Lawlor on Moores, 'Representations of France in English Satirical Prints 1740-1832'

John Richard Moores
Padraig Lawlor

John Richard Moores. Representations of France in English Satirical Prints 1740-1832. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. 261 pp. $95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-38013-5.

Reviewed by Padraig Lawlor (Perdue University) Published on Jhistory (November, 2016) Commissioned by Robert A. Rabe

In Representations of France in English Satirical Prints 1740-1832, historian John Richard Moores examines how Georgian satirical prints reveal attitudes towards the French “Other” that were far more complex, ambivalent, empathetic, and multidimensional than previously thought. Moores argues that despite some impressive continuities, the conventions of English satirical prints concerning France and the French were not static, but embodied a lithely evolving, convoluted array of elements. He contends that the caricatures not only represented ridicule and taunts toward the French, but also reflected upon English politics, society, and culture, thus revealing cultural insecurity rather than confident superiority. Moores asserts that 1740 to 1832 is significant because the period not only encompassed not only a more evolutionary social, political, and economic change within England, but also experienced several international wars and, in France, “the revolutions of 1789 and 1830, and the dramatic political ruptures from the ancien régime to revolutionary republicanism, the Napoleonic era, Bourbon restoration and overthrow” (p. 23).

Although Moores employs a rich array of primary material like satirical prints, it is his engagement with the historiographical debates surrounding 1740–1832, a period that covers the alleged golden age of the form, that drives his analysis. The first of the book’s six chapters incorporates a historiographical discussion detailing the debates which have divided “Four Nations” scholars. Moores positions himself by rejecting the findings of both Gerald Newman and Linda Colley, the latter of whom argued that a British identity was formed through its Protestant state and defined against a largely Catholic Europe. By seeking to recover the continuities, changes, evolutions, and fissures, in conjunction with close readings attentive to the details of designs and consideration of their ambiguities in light of recent satirical print historiography, Moores states, “it is possible to expose further the mistaken notions of, and to demand that greater care be taken in the employment of this material by future historians” (p. 23). The chapters thereafter are organized by themes and subthemes, connected through syntheses to support this initial framework.

In chapter 2, Moores analyzes the generic and social stereotypes of the French. Fashion and food, he asserts, were the two most prevalent themes utilized to define France and explicitly celebrate the comparatively superior condition within England. Yet such portrayals embodied greater complexity. Behind the promotion of English nationalism lay England’s domestic insecurities, and “these unstable satires could also undermine idealistic conceptions of England” (p. 25). Although historians have analyzed English depictions of the French as effeminate and simian, Moores states that graphic satirists of eighteenth-century London meticulously drew upon such characterizations not to attack French men and women, but French rulers. Characterizations of malnourishment, for example, had political implications because they revealed the moral failings of French rulers. Audiences were asked to sympathize with their oppressed counterparts and the satirical images welcomed empathy from Englishmen and women. Furthermore, there remained an enduring fear within the English psyche and culture of French habits reaching their shores. Satirical images suggested that French foods, fashions, and even political systems could cross the Channel to corrupt English society, institutions, and ideals.

Chapter 3 explores how the caricatures of French leaders and their subjects provoked more empathic responses from audiences. Although anti-French sentiment did not disappear, “there had developed something approaching an ‘amused tolerance’ of this particular foreigner” (p. 114). Indeed, Moores argues that the parallels in British and French representations, the projection of British-based anxieties onto foreign leaders, and the diminishing importance of religious differences, among others, meant that over the course of the long eighteenth century, the caricatured French ‘Other’ developed, becoming more human and worthy of empathy. Moores traces this transformation by surveying pre- and post-1789. Many English satires on the French, he contends, heralded critiques of the Hanoverians through the Bourbons and the fall of the French monarchy. The Napoleonic ascent subsequently had a destabilizing effect on the key themes and messages of English satirical prints, a subject further explored in chapter 4, where Moores analyzes war and, to a lesser extent, moments of peace between England and France. At first, the blending of graphic satirical satire and the horrors of war may appear inappropriate and rather incongruous. Moores argues, however, that the public relied on such artistic representations in order to experience and understand warfare. Furthermore, social and political prints provided their audience with alternative depictions of war to those found in journalism, literature, and history paintings. Thus satirical prints were less restricted by formal genre convention, were not necessarily obliged to construct polite, idealized portrayals, and were less subject to censorship. Caricatures became harsher exemplifications of the shifting social and political French landscape. This is further analyzed in chapter 5, where Moores examines the revolutions in France during the period. Here he illustrates how English satire responded to the shifting political and social events in France. This transformation acted not only as a prism whereby English audiences could observe and scrutinize France’s domestic affairs, but also as a mirror, which allowed spectators to reflect upon themselves and their own internal matters.

Chapter 6, the monograph’s closing chapter, inspects female contributions to and responses to France’s political and social life. As argued throughout, stereotypes of the French evolved according to the threat which French power posed to Britain. However, Moores adds that these new forms were also reactions to an attentive fascination with the nation and the projection of domestic anxieties onto this familiar, recognizable Other, with whom it was possible to identify and draw natural comparisons. While prints featuring “other Others” help to exemplify the English obsession with France, it is the characterizing of not just rivalry, war, and hatred, but also fascination, mutual respect, and identification which assisted in the construction of a national identity. Finally, to comprehend the unique connection between the French and English, Moores examines English representations of other nations such as the Spanish, Dutch, Germans, Scots, Welsh, and Irish. In doing so, Moores argues that although France continued to pose a threat to Britain through both its commercial power and the numerous wars fought between the two rival nations, it was a western European understanding and kinship that also helped to generate, nourish, and develop representations of the French.

Nestled within such a book is a study of complex Georgian satirical prints that ultimately reveals mindsets toward the French Other that prove to have been more complicated, ambivalent, and empathetic than once thought. Representations of France in English Satirical Prints 1740-1832, therefore, offers a thought-provoking study regarding the multifaceted aspects of not only the function and objective of satirical prints, but also the employment of their polemical agency and reactions of those whom the prints targeted. Moores successfully depicts how representations of the enemy were and are not always hostile, but act as a form of agency worthy of further examination. Indeed, the representations of France in English prints remind one of the commonalities shared by fierce enemies. Moores convincingly refutes the notion that Britain’s tempestuous relationship with France suggests that its national culture and identity was defined by its “Francophobia.” Rather he persuasively demonstrates “that print satires dealing with French subjects were often commenting pointedly on British politics, society or culture, often in ways which revealed cultural insecurity rather than confident national superiority” (p. 1). Moores warrants praise for his dynamic incorporation of primary printed materials and mastery of secondary literature. Those interested in material culture, transnational histories, literary culture, and international relations of the long eighteenth century will benefit from Moores’s compelling analysis.


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