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1 The Ugly Face Club: A Case Study in the Tangled

Politics and Aesthetics of Deformity


Gretchen E. Henderson

Should true Proportion eery Mortal Grace,


And Simitry be seen in eery Face:
Beauty no longer would be thought Divine;
Nor would its Charms with half the Lustre shine..

Tetrum ante omnia vultum -


(^Before all things, an uglyface.^Y

Contemporary with William Hogarths Analysis of Beauty (1753), Ye


Ugly Face Clubb of Liverpool, England, offers a compelling case study
in deformity as a practice of social exclusion and aesthetic inclusion
(Fig. 1.1).^ While short-lived, lasting only the decade from 1743-54,
this fraternity contributes to a longer lineage of Ugly Clubs and
indirectly reflects a persisting crosscurrent between notions of ugliness
and beauty, form and deformity, and the wide gray area between these
binaries. By situating the Ugly Face Club in the context of historic
and artistic depictions of ugliness, alongside period dissent toward the
clubs seemingly physiognomic and caricatured style of discourse, this
article engages recent criticism about eighteenth-century strategies of
laughter that illuminate the intersecting histories of deformity and
ridicule. Viewed through the bifocals of art history and disability
studies, the Ugly Face Club becomes a potent symbol of both the
defamation and self-empowering appropriation of deformity, in the
eighteenth century and beyond, as variations of Ugly Clubs emigrate
to America and to this day haunt our cultural imagination: with
recent revivals in Liverpool, as well as in Germany and Italy, and in
the authors own aesthetic collaborative project that adopts some of
the form and content of the Club under the guise of a contemporary
Galerie de DifformitL
l8 UGLINESS THE UGLY FACE CLU B I9

My introduction to the Ugly Face Club began with one of the only social benefit, education, art, literature, debating, gambling, horticulture,
remaining accounts; a slim, olive-coloured volume whose cover bears a medicine, science, music, professions, neighbourhoods, ethnicity, sport,
gold-leafed human face, bodiless with disproportioned eyes, a somewhat philanthropy, politics, together with a bewildering array of other more
bulbous nose, and open mouth - almost sticking out its tongue. or less obscure organisations.^ The wide range of early modern clubs and
Published in 1912, this volume of Liverpools extant club papers was societies were often restricted to men but, as Clark observes, also served
edited by a bookseller named Edward Howell from the original MS. in as a vector for new ideas, new values, new kinds of social alignment, and
the collection of the late Joseph Mayer, Esq., of Bebington, Cheshire . forms of national, regional, and local identity.^ Like the Ugly Face Club,
I have yet to fathom the circumstances that led to Mayers ownership many societies were short-lived and left few documentary traces other
of the papers and to Howells reprinting, but Howell states that his than miscellaneous external references in correspondence, newspapers,
edited manuscript is far from complete, noting a particular practice by sermons, and ephemera. For the scholar digging up a clubs remains,
the members of Ugly Clubs destroying all documentary evidence of further complications arise as surviving materials often are difficult to
their natural gifts; for even in this MS. many pages are missing, whether date, are strongly weighted towards organisations linked to the elite,
by accident or design is open to conjecture- a practice to which I will and represent varied kinds of association that make the word clubitself
return. Regardless of their incompleteness, these hundred-odd pages difficult to define - especially given the often satirical, sometimes even
suggest some sense of the clubs mission, proclaiming that this Most fictional, nature of the reputed club.
Honourable and Facetious Society ofUgly Facesconsisted of a fraternity As its name suggests, the Ugly Face Clubs theoretical allegiance was
of bachelors each out of the way in his Phiz, who banded together to physiognomic, during a period when the ancient pseudoscience was
satirise their physical deformities. Following motley rules (for instance, regaining popularity. Correlations between physical and psychological
fining members who married), their fellowship resembles a bestiary,
with members described as shark, pig, eagle, cat, camel, monkey,
cod,hedgehog,tortoise,badger, and other animals - with much ado
about noses. The members were some of Liverpools well-to-do: mostly
merchants, as well as clergy, doctors, sea-captains, even the architect of
the Town Hall, John Wood. The surviving papers also evoke a lineage
of distinguished ugly forebears who were all as eminently remarkable
for their Ugly Grotesk Phizzes as for their several Great Abilities and
Extensive Knowledge, including Homer, Alexander, Aesop, Socrates,
St. Paul, and Cromwell. .
In the clubbing climate that characterised eighteenth-century Britain,
the Ugly Face Club was not exceptional in its activities, which revolved
around meetings for merry-making, singing songs, and occasionaUy
dining.5 Historian Peter Clark notes that in this period,the image an
concept of the voluntary society increasingly penetrated every nook an
cranny of British social and cultural Hfe.^ While estimates are difficult
to make, approximately 25,000 different clubs and societies may have
met in the English-speaking world during the eighteenth century, v^t
over 130 types just in the British Isles, ranging from clubs devoted to
20 UGLINESS
THE UGLY FACE CLUB 21
states derived in part from Giovanni della Portas ideas of animal- contrasted, viz. the deformed opposed to the beautiful, the old to the
human parallels (1586) and Charles Le Bruns treatise on the expression young, the strong to the feeble, the more the picture will please and
of passions (1698), which Johann Caspar Lavater built upon in his be admired. These different characters, contrasted with each other, will
Essays on Physiognomy (1775-8), wherein he claimed: Beauty and increase the beauty of the whole.^"* Copies of Leonardos drawings
ugliness have a strict connection, with the moral constitution of the circulated and inspired contemporaries, particularly in Northern Europe.
Man. In proportion as he is morally good, he is handsome; and ugly, in Whatever their original meaning for the artist and his circle, writes
proportion as he is morally bad.^ While Lavater claimed it is not that historian Diana Donald,
virtue is the only cause of beauty, and that ugliness is the effect of vice
the grotesque heads readily lent themselves both to moral and humorous purposes.
alone, he believed that virtue beautifies, and vice renders a man ugly,
The scheming Jews, publicans, and mockers of Christ in paintings by Hieronymus
and that ugliness passes between generations.^^ In The Analysis ofBeauty Bosch and Quentin Massys have clear connections with Leonardo, particularly
(1753), Hogarth specifically contrasted physiognomy to his own view, his drawing of Five Grotesque Heads (r.l490)... and demonstrate at an early date
writing in his chapter dedicated Of the Face: the uses of physiognomy in picturing evil.^

