Picturing the “Road to Ruin”: Visual Representations of a Standard Temperance Narrative, 1830–1855

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Abstract:

Within a few years of the establishment of an English temperance movement in the early 1830s, some radical temperance reformers distanced themselves from principles of moderation in order to promote the more extreme tenets of teetotalism and total abstinence. Temperance propaganda regularly employed a “road to ruin” narrative in order to warn drinkers of the inevitability of economic and spiritual ruin resulting from the consumption of alcohol. Illustration was occasionally used to reinforce the written text, the most notable being George Cruikshank's eight-plate series The Bottle (1847). However, images published during the late 1840s and 1850s show that a few individuals, including Cruikshank (1792–1878), challenged entrenched attitudes and radically shifted the focus of temperance propaganda.
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