- "Society Pictures" is part 2 of the author's "George du Maurier: The Satiric Artist," the introduction to his The Art of George du Maurier (Hants, England: Scolar Press; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, c1996).
- All notes in the original have been converted to in-text citations that refer to the list of references at the end of this document.
- All links to materials in the Victorian Web have been added by GPL.
u Maurier's famous crusade against the aesthetic movement in England reflected his long-standing dislike of affectation and his distrust of change. These attitudes are revealed in the parody he did for Punch in 1866 entitled 'A Legend of Camelot'. The stylized paintings and bohemian manners of the Pre-Raphaelites disturbed du Maurier's conservative sensibilities, and in five full-page drawings, accompanied by clever doggerel verse, he set forth a powerful attack upon the excesses of Rossetti, Morris, and Holman Hunt. The story line of the series is a composite of the Arthurian romance, Tennyson's 'Lady of Shalott', and Morris's Arthurian poems. The drawings parody the styles of Rossetti and Hunt. Supporting the popular view that the Pre-Raphaelites were effeminate, du Maurier's drawings render the knights in absurdly affected poses. In one scene, for example, Sir Gawaine stands in the background with his finger in his mouth. The women are parodies of the long-haired, quasi-medieval beauties of Rossetti and Morris. His heroine, Braunighrindas, for example, has mounds of flowing tresses fuller and longer than her own body. du Maurier's couplet extends the parody: 'O Moshesh! vat a precioush lot / Of beautiful red hair they've got'. Her protruding chin and dour expression also caricature the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of beauty: 'How much their upper lipsh do pout! / How very much their chins shtick out!'('A Legend of Camelot', pt. 2, 50 [March 10, 1866]:97). Besides the parodic figures, these drawings reproduce the excessive symbolism, minute detail, and meditative tone of the Pre-Raphaelites.
Satirists are essentially conservative and employ humor to bring to heel those people who stray too far from the accepted norms and traditions of society. When the so-called aesthetic movement began to flourish in England during the 1870s and 1880s, its excesses made it a ready-made target for du Maurier's satire. This movement was not a clearly defined nor organized one but rather a loose collection of painters and writers, such as Whistler, Wilde, Morris, and Pater, whose work influenced trends in interior decorating, clothing fashions, language, and encouraged the craze of collecting blue-and-white China. Like Pre-Raphaelitism, aestheticism represented a startling departure from conventional patterns of Victorian life. The followers of aestheticism stood out in a crowd: their dress, their speech, and their ideals all marked them as members of an elite group, sensitive, creative, intense, and dedicated to the ideals of beauty, all trying 'to burn always with this hard, gem-like flame' (Pater, p. 236).
du Maurier pilloried the aesthetes in Punch from 1873 to 1882. The early drawings, such as the Chinamania series, depicting the fad for collecting China, were unified by theme, the later series by recurrent characters. Whistler and Rossetti were largely responsible for initiating the craze. Interested in the exotic, these two famous men quickly became rival collectors, and the established antique dealers in London began stocking their shelves with expensive pieces of blue-and-white China. Although he was eclectic, buying Japanese as well as Chinese pieces, Whistler, like other connoisseurs, was especially fond of the technically brilliant blue and white wares produced during the reign of Louis XIV's Chinese contemporary, K'ang Hsi. Whistler's interest in the Orient was also expressed in his paintings at the time, such as Rose and Silver, Purple and Rose, and Variations in Flesh Color and Green, all of which feature Oriental women and blue-and-white China vases (see Roy McMullen, pp. 113-29). The press began to cover the trend toward things Oriental, and in May, 1874, du Maurier produced his first drawing on the subject. Entitled 'The Passion for Old China', it depicts a woman sitting beneath two shelves displaying China plates and vases; holding a teapot in her lap as if it were a baby. Her husband standing beside her says 'I think you might let me nurse that teapot a little now, Margery! You've had it to yourself all morning, you know!' (Punch 66, May 2, 1874, 189).