But least I should be thought to lay too great a stress on outward shew, like a Owing further origins to the Bolognese Carracci brothers, caricature
physiognomist, take this with you, that it is acknowledgd there are so many derived from a simplification of lines and loading of features (in Italian, ->
different causes which produce the same kind of movements and appearances of caricare means to load), which seemed to produce the antithesis of beauty, v
the features, and so many thwartings by accidental shapes in the make of faces,
With exaggerated features, caricatures provided a medium of inversions
that the old adage, front! nulla fides, will ever stand its ground upon the whole;
and for very wdse reasons nature hath thought fit it should.^^ and twists, where dilettantes could look foolish, and people could parallel
animal and other non-human natural forms - also exposing connections
Hogarth addressed debates in the art academy by criticising the poor between beauty and ugliness, often by metamorphosis - for instance,
artist who knew only to imitate more perfect works who fancies when shapes of furniture and other inanimate objects figuratively echoed
himself a nature-mender; not considering, that even in... the meanest characters. Even Lavater identified a correspondence between physiognomy
of her works, [Nature] is never wholly destitute of such lines of beauty and caricature when he described how ugliness passes from generation
and other delicacies.^^ At the time, Hogarths serpentine line was to generation, until faces become coarse, bloated, disfigured, swoln or
denounced by critics as his Line of Deformity and The Anti-line of shriveled out of all proportion; in short, the most hideous caricatures.^^
Beauty, and attacked in caricature like Paul Sandbys Puggs Graces Etched As physiognomy, caricature, and other practices enabled and complicated
from his Original Daubing (1753-4), which depicted Hogarth painting the view of deformity as natural, they threw classical oppositions into
monstrously deformed women in order to conform to his Line. Hogarth question and destigmatised ugliness as ostensibly evil. Such developments
himself distinguished his character work from caricature, as seen in the also anticipated movements that privileged an artists view (and right to
1743 subscription ticket for his series of prints entitled Marriage a-la- exaggerate or naturalise) over classically ideal forms and imitations.
mode, where he reproduced figures by Raphael, Annibale Carracci, and In perusing the members directory of Liverpools Ugly Face Club, a
Leonardo da Vinci under profiles that distinguished characters from reader finds echoes of these debates. Members exaggerated their features
caricaturas.^^ to border on human-animal hybrids - like John Wood, the architect,
Caricature tapped an existing discomfort and toyed with the means who was described as having A stone colourd Complexion. A Dimple
by which beauty and ugliness were determined. In the Renaissance, in his Attick Story. The Pillasters of his face fluted. Tortoise eyd, a
Leonardo da Vinci had made sketches of grotesque heads to better prominent Nose, Wild Grin, and face altogether resembling a badger,
understand ideal beauty and devoted part of his Treatise on Painting and finer tho smaller, than Sir Chris^'' Wren or Inego Joness.
to the Variety of Faces. He described how the more the figures are With his faces attic, pilasters, and stone. Woods deformity assumed
22 UGLINESS THE UGLY FACE CLUB 23

