Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beauty and Ugliness in the 18th Century

What I found most interesting in all four poems by Swift and Montagu was how each poem played with the contrasts of beauty and the things that cover up beauty. We discussed in class how elaborate the dress was at the time, and there is little doubt that this type of fashion was glamorous and perhaps even decadent. However, there was a purpose for these over-the-top garments. Because people at this time barely bathed it was necessary to wear wigs, elaborate fabrics, and excessive amounts of perfume and make-up to appear and smell more attractive. I think this is best portrayed in The Lady's Dressing Room. There are similar sentiments in the Young Nymph poem, but I don't necessarily agree that Swift viewed all women as being deceitful in covering up their ugliness (although it is an interesting idea after our discussion of Eve in Paradise Lost), because the woman in the poem is definitely a prostitute. I think this implies that she is below other women in morals, character, and beauty.

It is almost as if Montagu's poem serves the opposite purpose of Swift's. While playing with the same dualities of beauty and ugliness, Montague describes a woman who is covered by a disease that has taken her beauty away rather than something beautiful hiding ugliness. I also think it's interesting that what's covering up her beauty is something natural, but in the other poems it is the un-natural that covers up the ugliness.


  1. The concept of the natural things being ugly is an interesting one, particularly because I think these writers were producing at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Maybe this was a prevailing thought as machines, factories, and industry rose to prominence?

  2. I actually hadn't considered the fact that Swift might have meant for Corinna in "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed," to be deceitful because she covers up her real appearance. However, I agree with you that Corinna shouldn't be looked at as being deceitful because if that was the case, then by following the same logic all women who use makeup are “liars.”