Critics have identified William Hogarth’s correlation of beauty with desire as the most original idea that his 1753 treatise contributes to aesthetic discourse in the eighteenth century, an idea emblematized in the formulation that visual intricacy “leads the eye a wanton kind of chace.” Wantonness is an important concept for Hogarth, denoting the mental state of a spectator who encounters a beautiful object. Wantonness is also a touchstone in interpretive accounts of Paradise Lost, exemplifying on the level of language the mimetic problems involved in Milton’s representation of prelapsarian experience. Hogarth’s version of wantonness is pragmatic, characterized by the duration and quality of the beholder’s attention and divested of moral overtones. Because the wanton chase transcends sex, it orients Hogarth’s aesthetics toward women as agents of discernment. Close readings of each passage from Milton’s poem cited in Hogarth’s Analysis support the author’s claim that a feminist account of aesthetic agency is at work in both texts.
Wantonness: Milton, Hogarth, and The Analysis of Beauty
abigail zitin is an assistant professor in the English department at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. She was the 2014–15 Carol G. Lederer Postdoctoral Fellow at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University. Her other essays on Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty have appeared in Eighteenth-Century Studies and elh.
Abigail Zitin; Wantonness: Milton, Hogarth, and The Analysis of Beauty. differences 1 May 2016; 27 (1): 25–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-3522745
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