Based on a William Hogarth painting, Marriage: A – la – Mode is the final image in a series of prints illustrating the tragic tale of two individuals marrying solely for money and social status. The woman in the center, the Countess, has committed suicide by overdosing on laudanum, a medication used to treat pain in the eighteenth century, after reading the broadsheet at her feet which states that her illicit lover has hanged for murdering her husband. Laudanum, a tincture of opium, was addictive and often abused, leading to accidental overdoses and suicides. The allocation of laudanum in the eighteenth century resembles today’s opioid epidemic. The United States has seen dangerous spikes in opioid addictions and overdoses due to the overprescribing of powerful pain medications.
The child clinging to the Countess highlights another serious, often hidden health issue plaguing society in London during the period. A black dot rests on the child’s cheek, indicating that they have syphilis. The child’s father, the Earl, had sought treatment for his syphilis infection in the series’s third print after becoming infected by a sex worker. Notably, the child is also wearing leg braces, illustrating the side effects of the disease and the likelihood that they will be left disabled from the lack of effective treatment. In depicting the child in this manner, Hogarth provides a pointed commentary, demonstrating his outdated views of society’s immoral and reckless behavior. While Hogarth’s negative interpretation of a child with a disability is no longer ethical or acceptable, there is still a great deal of work ahead to support individuals with disabilities across the country and to promote their positive representation in printed and virtual media.