This article presents a reading of William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress (1733–35) that considers the implications of Sarah Young from the perspective of eighteenth-century matrimonial practices. Historicizing the images within the context of the instability of marital conventions before the Marriage Act of 1753 in England and Wales, especially the notorious clandestine marriage trade of London, I argue that there is a strong suggestion throughout that Sarah may not be simply a discarded mistress, but actually the rake's first wife. By contemplating ways in which the moral lesson could not only be directed at aspiring rakes and cits, but also at couples resorting to nonstandarized forms of marriage, this interpretation adds another dimension to Hogarth's entertainingly didactic depiction of the dangerous allurements of city life.

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