This alphabet was designed by Jean Midolle and published in Strasbourg in
During the previous 50 years the French had seen violent revolution
(1789-1799), and the Napoleonic wars (1803-15), followed by the restauration
of a monarchy that was increasingly reactionary, intent on augmenting the
influence of the wealthy classes, and curbing civil liberties (Louis XVIII
1814-24; Charles X 1824-30). The July Revolution of 1830 restored what
promised to be a more moderate monarchy under Louis Philippe. But this new
government was not to respond to the economic needs and political desires
of the lower classes, and further discontent became inevitable.
Within this context, the often tasteless images of this "Alphabet
diabolique" may be better understood as portraying through satire the harsh
realities that the French people had faced within a single lifetime.
Incidentally, being English myself, I cannot but wonder whether in Midolle's
eyes, Death is an Englishman- take a look at him in letter M, toting his
umbrella, and possibly wearing Wellington boots!