not only animal but also architectural form, ambiguously praised as Thank you Chin: Here's to you Blabber-lip; Your Servant Mr. Squint, and
both finer and smaller than the faces of the two most renowned English so on.^^ In contrast to the Liverpool chapter, this earlier Club of Ugly-
architects. In contrast, would-be ugly contemporaries like John Wilkes Faces was allowed to marry, as Wards account notes: after merry-maHng
and Samuel Johnson did not participate in Ugly Clubs (although they at meetings, members return to their Hatchet-facd Spouses, and by
were involved in club culture as members of the Hell-Fire and Literary Mutual Drudgery, hammer out Ugly Faces for the next Generation.^^
Clubs, respectively) nor did they seem to delight in their deformities. Wards account or invention of the Club of Ugly-Faces likely
Wilkess crossed eyes and prognathous jaw led him to be told in print inspired Joseph Addisons and Richard Steeles fictional Club of the
that his face was an indication of a very bad soul within and should not same name in The Spectator (1711-12,1714). Addison and Steele were
be exposed to pregnant women, reflecting the notion then in circulation both noteworthy contributors to Britains literary and political culture
that a pregnant womans imaginings and exposures affected the form of the time, as well as being members of the Kit-Kat Club. Over a
of her gestating child. Despite such outrageous reproofs, Wilkes work half-dozen of their Spectator papers (e.g. #17, 32, 48, 52, 78, 87) were
as a political activist made his face eventually a symbol of liberty.^^ The devoted to Ugly Clubs, some ostensibly at Cambridge and Oxford.
eminent writer and scholar, Johnson, was known for his convulsive Mr. Spectator, the fictional narrator of the serial, learns of this select
starts and odd gesticulations, which led to a posthumous diagnosis in Body via a letter from Oxfords Alexander Carbuncle, who describes
recent decades of Tourettes syndrome.^^ Beyond complimentary titles his ill-favoured Fraternity (a so-called burlesque upon the 'Handsom
that arose from his prolific literary contributions (including editing Club') as a certain merry Species, that seem to have come into the
the famed Dictionary of the English Language) y]o\iv\son was dubbed by World in hdasquerade and collectively abide by "The Act ofDeformity'
contemporaries a respectable Hottentot and Caliban of Literature . The implication that deformity was decided not only by birth but also
Neither Wilkes and Johnson, nor Alexander Pope, to whom I wiU return, mutual agreement suggests a double state of nature and political free
seem to have relished their deformities; even when deformity became a will that resembles the social contract into which Englishmen are
kind of heroic epithet for these distinguished writers, it set them apart supposed to be born and by which they freely abide. Once inducted
from the crowd in ways perhaps incompatible with the middle-class himself, the broad-faced Mr. Spectator addresses his fellow members
sociality of the Ugly Clubs. (beginning one letter: 'May itplease your Deformities...') to recommend
Arising in this milieu, the Ugly Face Club of Liverpool is noteworthy new candidates for membership, including a deformed character named
not only because it occupies a realm between ugUness and beauty, Hecatissa, whom Mr. Spectator is urged to marry so she may be a Lady
character and caricature, but also because the societys roots and of the most celebrated Deformity, and so the fated pair might Breed
branches extend to a variety of even more aesthetically ambitious Ugly to cancel out each others ugliness.^^ The idea that two uglies make a
Clubs existing both in fact and fiction.^^ The earliest reference to Ugly beauty, and the urging of a union for such purpose, departs from Wards
Clubs seems to arise in The Secret History of Clubs (1709), attributed Hatchets and Hatchet-facd Spouses who hammer out Ugly Faces
to Ned Ward, famous for the urban narrative poem The London Spy for the next Generation. In a culture characterised by birthright and
(1700).22 Ward credits the Clubs foundation to A Certain Userer, inheritance, this caveat seems one of a few that distinguish the Ugly
Named Hatchet, from whose Singular Aspect is derivd that common Clubs of The Secret History and The Spectator, although their witty self-
Saying, so oft applyd to any homely Person, who wished to return the ddicule underscores a larger social unease about human deformities. For
compliment of finding himself a Jest among most People. Hatchet instance. The Spectator r^^orX%\ When he can possess himself with such
bands together with others of ill composd Countenances to form a ^ Chearfulness, Women and Children, who are at first frighted at him,
club with its own rules and dialect, where each member was addressed ^ill afterwards be as much pleased with him. He adds that members
not by name but by his deformed feature: 'Here Nose my Service to you; Ought to be contented with our Countenance and Shape, so far, as never
24 UGLINESS THE UGLY FACE CLUB 25