One of the finest drawings in this series, however, appeared in 1880, entitled 'The Six-Mark Tea-Pot' (October 30, 1880, 194). It satirizes both the China craze and the aesthetes who encouraged it. The 'intense bride' in the drawing has all of the appearances of the Pre-Raphaelite woman, especially Rossetti's idealized woman: the thick, full hair that covers the forehead, the strong nose, protruding chin, bee-stung lips, and powerful neck. She is dressed in an elaborate dress with puffed sleeves and an intricate pattern of flowers and birds suggestive of a medieval costume. Examining the teapot the 'esthetic bridegroom' says, 'It is quite consummate, is it not?' His bride answers, 'It is indeed! Oh, Algernon, let us live up to it!' The dialogue here parodies the diction and exclamatory style of the aesthetes, and the name Algernon calls to mind Algernon Swinburne, the notorious poet who associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. The languishing appearance of the bridegroom is reminiscent of Oscar Wilde and his speech suggestive of his exaggerated style. It has not been previously noted but du Maurier's drawing may also be a parody of Whistler's oil painting entitled Purple and Rose: The Lange Lijzen of the Six Marks (1864). The six marks in the title of both works refer to the potter's marks. The Delft term for the elongated figures, the 'long Lizzies', explains the 'Lange Lijzen'. Whistler's painting shows a young Western woman wearing Oriental clothes and painting a Chinese vase on her lap. Whistler obviously had no idea at this time how Chinese porcelain was actually manufactured. In any event, du Maurier's drawing echoes Whistler's title and recalls the outlandish foreign dress and preoccupation of the young woman in his painting.
du Maurier's best aesthetic pieces are those featuring such recurrent characters as Postlethwaite and Maudle. Introduced in 1880, Jellaby Postlethwaite is the aesthetic poet who dedicated his Latter-Day Sapphics to the easily flattered and foolish Mrs Cimabue Brown. His very name suggests his soft, effeminate, lisping character. The drawing entitled 'Nincompoopiana. -- The Mutual Admiration Society' captures the shallow essences not only of Postlethwaite (whose deathlike appearance leads Mrs Brown to see in him a delicate, sad, and poetic soul) but of Maudle (this is the aesthetic painter's first appearance) and Mrs Brown herself. Our Gallant Colonel, who stands sensibly on the edge of the scene, provides the perspective of the outsider, and shares with the reader a point of sympathetic curiosity and exasperation in the face of all the ritualized fawning (February 14, 1880, 66). In subsequent drawings Postlethwaite is given to seeing rich symbolism in the lily, an attitude whereby du Maurier mocks both the Pre-Raphaelite obsession with symbolic flowers in their paintings and poetry and Oscar Wilde's public appearances with a lily or sunflower in his hand. In 'An Aesthetic Midday Meal" Postlethwaite is seated at a table in a restaurant, and the caption reads:
At the Luncheon hour, Jellaby Postlethwaite enters a Pastrycook's and calls for a glass of water, into which he puts a freshly-cut lily, and loses himself in contemplation thereof.
WAITER: 'Shall I bring you anything else, sir?'
JELLABY POSTLETHWAITE: 'Thanks, no! I have all I require, and shall soon have done!' [79 (July 17, 1880): 23]
As in 'Nincompoopiana' where Our Gallant Colonel provides the perspective of common sense, this drawing has the other customers and the waiters all stare at Postlethwaite. They are on the side of the artist and his audience who share a common comic victim. In 'Postlethwaite's Last Love' the absurd poet tells this related anecdote: 'One evening, for want of anything better to say, I told Mrs Cimabue Brown, in the strictest confidence, that I could sit up all night with a lily. She was holding one in her hand, as usual. She was deeply moved. Her eye moistened. She said, "Quite so!" and wrung my fingers. And it struck her as such a beautiful thought' (79 [December 25, 1880]:294). This is a brilliant little piece of satiric narrative. The sentences grow short, building to the dramatic conclusion of a cliched response in 'Quite so!' With considerable good humor, du Maurier's drawings capture the languid poses and trivial ideas of this Wildean poet.
Maudle's subsequent appearance in 'Maudle on the Choice of a Profession' shows him to be an older, more fleshly character than he was in 'Nincompoopiana'. Furthermore, he now dominates the picture as he leans toward Mrs Brown to impart his aesthetic advice regarding her son: 'Why not let him remain for ever content to exist beautifully'. A true Philistine, Mrs Brown lionizes the Maudles and the Postlethwaites, but wants her son to have nothing to do with them. Maudle in this cartoon bears a striking resemblance to Oscar Wilde and, like Postlethwaite, who also resembles Wilde, he uses the aesthetic code word 'consummately'.
One wonders, in this instance, if life does not imitate art. Whistler wondered about the same question, as can be seen in his anecdote in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies: 'Mr du Maurier and Mr Wilde happening to meet in the rooms where Mr Whistler was holding his first exhibition of Venice etchings, the latter brought the two face to face, and taking each by the arm inquired: "I say, which one of you two invented the other, eh?"' (p. 241). In 'The Decay of Lying', published in 1889, Wilde argues that 'Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life' (p. 6). Maudle's suggestion that young Mr Brown should be content to 'exist beautifully' is a simple extension of Wilde's aesthetic philosophy: a person himself can be a work of art.
