Using Contemporary Graphic Design To Slander Former Heads of State
Posted 11 February 2009 in Books by Catriona
This is a slightly wonky photograph of a late nineties edition of 1932’s Devil’s Cub, itself a sequel to 1926’s These Old Shades. (Well, not a direct sequel: it deals with the original protagonist’s son.)
Judging from the creases, I seem to have fallen asleep on this book at some point, which isn’t uncommon.
It’s not a bad read, provided that you like your heroes on the aggressive side, which I don’t, really. It’s fun, if not quite as funny as some of the others.
But take a closer look at the cover, in Exhibit B:
Yep, that’s William Lamb, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
He’s perhaps best known as the somewhat unfortunate husband of Lady Caroline Lamb, said to be slightly embarrassed by her affectionate portrait of him in her first novel, Glenarvon (1816) and even more so by her rather warm (to use the contemporary euphemism) description of their married life.
But he steadfastly refused to divorce his wife, although the novel itself would probably have given him grounds even if her affair with Lord Byron hadn’t been quite so public. He seems, too, to have given his wife advice towards her later novels, despite any embarrassment he might have felt about Glenarvon.
And he was Queen Victoria’s prime minister, after his wife’s early death and his own accession to the title of Lord Melbourne.
Okay, he was named by Caroline Norton’s husband as the subject of a criminal conversation trial that nearly destroyed the government. But there was no proof and he resisted Norton’s attempts at blackmail. And though this was a horrible situation for Caroline Norton, whose husband prevented from seeing her three sons and refused to grant her the divorce that might have allowed her to remarry, she did put the experience to good use: it was primarily due to her agitation that Parliament passed the Custody of Infants Act (1839) and the Matrimonial Causes Act (1857)—the latter allowed women to retain control over their own property after marriage and to take court action on their own behalf (which would in turn contribute to women being able to seek divorces themselves, instead of having to wait to be divorced).
(See also Caroline Norton’s Defense: English Laws for Women in the 19th Century, edited by Joan Huddleston, for more information on Norton. It’s out of print, unfortunately, but fascinating.)
Okay, so William Lamb didn’t actively take part in those campaigns.
But I still think that depicting him right above the red-inked slogan “Devil’s Cub” is going a little fair.