to give our selves an uneasie Reflexion on that Subject, mustering an the quality of something worthy to be laughed at, or censured.^^ The
honest and laudable Fortitude to dare to be Ugly... Since our Persons notion of deformity (something seemingly material) as ridiculous (defined
are not of our own Making, when they are such as appear Defective or subjectively, by social context) affords a way to re-view the Ugly Face
Uncomely...making every one sit down content in his own Carcase, Club through the lens of disability studies. Roger Lund has argued
though it were not perhaps so mathematically put together as he would that modern readers discern clear and significant distinctions between
wish.^^ Although no known images - caricatures or otherwise - of this disability or crippling, which implies loss of ability, and deformity, which
Club exist. The Spectator notes their practice of furnishing a club room impHes noticeable disfigurement. But for the eighteenth century all of
(the ugliest to be found) with portraits of great ugly men of history, and these conditions tended to be conflated as occasions of ridicule.^^* The
this tradition of ugly decor runs through Ugly Club history.^^ Ugly Face Club reflected and intersected with changing sensibilities
Regardless of the dearth of surviving (or ever existing) images, of its time, seemingly able to laud a characteristic that was otherwise
such clubs opened up a space for textual representation where ugly not embraced by deformed contemporaries. Alexander Pope, the great
individuals could claim self-representation. Against the backdrop poet who suffered from scoliosis and other chronic illnesses, and who
of aesthetic debates about the loaded features of caricature and their described his body as the wretched carcase I am annexed to, did not
relationship to character, textual representations afforded a parallel play seem to delight in his deformities, while others ridiculed him.^^ ^or
with portraiture. Deirdre Lynch has noted how the hot commodities instance, a caricature of Pope on the frontispiece ofJohn Denniss Pope
of the print market were portraits and texts devoted to beings Alexanders Supremacy and Infallibility Examined (1729) depicted Pope as
preternaturally endowed with a surplus of characteristics, beings who part human and part animal (with a realistic portrait head, but a hybrid
were nondescript in the eighteenth-century sense of the term.^^ In ape-rat body), with a caption equating The PHIZ and CHARACTER of
contrast to earlier traditions (like deformed mistress poems, in which the Hyper-critick and Commentator. Elsewhere, Pope was described
a speaker acted as a spectator of beautiful and later ugly women). The as like the Ancient Centaurs... a Beast and a Man.^^
Spectator helped to redirect the role of viewer and viewed, appropriating In 1754, William Hay, a hunchback and Member of Parliament,
ugliness not to manipulate romantic projections but to realign a social published an essay entitied Deformity, in which he argued passionately
contract among peers.^ The assuming of cognomens and alter egos by that his twisted body did not mirror a twisted soul. Hay specifically singled
members of clubs seems a habit of the seventeenth century, continuing out the Ugly Club as detrimental to societys perceptions of deformity:
well into the long eighteenth century. As George Justice and Scott Black, I never was, nor ever wiU be, a Member of the Ugly Club: and I would advise
respectively, argue, bycreating new literary forms to appropriate broadly ^ose Gentlemen to meet no more. For though they may be a very ingenious and
held historical ideas for the interest, edification, and entertainment of facetious Society; yet it draws the Eyes of the World too much upon them, and
tneirs too much from the World...When deformed Persons appear together, it
a book-buying public. The Spectator and related projects offer[ed] an
doubles the Ridicule.^^
image (perhaps an illusion) of that public as a participatory community,
serving as a print version of a bard in oral culture.^^ As Britains cultural ^^uce Hay navigated his cultural environment to some degree as a
imagination perpetuated Ugly Clubs (including a play by one Edmund political insider and social outsider, his essay on Deformity provides a
Spenser, the younger titled The Ugly Club: A Dramatic Caricature in One pivotal viewpoint in this discussion of politics and aesthetics.
Act, performed at Londons Theater Royal at Drury Lane in 1798), Using his life as a lens. Hay evoked his personal and professional
did so within a society where notions of ugliness, deformity, and ridicule experiences to explore and expose the nature of deformity in Britain. He
intersected in complicated ways.^^ noted how deformed Persons set out in the world to a Disadvantage,
In A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson ^nd they must first surmount the Prejudices of Mankind, before they
defined deformity as 1. Ugliness; ill-favouredness, and 2. Ridiculousness; be upon a Par with others, and that 111 Features are but a superficial
26 UGLINESS THE UGLY FACE CLUB 27

