Punch, L (March 3, 1866):89

The Fenian-Pest

his Punch cartoon from the March 3, 1866 issue is an example of both the derogatory, ape-like depictions of Irishmen (specifically the Fenians and the laudable aspect of Ireland represented by Hibernia, Britannia's sister, so often found in this popular Victorian publication. Tenniel composed this cartoon for Punch in a highly politicized context: a number of Fenian leaders had been apprehended in Britain six months prior to the composition of this cartoon. Furthermore, according to L. P. Curtis, in the mid-1860s Irish-English friction was at a high. Tenniel, depicts the rebellious Irishmen, those "troublesome people," as ape-like and unkempt. The main Irish character glares menacingly at Britannia, with his mouth agape and a sword-like weapon partially concealed under his coat. Behind him are other Fenians, chaotically amassed and presumably anxious to make trouble. Here the stereotype of Irishmen as violent, simian and unorganized reveals itself.

Still, Tenniel does not draw Ireland as unconditionally monstrous. On the contrary, the character Hibernia (Ireland) is very attractive. She looks to her sister Britannia, for assistance inquiring: "O my dear sister, what are we to do with these troublesome people?" Here we see the positive aspect of Ireland, the feminine, natural, younger maiden seeking Britain's protection and advice. Meanwhile, Britannia, in comparison to Hibernia, is more poised, muscular and masculine. Dressed in Roman garb, her stern look meets the tattered Irishman's resentful scowl while Hibernia, the weaker sibling, turns away from the threatening Fenian. The placement of figures also has symbolic importance. Hibernia is formally between Britannia and the Fenians. Similarly, her foot partially steps on the mat of rebellion while her stronger sister's foot lands fully on the mat, symbolically breaking the word in two parts. Again, Hibernia's relative weakness communicates itself to the Punch reader in her smaller stature and less upright posture. Though both are women, Britannia looks more like a knight ready to protect his frightened damsel; the British character here represents all that is strong, patriotic and upright while even the loyal aspect of Ireland gets drawn as more natural, feminine and weak.

[Victorian initial "T" by Harlan Wallach ©copyright 1994.]

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