du Maurier has created several other aesthetic characters to flesh out this group of mutual self-admirers. Peter Pilcox, a sculptor and painter, gave up the profane life of a chemist's assistant to become one of the 'rising aesthetes'. In 'A Reaction in Aesthetics' Pilcox gazes at his latest painting which represents Mrs Cimabue Brown, bored with lilies, trying to smell a sunflower. 'I'm afraid it's one of my failures', Pilcox laments. Mrs Brown reassures him that 'your failures remind one of Michael Angelo at his best!' Pilcox replies, 'Not so bad as that, I hope' (79 [October 9, 1880]:167). Since Pilcox and Mrs Brown are alone in the drawing, with no Gallant Colonel or pictorial public to react to their foolish discussion, du Maurier simply allows Michaelangelo's reputation to stand as a foil to the pomposity of these two characters.
Mrs Cimabue Brown appears a total of ten times in Punch. Her very name indicates her fragmented and affected personality. Cimabue, of course, is the famous thirteenth-century Florentine painter and mosaicist. Brown, on the other hand, is one of the most common surnames in England. In sum, she is a parody of the taste for Pre-Raphaelite, Italian primitive artists. The most extreme of aesthetic women, Mrs Brown collects other aesthetes as one might collect paintings. Postlethwaite and Maudle are her two favorites and they respond to her flattery by immortalizing her in their paintings, sculpture, and verse. This peculiar and narcissistic trinity came to depend upon each other for their fictitious existence. Consequently, when du Maurier finally decided to finish off his aesthetes he did so in a way that touches upon their essential natures. Entitled 'Frustrated Social Ambition', du Maurier's final aesthetic drawing in Punch depicts Postlethwaite and Maudle clutching each other in grief, a crumpled newspaper in Postlethwaite's hand, and Mrs Brown, with head bowed, weeping bitterly. The caption reads: 'Collapse of Postlethwaite, Maudle, and Mrs Cimabue Brown, on reading in a widely circulated contemporary journal that they only exist in Mr Punch's vivid imagination. They had fondly flattered themselves that universal fame was theirs at last' (80 [May 21, 1881]:229).
Another objectionable group of people that du Maurier took to task were the nouveau riche whose self-interest, unlike that of the aesthetes, was grounded in money, vulgarity, and material ostentation. The characters that du Maurier created to epitomize this class were Sir Gorgius Midas and Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns. Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns is the modern social spirit, ready to take advantage of everything and everyone that will advance her in society. Her unfortunate husband is always in the background for he lacks the imagination and drive of his ingenious wife. In the Darwinian world of natural selection, Mrs de Tomkyns is a survivor. Her instincts for self-preservation are finely tuned and she is as capable of absorbing the aesthetes as she is of the dukes and duchesses into her ever-growing circle of influence. The instrument of her successful climb to respectability is the after-dinner entertainment. Employing a variety of tricks, she manages to engage a series of distinguished musicians and singers to perform without paying them anything. She convinces Signer Jenkins to sing at one of her parties by telling him that the duchess of Stilton, an important patron of the arts, will be in attendance. On another occasion, in 'Ponsonby de Tomkyns Begins to Assert Himself,' she uses the performance of a well-known Italian musician to lure several princesses to her house, and when her husband protests that he is a 'rowdy foreigner' who is 'always pitching into England ... where he makes all his money', she silences him with 'No, no! Hush love! He's a genius! He plays the flageolet better than any man living! The princesses would never have been here to-night, but for him! -- and remember, Ponsonby, he plays for us for nothing!!!' (81 [July 23, 1881]:30)
Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns's perseverance in applying all of her social tactics -- despite a few failures and despite her lumpish husband -- is finally rewarded. The elusive duchess whose presence she is always courting becomes a good friend and aristocrats and royalty eventually grace the after-dinner entertainments. The little London lady realizes her dream and becomes the most sought-after hostess in the city. Over the years du Maurier became very fond of his creation. She held a fascination for him that led him to portray her social ambitions with a quiet humor that was rounded with genuine respect. As Henry James noted, 'this lady is a real creation. ... She is young, very nice-looking, slim, graceful, very indefatigable' (Partial Portraits, p. 366). Her high-spirited character and intelligence, combined with her beauty, set her apart from the rest of du Maurier's satiric characters. She quietly disappeared from the pages of Punch, unlike Maudle, Brown, and Postlethwaite who made their exit in a fit of mutual despondency. Kate Greenaway explains that du Maurier grew 'so fond of her in the end, he could not let the retribution fall upon her that he intended to finish her up with' (Spielmann and Layard, p. 205).