Ugliness, as opposed to deformed limbs and more uncommon public pranks enacted by men of fashion that enUsted the deformed
deformities like his own.^^ To confront the notion that deformity is I and disabled, who would be paid to perform some physical task with

inherited, he stated that his father was not deformed, but active and his
mother was a celebrated Beauty.^^ Comparing similarly shaped body 1
I hilarious clumsiness, or simply for their sheer entertainment value.'^^ For
example, one gentleman hosted a dinner party of stutterers; others hired
parts. Hay asked why a curved back provokes ridicule while a prominent = | and berated waiters with wooden legs or wobbling hands, who were
Belly does not, since the last is generally the Effect of Intemperance, J thrown down stairs as punishment for spilling food. Others sponsored
and of a Mans own Creation.'^ His rhetorical strategies undermined I freak runs: footraces between the lame or one-legged, the obese or
established binaries, as Kathleen James-Cavan has argued, fracturing If the elderly. Such gatherings likely fed the imaginations of Ugly Clubs,
the connection of body and character to enable the possibility of being not to mention public unease. Many deformed individuals were left to
both morally upright and physically crooked.^^ While Hays bodily perform and beg on the street in the face of public chagrin. For instance,
deformity excluded him from certain segments of society, he claimed in 1729, a London merchant suggested whippings, workhouses, and
that his colleagues in the House of Commons never objected to my the establishment of a national Hospital for strictly confining such
Person and insisted that the devaluation of deformity exposed flaws People... who wander about to extort Money by exposing those dismal
within the body politic, which if addressed might help to alleviate social [ Sights, such as maimd Limbs, nauseous Sores, stumped Hands, or Feet,
ills/^ Hay also seemed aware of the underlying fear in cultural responses , or any other Deformity.'^^ The contrast between the cruel torture of
to deformity and race. When describing his favourable experience in j poor, disabled individuals and the verbal wit and merrymaking of the
Parliament, he mentioned a venal Borough, of which there goes a Story; | well-heeled clubs leaves these two camps on divided terrain.
that, though they never took Exceptions to any Mans Character, who At the same time, a number of deformed individuals displayed
came up to their Price; yet they once rejected the best Bidder, because themselves in contexts that complicated deformity through private
he was a Negroe.^^ Hays Postscript is perhaps most interesting in our j exhibition, capitalising on this tension by performing against public
context, as it refers to William Hogarths treatise, deeming the artists expectations. These individuals in some ways help to bridge the divide.
aesthetic project sympathetic to his own: Since I finished this Essay, Venues for public exhibition like Londons Bartholomew Fair (founded
I am in Doubt whether I ought not to change the Title. For I have , in the twelfth century) had become popular by the seventeenth century,
heard of a very ingenious Performance, called The Analysis of Beauty bnt the majority of fairs were seasonal. During the year, exhibitors
which proves incontestably, that it consists in Curve Lines.'^'^ If Hay is tended to receive visitors in private houses or pubs. In the eighteenth
correct in turning deformity into beauty, even in jest, then he suggests century, exhibitions of unruly human bodies - those who were born
that aesthetic inclusion potentially can invert the common distinction 'Without arms or legs, uncommonly sized (giants or dwarfs), remarkably
shaped (Siamese twins), along with a range of other human forms
to affect social exclusion - an idea to which I will return later.
Despite the rise of sentimental society and charitable associations, considered deformed - were individualised rather than grouped into
ridicule of deformed bodies pervaded eighteenth-century Britain. In his teak shows like those that would emerge in subsequent centuries.^^
study of period jestbooks, a genre that brimmed with callous jokes about ^ch individualised exhibitions differed markedly from the Ugly Club
cripples, dwarfs, hunchbacks, amputees, the blind and deaf, decrepit oltl Sufferings that cohabited their cultural milieu. Thomas Inglefield, who
men and women, invalids, and any manner of deformed figures, Simon ''^as born without arms and legs and became an artist, created self-
Dickie has shown that these were standing jokes in the mid-eighteenth Pottraits showing his drawing materials to identify himself as a working
century, almost automatic figures of fun...The most inventive rang^ J^nstrator. Exhibiting himself privately in rooms near Tottenham
of taunts and nicknames was available for the deformed."^^ Beyon ourt Road in London where ladies 6c gentlemen may see him 6c
these forms of humour were elaborate freaks or frolicks, orchestrate ^^ny more of his performances, Inglefields prints were presumably
28 UGLINESS THE UGLY FACE CLUB 29

