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The Fine Print

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Given what is at least whimsy, if not close observation, on the part of the artist or engraver, I think it's not accidental that the beggar begs beneath a sign for gin on sale. And it's hard to see the ambiguity in the wealthy couple as accidental. I mean the ambiguity in their pose, not necessarily in themselves as characters. The woman could possibly be reaching to give, but I think more likely she's leaning forward in a reflexively compassionate way but still waving him off, while the man is more than upright, actually leaning backwards, with his hand in his pocket, from which I intuit a reflex to protect his money rather than to share it. I can easily imagine a tradition of those artists constrained to work for a living as engravers taking license whenever possible, and especially in mid-19th century England or America, when "social study" was getting more politicized. And now that my morning tea is gone, I can easily see myself doing with this snapshot what we all do daily with snapshots from our lives (when we are often terribly, if usually innocently, wrong). I might glimpse a couple on the street corner and wonder if they are fighting or exchanging witty words of love. Then, I can imagine recursively someone watching me watching them, who then wonders what my interest is in that poor couple who is hard of hearing and must shout closely at each other, and then ... yes, John, it was a good, strong cup of tea.

John Ptak

Really? I see this differently when I read the actions. I see the woman saying something like "no" with a wag of the finger; the guy is protecting whatever he has in his pocket. Maybe this is because on that day I got questioned by three people for money on my three-bock walk t the bank, where I was going to deposit some pocket lint and a button--one guy was gonna sell me a cell phone, and another was selling a knife (?). The third just wanted beer money at 9:15. A.M.


No, I think we're close on this one. I think the woman IS saying no, but just that she's leaning forward, connecting in a way that women do much more than men. I fully agree about the man ... leaning backwards, absolutely a posture of protecting what he's reaching for in his pocket. And the kid is looking around, drinking it all in. The woman could be pointing, but I see her hand as an edge view of an open hand, with the palm down, gently saying no. She also might be leaning forward speaking for the family before the man says some stupid, pompous thing for which the woman would have trouble even thinking about getting in the same bed with him later. There are many details to protecting a marriage. I may be taking great license, but I believe the artist was quite careful with all of it and would love to see the ambiguity discussed this way.

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