Sir Gorgius and Lady Midas, on the other hand, represent the vulgar, tactless, and despised. Whereas Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns was a beautiful, slim woman, the Midases are both fat and ugly. Their touch turns everything that is elegant and splendid into something vulgar and repulsive. Sir Gorgius -- his name reflects his rapacious habits of eating and ironically highlights his unpleasant appearance -- is a businessman who has apparently made his millions during the reckless industrial growth of earlier decades. This old-time capitalist is blunt and ruthless, but he affects a humility that he believes is expected of his class. In 'Humility in Splendour' he and his wife and a minister sit at the Midas dinner table surrounded by six servants and palatial splendor. The centrepiece on the table is an elaborately wrought urn nearly five feet tall and which dominates the illustration. The caption reads: 'The Reverend Lazarus Jones (who has been honored by an invitation to lunch with that great man, Sir Gorgius Midas, just returned from America). "I suppose you are glad to get back to your comfortable house again, Sir Gorgius?" Sir Gorgius Midas (who perhaps does not like his palatial residence to be called a "comfortable house") "Yes, Jones! Be it ever so 'umble, Jones, there's no place like 'owe!'" (74 [February 9, 1878]:58)
When the Midas family mixes with the true aristocracy whose manners and language are refined and elegant, the vulgarity of the nouveau riche stands out for ridicule. The aristocracy functions in this series in much the same way that 'Our Gallant Colonel' does in the aesthetic drawings: they both provide the artist's perspective through which the reader understands and laughs at the satiric victim. Having tea with Lady Gwendoline Beaumanoir, Sir Gorgius laments in his lower-class dialect that 'society's gettin' much too mixed, yer Ladyship! I can assure you, when Lady M's a drivin' about London in one of 'er hopen carriages, she 'ardly dares look up, for fear o' seein' someone she knows on the top of a homnibus!' Lady Beaumanoir sharply replies, 'Yes, very sad! By the way, I'm afraid she'll often see Papa there; but never me, you know! Mama and I always go inside!'"
du Maurier's favorite device for ridiculing the Midas family is to have Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns snub and outclass them. In 'Honour When Honour Is Due'26 Mrs de Tomkyns is lounging securely in a chair as she listens to Sir Gorgius's complaint that he has not been made a peer: 'Why it's enough to make a man turn radical, 'anged if it ain't, to think of sich services as mine bein' rewarded with no 'igher title than what's bestowed on a heminent sawbones, or a hingerneer, or a literary man, or even a successful hartist'. Mrs Ponsonby replies sympathetically, 'It does seem hard! But you've only to bide your time, Sir Gorgius. No man of your stamp need ever despair of a peerage!' (78 [May 15, 1880]:222). On another occasion -- 'Music at Home - With A Vengeance' -- du Maurier plays off Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyn's superiority in securing after-dinner entertainments. As Sir Gorgius and Lady Midas prepare to leave the party, Lady Midas compliments the star performer: 'How charmingly you play, Hare Leebart! Dear Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns must really bring you down to play to us at Midas Towers, our place in Surrey, you know, and -1 will show you my roses, the finest roses in all England! Will Thursday suit you?' Herr Leibhardt rejoins: 'You are ferry vrently, Matame! Pot I haf a vife and zix jiltren, and -- zey to not life upon roses' (83 [July 8, 1882]:6).
Ormond complains that the recurrent jokes at these easy and defenceless targets are at times repellent and reflect a snobbery and social insecurity which demanded a victim (338). du Maurier's attacks, however, do not seem any more ruthless or unjustified than those of Dickens and Thackeray upon their socially ambitious and pretentious characters. du Maurier is a snob and does little to hide the fact. Some of the major characters in his novels (especially Barty Josselin, in The Martian) reflect the same sense of superiority. Barty Josselin is du Maurier's ideal man -- handsome, tall, intelligent, witty, sensitive, and, not surprisingly, a proponent of eugenics. Sir Gorgius is a grotesque parody of that ideal, a painful reminder of social and aesthetic imperfection that must be abused, attacked, laughed at. As Henry James noted, du Maurier 'has a peculiar perception of the look of breeding, of race; and that left to himself, as it were, he would ask nothing better than to make it the prerogative of all his characters. For looking out into the world he perceives Sir Gorgius Midas ... and the whole multitude of the vulgar who have not been cultivated like orchids and race-horses' (p. 350).