sold on the premises during his artistic demonstrations."^^ Members of by assuming a certain Slovenliness and peculiarity in his dress, by never throwing
the Royal Society were known to collect such work for their private away his time at a looking Glass, and diligently evading all foppish and finical airs
and affection.^^
collections.^ Sir William Musgrave, a fellow of the Royal College of
Physicians, owned a portrait of John Valerius: a German man born The Annapolis chapter met for at least five years to argue and debate
without arms, who wrote on the back of said portrait with his feet. In upon various Subjects, and to discuss points of a knotty and abstruse
the early part of the eighteenth century, Valerius spent almost a decade nature; however, contentiousness reduced membership until from a
in England, where he demonstrated his ability to write in five languages, numerous Club, it dwindled to nothing, and at last expired.^^ Like-
both with his feet and mouth, and provided his paying audience with minded clubs were rumoured to exist in the early years of the Republic,
samples created while they watched. Wybrand Lolkes, an eighteenth- with documentation surviving from late eighteenth-century clubs in
century Dutchman whose height was 25.5 inches, gave up his career New York and South Carolina, although the latter may have been a
as a jeweller to exhibit himself throughout Europe, including London, fabrication of Philip Freneau, famed poet of the Revolution.^^ From the
enabling him to financially support his wife and three children. The act nineteenth century, traces of American Ugly Clubs appear in archived
of self-exhibition is complicated, to be sure. Regardless, these examples records at various colleges, including the University of North Carolina,
resist reductive definitions of deformity in a period when deformity and the University of Virginia, and Washington and Lee University (then
ridiculousness were conflated. Inglefield, Valerius, Lolkes, and other Washington College). Like their forebears. Ugly Club chapters at
individuals multiplied their identities beyond merely that of a deformed American colleges were mainly social fraternities, perhaps even more so
person: being agents in their own portrayals, earning financial support, than their English kin.^"* Interestingly, Virginias rituals quieted during
in some cases serving as their own managers, and demonstrating the Civil War (1861-5), a period when many Americans suffered
themselves as functional, educated, artistic, parental, etc. Living around disabling, rather than amusing, deformities. The University of Virginias
the time the Ugly Face Club met, they emphasised their individuality Editors'Drawer notes:
rather than collective deformity, engaging with tensions about how to The gentlemen who were here during the war, indeed, - having sought this as an
appropriate, reimagine, or undermine perceptions of deformity through asylum from the injurious effects of the sun and weather, to say nothing of sword
self-exhibition. Like Hay s favourable impression of Hogarths Curve thrusts and bullet wounds, on the beauty of their complexions - found that the
Lines, the politics of these enterprises became aesthetically entangled. noise occasioned by the election was not consistent with the safety of their retreat,
and consequently suffered the Club to pass by unnoticed and forgotten.^^
Before suggesting possible effects of aesthetic inclusion on social
exclusion, it is instructive to chart a brief history of Ugly Clubs in America, The heroism or horror of war likely fit uneasily with self-ridicule and
where the democratic rhetoric of group self-selection is most clearly at fraternal pranks, and the overriding mood of realism, and the rise of
play. Following transatlantic trends. Ugly Clubs migrated to the American naturalism in art and literature, likely dampened the Clubs antics;
colonies only a few decades after surfacing in British print culture. The first yet even without the Civil War, traces of Ugly Clubs in England
account predates Liverpools Ugly Face Club by four years, in 1739, when disappeared around the same time. What is left at this point is
Dr. Alexander Hamilton joined the Ugly Club of Annapolis, Maryland. colourful hearsay. In 1862, English journalist George Augustus Sala
Hamilton was a Scottish emigre, otherwise known as the Loquacious nientioned familiarity with the Ugly Club - which yet flourishes, I
Scribble. Distinguishing the Annapolis chapter from the Ugly Club of believe echoing its origins in Wards edition and adding a colourful
The Spectator, Hamilton described his societys membership: anecdote missing from other records: A violent attempt was made
to break up the Ugly Club by a committee of spinsters, who made
It was Sufficient for [a member] Sincerely to profess and believe that he was not
handsom, till he was declared to be a monstrous ugly fellow by the Ladies in nnheard-of attempts to marry the members en masse, but in vain.^^
public company... A man was to show his Sincerity in this opinion of himself, In 1869, the Ugly Club appeared in Victor Hugos novel. The Man
THE UGLY FACE CLUB 3I
30 UGLINESS

