Purging the Nation: Laxative Ads in the Illustrated London News

In early twentieth-century issues of the Illustrated London News, nestled among advertisements for ladies’ perfumes, cruises to the West Indies, seaside cottage rentals, continental hotels, and luxury cars, one finds ads for an assortment of proprietary purgatives. Marketed as gentle, convenient, even glamorous aperients for young mothers, businessmen, and traveling couples alike, Purgen, Jubol, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, and other brand-name laxatives make constipation—a universal, but embarrassing and unseemly, bodily process—appropriately legible, through the printed page, to a cosmopolitan middle-class reading public. This paper examines ILN’s changing purgative ad landscape in the decades surrounding WWI, when cleansing and fortifying the middle-class body offers Britain a surrogate fantasy for stabilizing an increasingly fractured empire.

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