There are a large number of foreigners in du Maurier's drawings, mostly comic stereotypes of different national groups. The Frenchman and the German are his two favourites. The Frenchman, of course, he knows intimately from his own family and from the years he spent in Paris. du Maurier's Frenchman is a considerable improvement over John Leech's Frenchman, whose most outstanding trait was that he became seasick every time he crossed the Channel. du Maurier first distinguishes the physical characteristics of the Frenchman from the Englishman. The English are usually drawn as lean, tall, angular figures; whereas the French appear to be short and plump, with short necks and round stomachs. In 'Consequence of the Tower of Babel' du Maurier satirizes the Frenchman's notorious trait of refusing either to learn or to speak English. A young Englishwoman abroad at a hotel dining room shares this dialogue with a Frenchman sitting next to her: '"Parlez-vous Français, mademoiselle?" "No, Sir." "Sprechen sie Deutsche, Fraulein?" "No." "Habla usted Espag�ol, Senorita?" "No." "Parlate Italiano, Signorina?" "No."' Finally she asks him, 'Do you speak English sir?' And he replies, 'Helas! Non, Mademoiselle!' and sighs deeply (76 [February 15, 1879]:66). In 'At Bullong' du Maurier has another turn at linguistic play, this time at the expense of the Englishman. Mr. Belleville, who likes to air his French before his friends, asks a saleswoman in a French boutique: 'Avvyvoo la Parfume du -- er -- du Jockey-Club?' The saleslady replies, 'O yes, sare! Ve have all ze English smells!' (79 [October 23, 1880]:186). The Gallic wit is evident again in 'British Tourists Abroad'. An Englishman and his wife are in a French shop and the husband tells his wife to ask the proprietor if he has a directory. In her broken French she inquires, 'Er -- esker vous avez le directoire, monsieur?' He answers, 'Oh, non, madame. Nous avons la republique, � pr�sent!' (87 [August 23, 1884]:86). Over and over again, the English tourist is rendered as mute, inexpressive, or awkward in handling the French language or understanding its culture. The French, consequently, appear superior and quietly and wittily put the English foreigner in his place. No matter how high an opinion the English have of themselves, they usually appear stiff, provincial, and much too serious. Beneath the humor of these encounters between the two cultures -- usually designed as a linguistic duel -- du Maurier seems to side with the highly civilized Frenchman.
Most of du Maurier's Germans, on the other hand, are rendered as comic characters, and usually are musicians. Henry James says that he captured 'the very temperament of the German pianist' (p. 361), a figure that appears numerous times at the after-dinner entertainments of Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns and others. du Maurier, of course, had firsthand experience with visiting foreign musicians when he attended the elegant dinner parties at Tulse Hill and Little Holland House, and in his drawings he goes to the heart of the temperamental and egotistical nature of the German impressarios. One of his finest pieces is entitled 'A Sensitive Plant' depicting Herr Pumpernickel bent over the keyboard of his piano and sobbing dramatically -- to the consternation of his English admirers. The caption reads: '(Herr Pumpernickel, having just played a Composition of his own, bursts into Tears.) Chorus of Friends. "Oh, what is the matter? What can we do for you?" Herr Pumpernickel. "Ach! Nossing! Nossing! Bot ven I hear really coot music, zen must I always veep!"' (73 [August 11, 1877]:54). As in his satires of the French du Maurier enjoys the misunderstandings that come about in the clash of two languages. In 'At Loss for a Word' the satire stings both the German musician and the English lady who just completed a performance at the piano: 'Distinguished Foreigner. "Ach! Meess! I goncratulate you vrom de pottom of my harrt!!! You have blayed and zung kvite -- kvite -" Fair Performer. "Quite execrably?" Distinguished Foreigner. "Ach! Yes! Dafs is de vortp -- quite exekraply.'" (63 [August 3, 1872]:48).Most of du Maurier's Germans resemble each other: they are short and stocky with full faces and heavy moustaches. Many of them look like Albert Einstein, with his round, dark eyes and slightly drooping, heavy eyelids, and bushy eyebrows. When he came to write Trilby du Maurier resurrected the character of the comic German in the person of Herr Kreutzer, supposedly a well-known composer, who sings the praises of Trilby: 'All music is koot ven she zings it' (p. 259).
Almost as foreign to du Maurier as the French and Germans are the English clergy. Although he was raised in a Christian household, the scepticism which du Maurier felt as a young man finally blossomed into an aggressive agnosticism by the 1890s. His loss of any religious faith and acceptance of Darwinism led him to devote many didactic pages of his novels, especially in The Martian, to an attack upon traditional Christianity. His drawings in Punch, however, reflect a much lighter tone and mood, and suggest that du Maurier's attitude in the 1870s and 1880s was more tolerant of the clergy at that time. A typical figure is the shy curate who, in 'Things One Would Rather Have Left Unsaid', comes to a house on parish business and is told by Miss Margaret that 'I'm so sorry Mama and my sisters are out!' He then proceeds to put his foot in his mouth by remarking, 'Oh, pray don't mention it. One of the family is quite enough!' (95 [December 8, 1888]:267). On another occasion the young curate is addressed by his older clergyman host: T'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones'. Exercising his true humility, the curate replies, 'Oh no, my lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!' ('True Humility', 109 [November 9, 1885]:222). du Maurier's curates are usually on the defensive. Shy and unassuming, they are saddled with all the menial tasks of the parish, and du Maurier sympathizes with their tentative position in society and treats them with a gentle humour.
