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This image depicts ‘Madam Geneva.’ She is the personification of gin, which was popular amongst the desperately poor in eighteenth-century London. It was drunk neat and used as an escape from the harsh reality of life on the streets in notoriously impoverished areas such as St Giles, where this image takes place. ‘Madam Geneva’ had a strong hold on the London poor. It was believed that women were especially prone to drinking gin to excess, and perhaps for this reason, the drink was personified by the image of a woman, who was associated with failed motherhood and immorality. Gin was strong, cheap and readily available so people quickly became addicted to it. This apparently led to an increase in crime and delinquency on London’s streets. The case of Judith Defour, who murdered her daughter in order to sell her clothes for gin, encouraged the authorities to step in to restore order. To do so, they introduced The 1751 Gin Act, which was the last and most successful in a long succession of acts against the liquor. It prohibited gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants, and therefore dramatically reduced gin’s availability. Tea-drinking was promoted as a non-alcoholic and revitalizing alternative, although the Londoners were not happy with this poor substitute for their beloved mistress ‘Madam Geneva,’ hence, the re-publication of the print The Funeral March of Madam Geneva. The image was originally published in response to an earlier gin act in 1736, but was reissued on the 29 September 1751 by John Bowles. It is a satirical print showing a mock procession for the recently dead ‘Madam Geneva,’ who is depicted in a coffin, followed by a parade of St Giles locals mourning their loss. A nearly naked beggar walks close behind the coffin. An inscription beneath the image says that they were well-known in St Giles for their infatuation with ‘Madam Geneva’ and their subsequent madness. Drunken people lie forlornly in the foreground, unsure of how to live a sober life, and a sign hangs to the right of the print bearing the words, ‘Gin no more by retail.’ The print captures the devastation and loss felt in the lower class community when their one crutch in life, gin, was taken away.

-Elinor Lewis

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