Who Laughs, wherein he described their meeting chamber Uned with its political force is largely a more recent phenomenon.^^ Other modern
portraits of ugly exemplars.Beyond that, as far as I have found, Ugly criticisms might be fielded against the Ugly Face Club. In addition to its
Clubs retreated until the twentieth century. gender-restrictive membership, few or no members seem to have been
To return to the contrast between private and public exhibitions, deformed in the sense of being disabled, since the directory notes each
and between ugly clubs and freak shows, the nineteenth century members profession, suggesting that they functioned in workplaces.
experienced significant social changes that affected attitudes toward Their exaggerated racial qualifications (stating ugly qualifications such
deformity and related notions. Our current sense of freak dates to as Jewish Sallow Phiz, Hottentot Complexion, Negro Teeth, and
the 1840s, around the time the adjective normal came into common Japanezy Grin, alongside animal analogies) likely reinforced outrageous
use and freak shows rose in popularity.^ Alongside changes in stereotypes; furthermore, the majority of members were merchants at a
medicine and industrialisation, the Victorian era witnessed increased time when Liverpool was Britains main slaving port.^^ All that said: in
commerciahsation and commodification of display, the establishment repeating racist and other taunts. Ugly Club members were applying
of permanent places of exhibition, and fascination with museums such labels to themselves. Equally deformed marginalised groups might
of anatomy and pathology, such as Dr. Kahns Museum in London. thus have been inverted conceptually to read as equally justified. This
Similar trends occurred in the United States, where by the latter part of leads me to ask a question: is it noteworthy that neoclassical Ugly Clubs
the century, reactions to deformed bodies led to so-called Ugly Laws were able to exempt themselves from classical tropes that equated
(r.l880s-1970s) prohibiting individuals with physical deformities physical deformity with evil?^ Here lies the crux of my concern. I agree
from visiting public spaces, thereby perpetuating historic conflations 1 with Deutsch and Nussbaum that Ugly Clubs were an unsatisfying
of disability with ugliness and crime. By way of example, an Ugly Law i expression of a collective identity for the disabled. Members likely
in Chicago stated: exaggerated descriptions of their deformed features, which did not
seem (at least on the surface) to disable them in any social, political,
Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to
be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on or economic sense, against a backdrop that conflated deformity with
the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in this city, shall not therein ridicule and worse. It is arguable that Ugly Clubs even reinforced that
or thereon expose himself to public view under penalty of a fine.^ culture of ridicule, doubling the ridicule, as William Hay argued.
In The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public, Susan Schweik charts this That said, their self-selected collectivity seems both consistent with and
complicated history and examines its consequences for the present: contrary to period trends. While Ugly Clubs were complexly entwined
Classic ugly law proceeded by drawing clear lines and firmly placing ^ith a culture that demeaned deformity, their communal affiliation
people outside or inside them; todays exclusions convert people into rcframed the deformity that was otherwise isolating and disparaging.
cases, ones that fall perpetually, inexorably, right on the line, a thick Their existence made visible a problematic, deeper question. Via their

gray area you cannot erase or thin.^ self-ridicule and ridiculous rules (not to mention the projected
From our vantage point in the twenty-first century, faced by and facing ^clf-respect that went with abiding by them). Ugly Clubs participated
these Ugly Faces and their parade through history, what can we discern a broader historical interrogation of humanity and deformity that
from their legacy? Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum (2000) see Persists to this day.
Edmund Spenser the Youngers dramatic caricature of The Ugly Club In Embodied Rhetorics, James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-
(1798) as a very unsatisfying expression of a collective identity for the Wilson write that disability activists have been attuned to the ways that
disabled, where connections among such groups... were most often discourse can aid collective action, for example, seizing the term cripple
drawn by the able-bodied, who made them into monsters, adding that ^nd turning it against itself into the proactive label crip culture I see
shaping a unity among the physically disabled as a group and mustering t ^niilar potential in appropriating the term deformityvia the Ugly Face
s>