The bishop, on the other hand, comes in for a more telling blow. Visiting the home of a somewhat carelessly outspoken old woman, he is told: 'Ah, Bishop, what a heavenly sermon that was of yours last Sunday, about worldliness and the vanities of flesh! -- it nearly made me cry! And I say, Bishop, how hard it hit you and me!!!' ('A Home Thrust', 66 [June 13, 1874]:248). The influence of the bishop comes under attack in 'Effect of Episcopal Influence' (81 [December 10, 1891]:220). In a busy street scene, the bishop is pictured riding through the crowds from which he claims another member for his church: 'It's all very well to become a radical or an atheist, and all that; but a Bishop's a Bishop! So at least poor Todeson finds out, when the Bishop of Clapham ... takes him for someone else, and favours him with a gracious wave of the hand -- thereby reclaiming him to the bosom of the established Church'. The bishop appears in several other drawings and du Maurier rounds his personality by showing him dealing with the worldly affairs of his family. Like Lord Chesterfield, he gives his youngest and favorite son some practical advice about the choice of a profession: 'Now why shouldn't you adopt the stage as a profession, Theodore? Lord Ronald Beaumanoir, who's a year younger than yourself, is already getting sixteen guineas a week for low comedy parts at the Criterion! The Duchess told me so herself only yesterday!' The drawing is appropriately entitled 'Tempora Mutantor' ('Almanack', 79 [December, 1880]). The fact that the times are changing is brought home to the bishop himself in a later drawing in which he attempts to lecture the son of an American lady aboard ship in mid-Atlantic in 'Heard in Mid-Atlantic', 'When I was your age, my young friend, it was not considered good manners for little boys to join in the conversation of grown-up people, unless they were invited to do so'. The small American boy looks up at the bishop and says, 'Guess that was seventy or eighty years ago. We've changed all that, you bet' (84 [February 3, 1883]:51). In a later drawing entitled 'Our Curates', du Maurier allows this oppressed group to deliver the final, if ephemeral, blow to the vicars and bishops who run the church. Standing with legs apart in a posture of great strength and determination, a curate addresses a seated acquaintance: 'My Vicar's away! I preach three times on Sunday, and boss the entire show' (97 [August 31, 1889]:97).
Given du Maurier's conservatism, it comes as no surprise that the liberated woman and the subject of women's rights come in for ridicule. Curates and bishops may be guilty of an occasional breach of good manners, but for women to demand an equal social footing with men was a cardinal sin against the status quo that gave the solidity to du Maurier's world. In 'Taking Time by the Forelock' du Maurier expresses his hostility toward women in the professions. A young girl reports to her mother that 'Uncle George says every woman ought to have a profession, and I think he's quite right'. Her bravado is diminished, however, when she explains, T mean to be a professional beauty' (79 [December 11, 1880]:270). Beauty, domesticity, and a loving character were the attributes in women prized by du Maurier. In another drawing the attractive Cousin Bella admires the opinion of Mr Fibson who told her he could not bear intellectual women: 'He said woman's mission was to be beautiful' ('Men Were Deceivers Ever', Punch 89 [November 21, 1885]:246). In 'The Coming Race' du Maurier depicts the reversal of the sexes in the profession of medicine. The drawing suggests one relationship between the man and woman but the caption undercuts that initial suggestion. In the illustration one sees a young lady dressed in all her Victorian finery -- from bustle to hat trimmed with roses -- looking in a beseeching manner up at a tall, dominant man dressed in a practical business suit. The caption reads: 'Dr Evangeline. "By the bye, Mr Sawyer, are you engaged to-morrow afternoon? I have rather a ticklish operation to perform -- an amputation, you know". Mr Sawyer. "I shall be very happy to do it for you". Dr Evangeline. "O, no, not that! But will you kindly come and administer the chloroform for me?"' du Maurier gets away with a neat visual trick, one that works even today when women physicians are more common ( 63 [September 14, 1872]: 13).
The intellectual woman is cleverly ridiculed in 'The Higher Education of Women' where Jones asks Miss Jessica if she saw the star-showers the other night. Miss Jessica makes a rapid but comprehensive survey of the heavens and replies, 'No, but it couldn't have been much, for there are no stars missing' (73 [December 22, 1877]:279). In 'Terrible Result of the Higher Education of Women' du Maurier shows a group of beautiful women being escorted by older men past a line of frustrated handsome young men. Miss Hypatia Jones, 'Spinster of Arts', informs her companion, Professor Parallax, that 'young men do very well to look at, or to dance with, or even to marry, and all that kind of thing! But as to enjoying any rational conversation with any man under fifty, that is completely out of the question!' (66 [January 24, 1874]:38).
