“The Painted Cohorts”
In “A Harlot’s Progress,” William Hogarth illustrates the fallen woman’s characteristic journey from innocence to death. She begins as an attractive young woman who is brought into a house of ill repute where she loses her innocence and descends into the outwardly lavish yet inwardly degrading world of the eighteenth-century bawdy house. Before long, she is sentenced to prison, but after being released she returns to prostitution, contracts venereal disease, and dies. Journalists and novelists of Stephen Crane’s time, a century and a half after Hogarth, depicted the prostitute in much the same way. Crane’s contemporaries described her as a young woman seduced by a man who had promised her the world only to cast her by the wayside after corrupting her. Believing that no self-respecting man would want an impure woman, she turns to a life of prostitution. She first joins one of the finer parlor houses, but as her degradation continues, she descends to concert halls and, eventually, the streets. Finally, she kills herself.
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