon Charles Swinburne (midget), Anthony Trollope.
posted by verstegan at 8:36 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, Huxley really does look like a bulldog.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2008


A lot of these its hard to know why they are without full names. Back in the day that would have been the point, a little challenge and in-crowd knowledge, but further on it seems arcane. Someone should fully index the names.
posted by stbalbach at 10:32 AM on July 21, 2008


(The negro as sex-starved maniac, frex).

Or the negro and homosexual as examples of human degeneration, in a biological sense, a reversion to a previous lesser form.
posted by stbalbach at 10:36 AM on July 21, 2008


(The negro as sex-starved maniac, frex).

Or the negro and homosexual as examples of human degeneration, in a biological sense, a reversion to a previous lesser form.


The Wilde caricature is from 1884, arguably before his first homosexual encounter - let alone the public scandals - so I'm pretty sure that the depiction of him as black is a reference to him being Irish.
posted by dyoneo at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2008


You probably got it dyneo - always fun to decipher the origins of ancient prejudices.
posted by stbalbach at 2:48 PM on July 21, 2008


The equation of African-Americans and Irish is unlikely to have had much currency in Britain.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:35 PM on July 21, 2008


The equation of African-Americans and Irish is unlikely to have had much currency in Britain.

Geez, and here I was thinking that I went out of my way to link to the relevant part of the article:
A prominent theme of ethnology in Victorian England largely stemming from social prejudices of the time was that the Irish were racially different from the English people and thus considered inferior. Polygenism was a dominant theory, as was phrenology, and both were employed to 'prove' that Irish persons were less developed and more primitive than other 'races' of humanity. Punch cartoons often portrayed them with protruding jaws, alluding to the notion they were closer to apes than men.

John Beddoe (1826-1911), one of the most notable ethnologists in the United Kingdom, supported these concepts with his work. In The Races of Britain: A Contribution to the Anthropology of Western Europe (1862), Beddoe wrote that all geniuses were orthognathous (having the front of the skull, almost vertical, not receding above the jaws), as opposed to the Irish and Welsh whom he exaggeratedly described as prognathous. Evasive or ignorant of the pre-Saxon Celtic influence on the English and likely his own forebears, Beddoe claimed that the Celts were closely related to Cro-Magnon man, theorized by him, as being linked to the 'Africanoid'. The Races of Britain was republished in 1885, 1905, and again in 1971.
posted by dyoneo at 6:11 PM on July 21, 2008


The equation of African-Americans and Irish...

Aside from the excellent point made by dyoneo in the comment/quote just above, it also bears pointing out that no one said anything about African-Americans, until anotherpanacea invoked them in his comment. Prejudices against black people, surprisingly enough, actually predate the United States of America.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:16 PM on July 21, 2008


Although there were clearly associations between the Irish and blacks, Britain had nothing like the American experience after slavery. That's why, today, the British are significantly more racist against Middle Easterners and Asians than blacks. Beddoe emphasized the relationship between jaw and forehead, not the size of lips.

It's anachronistic to assume your own prejudices operate the same way that people in another time and place would have done. Mary Beth Oliver at Penn State has some great work on this, demonstrating that racist assumptions about criminality and sexuality now track facial features (thick lips and wide noses) more than skin color. (Which is why Obama and Oprah don't provoke the same kind of racist response that, say, Jesse Jackson does.) Contemporary Americans have become much more aware of facial features than skin color, in large part as a response to the growing class differences between African Americans whose ancestors go back to the slaves and more recent transplants from places like Kenya where facial features tend to differ from our stereotypes. Anyway, just because that's how contemporary prejudice works in the US doesn't mean that British prejudices ran the same way.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:16 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


We have three of these at home and I've been able to ID two:

Edward Birkbeck
Henri d'Orleans, duc d'Aumale

I can't find the third one yet, but I want to thank Kattullus for posting this - for nearly 40 years I have wondered who these gentlemen were!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:52 AM on July 28, 2008


That's great, Sweetie Darling! If you identify the mysterious third please update.
posted by Kattullus at 9:13 AM on July 28, 2008


Here is number three:

Robert Grosvenor, 1st Baron Ebury

This is so great. I feel like Nancy Drew. Thanks again!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:52 PM on July 28, 2008


OK, last post here, I swear:

Totally agree with the complaints above that the naming system at UVA is terrible and it is, indeed, interesting to learn more about these folks. This site was very helpful for me today:
http://www.antiquemapsandprints.com/spy.htm. Plus, yay Wikipedia.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:03 PM on July 28, 2008


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