All of the women in the drawings described above are beautiful and graceful, but their commitment to intellectual pursuits is made to seem both incongruous and superficial. When du Maurier draws a feminist leader, however, his pencil becomes more cruel. Miss Gander Bellweather, 'the famous champion of women's rights, the future founder of a new philosophy', is an extremely ugly, masculine-looking figure. She gathers around her the young intellectuals of the day, all of whom are ugly and weak-looking little men. Standing at the edge of the drawing, a handsome young lady remarks to Captain Dandelion: 'Isn't it a pretty sight to see the rising young geniuses of the day all flocking to her side, and hanging on her lips, and feasting on the sad and earnest utterances wrung from her indignant heart by the wrongs of her wretched sex?' Captain Dandelion finds the whole affair distasteful and remarks: 'Wather pwefer sfce-women myself -- wather pwefer the wretched sex with all its wongs -haw!'('Extremes that Meet', Punch 66 [March 14, 1874]:110). If, in du Maurier's drawings, the advocates of women's rights look like ugly men, the beautiful women who follow the feminist line and assert their equal rights are made to look foolish by appearing to parody men. 'The Fair Sex-Tett', for example, shows 'the accomplishments of the rising Female Generation' (68 [April 3, 1875]:150). Six elegantly dressed and coiffured young ladies are depicted giving a musical performance before an exclusively male audience. Although most of the men are listening attentively, one man is seen leaning out of his box watching the six beauties through a pair of binoculars. This is one of several drawings that trivializes the accomplishments of the women's movement. Another drawing is based upon the sacred Victorian institution of the men's club. du Maurier presents a female club -- another imagined accomplishment of women's push for equal rights -- in which Miss Firebrace, reclining in a lounge chair, addresses her friend, Julia: 'Send your horse home, and stop and dine with me, Julia! I've asked Trixy Rattlecash and Emily Sheppard'. Julia, with a sigh of regret for the freedom of spinsterhood and the charms of club life, replies, 'Can't, my dear girl! My sainted old father-in-law's just gone back to Yorkshire, and poor Belly's all alone!' ('Female Clubs vs. Matrimony', Punch , 'Almanack', 74 [December, 1880]). Silly and ridiculous as all of these imagined women are, du Maurier obviously saw the feminist movement as a threat to the established order of Victorian society. His ideal of womanhood, on the other hand, is one that will be discussed later as part of his private world. His beautiful woman dominates both his drawings and his novels. The political woman is one he did not know well and her demands were never clearly understood by him. Consequently, the fiery flesh-and-blood reality of actual feminists he tamed and transformed through caricature.
du Maurier rarely draws the lower classes. Not only did his editor advise him not to, but du Maurier himself did not know or even care to know that group. He found them to be ugly, dirty, noisy, and threatening. And that is how they are portrayed in the few cartoons he did of them. But du Maurier did know the lower classes as represented by the servants, who were a vital part of the upper-class world. He and others on the Punch staff set forth the comedy of upstairs versus downstairs that exhibited the misunderstandings and feelings that existed between servant and master. Although frequently patronizing in his tone, du Maurier nevertheless sympathized with the outspoken and sometimes exploited group so necessary in the maintenance of genteel households. The servants of Sir Gorgius Midas suffer rather outrageous treatment, as befits his brutal attitude toward those less fortunate than he. Coming home at two in the morning, he is outraged to find only four footmen to greet him at the door: 'A pretty state of things, indeed!' he exclaims to the head footman. 'So that if I'd a' 'appened to brought 'ome a friend, there'd a' only been you four to led us hin, hay!' ('The Height of Magnificence', 78 [February 7, 1880]:59). Under the guise of sentimentality, the footman is made to suffer again, this time at the hands of a tender-hearted and impulsive lady who orders him to behave like an animal: 'You see this poor kitten the children have found? It is motherless! Get some milk, Thomas! Mew like its mother -- and feed it!' ('All in the Day's Work', 72 [June 30, 1877]:294). The drawing is, of course, satirical but it also reveals the patronizing attitudes of the upper class toward their servants. Despite the humor, there is an unpleasant tone to the picture that seems to reflect du Maurier's own sense of superiority. Sometimes it is the improper use of language by a servant that delights the author, as in this dialogue between a lady and a prospective servant: '"Yes, mum, father kept an inn at Little Peddington, and mother kept the post-office there". "And your late master -- who and what was he?" "The Reverend Mr Wilkins, Ma'am. He kept a vicarage at Medlingham, close by!"' The drawing is ironically entitled 'A New Trade' (96 [May 4, 1889]:210).
