Oxford Art Journal March 2012

Posted in journal articles by Editor on March 27, 2012

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Dominic Janes, “Unnatural Appetites: Sodomitical Panic in Hogarth’s The Gate of Calais, or, O the Roast Beef of Old England (1748),” Oxford Art Journal 35 (March 2012): 19-31.

William Hogarth, "O the Roast Beef of Old England ('The Gate of Calais')," oil on canvas, 1748 (London: Tate Britain)

Abstract: Hogarth’s The Gate of Calais, also known as O the Roast Beef of Old England (1748), has been extensively studied in relation to its expression of British Protestant prejudice against the French and against Roman Catholicism. However, other aspects of the work have not received such attention. In the eighteenth-century the appetite for food was popularly employed as a metaphor for sexual desire. The painting, and the widely circulated engraving made from it, could, therefore, admit of an erotic reading, particularly bearing in mind the frequency of complex sexual references in Hogarth’s works. The carnality so satirised was not simply related to anti-Catholic parody of transubstantiation, because this composition can be interpreted as having been structured around coded expressions of same-sex desire. Hogarth’s interest in this theme can be related not only to his homosocial environment, but also to the events in Calais that inspired him. Hogarth’s experience as a prisoner aroused in him a ‘sodomitical panic’ which can be seen as the precursor of the ‘homosexual panic’ studied by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as an aspect of male sexual anxiety at the end of the nineteenth century. This work can be interpreted, therefore, as evidence for sexual as well as national and religious insecurity in mid-eighteenth-century Britain.

Dominic Janes is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History of Art and Screen Media, Birkbeck College, University of London. His work focuses on representations of religious belief, morality and sexuality in Britain since the eighteenth century. His most recent book is Victorian Reformation: The Fight over Idolatry in the Church of England, 1840–1860 (Oxford University Press, 2009). He is currently researching images of martyrdom and deviance during the duration of an AHRC Fellowship.

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