32 UGLINESS THE UGLY FACE CLUB 33

Club and its self-proclamation of deformities (to echo Mr. Spectator; boasting baseball players Yogi Berra and Mike Ryba, and another founded
^May it please your Deformities...^'). In that spirit, I am in the process of by a teenaged Marcia Tucker, who went on to become the first woman
seizing the term to turn it against itself- collaboratively and proactively curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art and founder of the
- enlisting deformants to create deformations in a project entitled Galerie New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.^^ Nor should we
de Difformite.^^ I am interested in seeing whether a term associated neglect increased general interest in ugliness, as shown in recent television
with social exclusion can be turned against itself through aesthetic shows hke Ugly Betty and Ugly Americans, Scott Westerfelds young adult
inclusion. Structured as an art catalogue, with choose-your-own- sci-fi novel, Uglies, or the toy phenomenon of Uglydolls (with childrens
adventure directives, my baggy monster of a novel (to borrow a genre books like Ugly Guide to the Uglyverse), or the French concept of jolie
characterisation by Henry James) intermarries genres, periods, and hide, pretty-ugly.^^ Whether or not the characters that inhabit these
artistic deformations to act as a body that deforms through the active venues are ugly is left to the eye of each beholder, as Voltaire wrote:
and passive ways in which it is read.^^The books creation and decreation Ask a toad what beauty is... He will teU you that it consists of his
takes on a larger life as the published book-object is contextualised in its mate.^^ Or, as Umberto Eco speculates in a lecture related to his volume
cultural moment and medium, as collaborative deformations contribute On Ugliness'.
to a collective installation about form, framed as deformed: a term that Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages,
historically has been interchanged with ugly, monstrous, freakish, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules... [while] an ugly
asymmetrical, degenerate, handicapped, disabled. Considering that nose can be as long as the one of Pinocchio, as big as the trunk of an elephant, or
like the beak of an eagle, and so on. UgHness is unpredictable and offers an infinite
viewers often respond more magnanimously to broken bodies in art
range of possibiUties. Beauty is finite. UgHness is infinite, Hke God.^"*
than in society, Galerie de Difformite aims to aesthetically suspend and
widen the imagination.^^ Lennard Davis defines eighteenth-century In the spirit of infinite possibilities for ugliness, deformity, and the
deformity as a disruption in the sensory field of the observer.^ In some litany of terms that have shared their company throughout history, I
small way, through fact-bending fiction that revives the Ugly Face Clubs will close by returning to this articles beginning, to Edward Howells
obscure history, I am trying to evoke such a sensory disruption to make mention of the practice by the members of Ugly Clubs destroying
something, to borrow the words of one of my characters, Gloria Heys, all documentary evidence of their natural gifts. Inviting this practice
who is a descendant of a member of the Ugly Face Club, as she says, to fmm my readers - to materially, collaboratively deform my Galerie de
make something more monstrous - but magnanimous, too.^^ difformite (and with it, some of the reproduced archival evidence of
Beyond my appropriated revival, interest in Ugly Clubs has arisen the Ugly Face Club) - I am engaging in a like-minded act to face and
elsewhere in recent years. In the course of writing this article, I found deface ugliness, in some small way, to collectively cause a disruption in
reports on NPR, BBC, and other respected sources about Ugly Club the sensory field of the observer.^^ And so I extend this invitation to
revivals not only in Liverpool (2002) but also in Hamburg (2005), the you and your colleagues, students, cohorts, anyone you know who may
^0 interested - whatever their artistic or non-artistic bent - to bring
latter inspired by the Ugly Club of Piobbico, Italy, whose roots may go
back to 1879, and whose activities include marital matchmaking> your sensibilities to bear on the Galerie de Difformiti as we re-view the
Ugly Face Club, its forebears and descendants, to see what this most
countering discrimination against ugliness in the workplace, and an
annual festa dei brutti (or Festival of the Ugly), coinciding with the Honourable and Facetious Society may yet teach us.

election of the clubs new president, who may be either a man or woman
(one recent president was succeeded by his daughter).^ In addition to
the nineteenth-century college clubs that pocked the American landscape^
other clubs appeared in the twentieth century, including an Ugly Club