The Circus

The Circus

Pp 164-166

18TH C

Gainsborough was fond of his sister to the point where he shared his secret life with her to some extent. He confided to her some of the problems he faced in his relationships not only with his wife but with his daughters and later his son-in-law. Mrs Gibbon was a staunch supporter of the Methodist Chapel and appears to have lived a rigidly disciplined life, but that did not stop Gainsborough from revealing his sexual exploits to her, or from borrowing money from her so that he might help the women involved on occasion. He freely admitted that he wasted far too much time running after pleasurable pursuits while Margaret nagged him to get back to his easle to earn more money.

He was easily tempted by the pleasures of life, especially when he was away from home. London offered him not only endless delights of the flesh but, in those days of leisurely communication, a certain amount of freedom from restraint in the form of his wife. His letters are often frank and revealing. Writing to a friend shortly after moving to Bath he described how he had been dangerously ill (he was suffering from a venereal disease) but was now on the mend and praised his "Dear Good Wife" who sat up every night to care for him.

Bearing in mind his shameful behaviour in London a few weeks earlier, he wrote that he would never be a good enough soul for his wife, no matter how he might try to mend his wicked ways.

However much Margaret must have loathed his infidelity and the consequences of his cavorting with prostitutes, there was nothing she could do about it. Her own father's sensational divorce had set the gossips' tongues wagging when she was a teenager but divorce was not an option to women in her situation. Georgian men had undisputed control not only of the family's finances, but over the lives of their wives and children as well. If a woman did take the shocking decision to leave her home, she had to kiss goodbye to her children as well as her husband and her home. There was simply no future in life for a married woman who abandoned her family. She was abandoned in turn by society.

Women of high rank suffered the same fate as their more lowly sisters. Margaret Gainsborough must probably knew the aristocratic Grace Dalrymple Eliot because Thomas painted her portrait. He shows her as a tall, slender figure, wearing a striking gold silk gown, her powdered hair dressed in a fshionably towering style. Known as Dally the Tall, she committed a faux pas of a nature her husband could not ignore. He rejected her and threw her out of the house. She had no alternative but to create a career for herself "on the town" in order to survive. In other words, she became a Georgian call girl.