Wigs became prominent in the eighteenth century as "men were distinguished by the cut of the wig" they wore (Powell 85). The notorious rake Colonel Francis Charteris appears wearing a wig in this plate. Often wigs were a clear indicator of, "different social roles, occupations, aspirations, and conditions" (Powell 80). The wig Charteris wears in this plate is expensive, as he was a wealthy and well-connected man.
Clothing in the eighteenth century was important to men and women, as many people spent a considerable amount of their disposable income on it in comparison to, "other durable and semi-durable consumer goods" (Walsh 218). Typically, men and women of the lower class had similar clothing to that of the upper class. This differentiation in the fabrics that were worn by the lower and upper classes appeared as, "a shift from woollens to cotton materials... but the main appeal was the appearance rather than the cheapness... of printed cottons" (Walsh 219). In this plate Moll is seen wearing a dress, an article of clothing that is not necessarily indicative of her social class, as it could have been worn by a person of any social class.
Colonel Francis Charteris
Colonel Francis Charteris stands at the doorway of a decaying building. He was known as an infamous pervert, nicknamed ‘The Rape-Master General of Britain’ (De Voogd 59). He had been convicted for the rape of a maidservant in his employment, and his suggestive gaze – directed at Moll – conveys his carnal intentions. He "fondles himself in expectation", symbolic of Moll’s inevitable decline into a life of prostitution.
Also popularly known as Mother Needham, she ran an exclusive brothel in the St. James’ district of London in the eighteenth century. Unlike the majority of brothel keepers at the time, Needham specialized in young, virgin girls, rather than experienced prostitutes (Webb 108). She achieved this by meeting wagons and coaches arriving from the countryside, as exemplified by the wagon in the background of the plate. She ensnared innocent country-girls by hiding the true nature of her profession.
The Parallel between Deception and Prostitution
Artistic representations of females during this time period often showed them as prostitutes (Brewer 14). Plate 1 shows Moll arriving in London and instead of being welcomed by her cousin as she hoped, she is greeted by a bawd. This deception strengthens the eighteenth century anti-prostitution narrative and ultimately leads Moll “into the life of vice” (Momberger 49).
Innocence to Exploitation
A depiction of Moll’s societal class as low in Plate 1 is structured by her "modest" form of dress (Bartual 86). This demure look on Moll, bestows unconsciously upon herself the preying eyes of an ill intentioned upper class lady upon her arrival in Cheapside, a well-known street connecting the East and West of London. Moll’s purpose is to seek employment of some kind, "probably as a maid," (Bartual 86).
The scissors connect Moll to the promiscuity of seamstresses and tailors during this era (Santesso 505). Scissors were also perceived as resembling the male genitals while the blades resembled legs; subsequently the open blades symbolize promiscuity (Santesso 505).
Common slang words for ‘whore’ were ‘green goose’ and ‘Winchester goose’ (Momberger 57). Furthermore, the goose foreshadows Moll’s impending death (Momberger 57).
The protagonist, Moll Hackabout, has arrived in London. Moll carries scissors and a pincushion hanging on her arm, suggesting that she sought employment as a seamstress. Instead, she is being inspected by the pox-riddenElizabeth Needham, a notorious procuress and brothel-keeper, who wants to secure Moll for prostitution. The notorious rake Colonel Francis Charteris and his pimp, John Gourlay, look on, also interested in Moll. The two stand in front of a decaying building, symbolic of their moral bankruptcy. Charteris fondles himself in expectation (Source: Wikipedia).