When du Maurier allows his servants a sweet moment of revenge upon their masters, he chooses the Midas family for his victim. In 'A Butler's Revenge' the butler brings a tray to Lady Midas who is seated right next to an important visitor: '"Well, Rivers, what are these?" Rivers (who has received warning). "The decanter stoppers, my Lady. Just after the gentlemen left the dining-room to jine the ladies, Sir Gorgius locked up the decanters, as usual, but he forgot the stoppers; so I thought I'd better bring 'em up to your Ladyship!"' (79 [January 1, 1881]:306). When the servant class is depicted talking among themselves they sometimes exhibit their own version of snobbery. In 'Self-Respect' a cook asks a fellow servant who has just returned from an interview for a new position if she is going to accept the job: 'Not if I knows it! Why, when I got there, blest if there wasn't the two young ladies of the 'ouse both a' usin' of one piano at the same time: "Well" thinks I, "this his a comin' down in the world". So I thought I was best say good mornin'!' (66 [June 20, 1874]:263). Most of du Maurier's servants, except for a few of the young women, are drawn with a great deal of individual character. Unlike the majority of his upper-class figures who resemble each other, the servants have strikingly different features, sizes, shapes, and clothing.The beautiful upper classes, on the other hand, have lost some of their individuality because they are drawn according to du Maurier's fixed ideal of the aristocracy.
du Maurier's public world -- the society pictures surveyed above -- served as the basis for much that appears in his three novels. The character of Joe Sibley in Trilby, for example, while based upon James Whistler, owes a great deal to du Maurier's satire of the aesthetic movement. A bohemian nonconformist, Sibley is described as 'the idle apprentice' (p. 142), beauty being an end in itself. du Maurier's drawing of Sibley also captures the qualities of his satire of the aesthetes in Punch, with its emphasis upon outlandish dress and affected postures. The nouveau riche also reappear in his novels, though there are no characters as crude and vulgar as Sir Gorgius Midas. But the narrator of The Martian, Sir Robert Maurice, announces 'I'm a Philistine and not ashamed' (p. 412). du Maurier nevertheless treats this character with the same respect and gentle satire that he reserved for Mrs Ponsonby de Tomkyns. There are a few comic foreigners in the novels, like Herr Kreutzer, but du Maurier's most famous foreigner, Svengali, is a serious, menacing figure. When du Maurier attempts to treat him humorously, the humor quickly degenerates to a cruel and savage satire that fails to disguise the author's loathing of this Polish Jew. The gentle satire of the clergymen in Punch also degenerates into an extended serious attack upon Christianity in the novels. In Trilby, for instance, Little Billee proclaims his agnosticism in the presence of a country vicar who finally exclaims, 'You're trying to rob me of my Saviourl Never you dare to darken my door-step again!' (p. 286).
The subject of women's rights, on the other hand, does not arise in the novels. du Maurier essentially relinquished the role of satirist when he began writing, and the women he depicts in his novels are all very serious, beautiful, and idealized characters. They are a vital part of his dream world -- as will be shown later -- and consequently, he shuts out the threatening feminist from his idealized world. The servants and lower classes also do not play a prominent part in his novels. Trilby, of course, is a major exception. She is a servant girl who is magically transformed into a magnificent singer and thus wins the adulation of the upper and aristocratic classes. In his society pictures du Maurier attempted to portray everyone from the aesthetes to the servants as comic stereotypes and, with a clever caption, he satirized them. His novels, on the other hand, are more concerned with ideals and dreams, reflections of his inner nature that he only rarely exhibited in his drawings.
Other Sections of "George du Maurier: The Satiric Artist"
du Maurier, George. 'The Illustration of Books from the Serious Artist's Point of View. � II.' Magazine of Art. September, 1890.
_____. Peter Ibbetson. New York, 1891.
_____. Trilby. New York, 1894.
James, Henry. 'George du Maurier', in Partial Portraits. London, 1899.
Lucy, Sir Henry. Sixty Years in the Wilderness New York, 1909.
McMullen, Roy. Victorian Outsider: A Biography of]. A. M. Whistler. New York, 1973.
Meredith, George. The Egoist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.
Pater, Walter. The Renaissance. London: Macmillan, 1910.
Spielmann, M. H. and L. S. Layard. Kate Greenaway. New York, 1968.
Whistler, J. A. M. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. ed. Sheridan Ford New York, 1890.
Wilde, Oscar. 'The Decay of Lying', in Intentions. London: Methuen, 1899.
Last modified 24 July 2003