Inspirational Stories of Love, Faith & Family Set in 19th Century America

Category: Regency

5 Things You May Not Know About Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice has been on my mind a great deal lately. I received this great sweatshirt for Christmas this year. AND, my husband has started a local theater company, and without any nudging from me (honestly), Goose Creek Players will perform Pride and Prejudice this spring. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a HUGE Jane Austen fan and well Pride and Prejudice is the crown jewel of her achievements.

Today, over 200 years later, Pride and Prejudice remains Jane Austen’s most beloved novel.

Here’s 5 facts you may or may not know about the novel.

1. Mr. Darcy was the Rockefeller or Vanderbilt of his day

The characters in Pride and Prejudice constantly exclaim over Mr. Darcy’s $10,000 pounds a year, but what does that mean in today’s market? In 2013, The Telegraph calculated that adjusting for financial changes, a decent estimate might be 12 million pounds, or $18.7 million U.S. dollars a year. And that’s just interest on top of a much larger fortune. It’s no wonder Mrs. Bennet gushed about Elizabeth’s engagement—”How rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!” Marrying Darcy would be like marrying a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt.

2. Lydia elopes to the Las Vegas of the Regency era

Image result for Images of Gretna Green

In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family is almost ruined when Lydia elopes to Scotland with that scoundrel George Wickham. “I am going to Gretna Green,” Lydia writes her sister, “and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton.” Unlike England, Scotland allowed people under 21 to get married without parental consent. Gretna Green was the first town over the Scottish border. There, a young couple could be wed via a “marriage by declaration.” The photo above is that of the famous blacksmith shop in Gretna Green that also had a marriage parlor to capitalize on the profits a young newlywed couple such as Lydia and Wickham could bestow.

3. A publisher rejected the novel without even reading it

Austen finished the book, then titled First Impressions, when she was 21 years old. In 1797, her father sent it to the publisher Thomas Cadell, writing that he had “a Manuscript Novel comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss [Fanny] Burney’s Evelina.” He asked how much it would cost him to publish the book and what Cadell would pay for copyright. In response, Cadell scrawled “Declined by Return of Post” on the letter and sent it back with insulting speed. It wasn’t until the success of Sense and Sensibility, 14 years later, that Austen revised the manuscript. It was published in 1813 when she was 37 years old.

4. Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously

Related imageAusten didn’t put her name on her novels, and would only say they were “By a Lady.” The title page of Pride and Prejudice said, “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.” It wasn’t until after her death that her brother revealed her name to the public.

5. Austen underestimated the popularity of her novel

Austen sold the copyright for Pride and Prejudice to her publishers for 110 pounds, even though she said in a letter that she wanted 150 pounds. She chose this one-time payment, forfeiting any risk or reward connected to the future of the book. It was a bad gamble. The book was a best seller, and was on its third printing by 1817. It has been in print ever since.

Image result for images of pride and prejudice

In the 200+ years since Pride and Prejudice was published, there have been at least 11 film and TV adaptations of Austen’s novel. My personal favorite is the 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy … sigh … but I digress.

What is your favorite adaptation? The Colin Firth version or the one with Keira Knightley? Or perhaps something different altogether?

The Disgraceful History of the Waltz

Long before Elvis gyrated his pelvis or Miley Cyrus twerked at the VMA’s, the Viennese waltz shocked European aristocracy. Although today the waltz is considered the “Queen of all the dances,”  it has a scandalous history.

The Viennese Waltz by Vladimir Pervunensky

The Waltz had humble beginnings in rural Germany. In the mid 18th century, peasants began to dance something called the landler in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria. Set to 3/4 time music, the dance involved couples rotating around the dance floor. It eventually became known as the walzer, from the Latin volvere, meaning rotate. At the time, the aristocracy was dancing to the minuet but the peasants’ dance was so fun that some noblemen were known to sneak away to the lower class gatherings just to enjoy it.

Maria and Captain Von Trapp dance the Landler in 20th Century Fox’s, The Sound of Music

Eventually the waltz was introduced to Vienna, in an opera called “The Cosarara.” In 1790, Baron Newman introduced the twirling dance to English aristocracy but it was Napolean’s triumphant army that brought the dance to France. Upon its arrival, the Viennese waltz shocked the church and proper society with the prolonged bodily contact not just of the hands, but of the faces and bodies of the dancers. The Anglican archbishops denounced the new fad as a “lust-inducing, decidedly degenerate action.”

While the waltz seems innocent enough by today’s standards, at the time it horrified many of the upper class. Novelist Sophie von La Roche described it as the “shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans” that “…broke all the bounds of good breeding,” in her novel Geshichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim, written in 1771.

The dance was considered so provocative when it was introduced that even the morally challenged Lord Byron felt driven to write:

Endearing Waltz! — to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish jig and ancient rigadoon.
Scotch reels, avaunt! and country-dance, forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz — Waltz alone — both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne’er before — but — pray “put out the light.”
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far — or I am much too near;
And true, though strange — Waltz whispers this remark,
“My slippery steps are safest in the dark!”

What made the waltz so scandalous?

The waltz gained its scandalous reputation because of the “closed” face-to-face position of the dancers. In its day, the waltz was a strikingly intimate and sensuous dance, which was a major departure from the open group dances and stately minuets of previous generations which were characterized by a refined and stylized elegance, polite distance between the dancers, and precise movements. They were much less energetic, characterized by sternness of attitude and slow complex patterns of movement. Most importantly, earlier dances were performed at arm’s length where only the couple’s hands touched. Dancers wore gloves so there would be no fleshly contact even at this distance.

Darcy and Elizabeth dancing the formal dances of the Regency era at the Netherfield Ball, Pride and Prejudice (BBC)

In previous dance forms, the gentleman’s focus was always in steering his partner through the series of intricate steps and maneuvers to avoid colliding with others on the dance floor. Since the only floorcraft required was to keep the partners from overtaking the couple in front of them as they flowed gracefully around the ballroom, the man would not be distracted from giving his lovely partner his full attention.

The intimate postures and intense gazes that resulted were most likely to blame for the waltz’s initial disgraceful reputation. In traditional country dances, there was plenty of eye and body contact, but it was fleeting and partners moved quickly from one person to another. In the Waltz, the eye contact is continuous and unflinching and so is the body contact — with hands, as Byron describes, “which may freely range in public sight.”

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Imagine the shock in the courts of Europe when the gentleman’s foot disappeared from time to time under the lady’s gown in the midst of the dance as reported on the Prince Regent’s grand ball from the society pages of The Times of London, summer, 1816:

“We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.”

According to Jeff Allen, author The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ballroom Dancing, “The ‘voluptuous intertwining of the limbs,’ simply referred to the close dance position of the day. The gloved hand of the gentleman was placed gently on the waist of his partner at virtually full arm’s length. The lady’s left-gloved hand quite possibly was delicately placed on her gentleman’s shoulder, and she likely held a fan in that same hand. The left hand of the gentleman remained open and acted as the shelf for his partner’s right-gloved hand. The really scandalous point of that reporter’s observation was that the gentleman’s foot disappeared from time to time under the lady’s gown in the midst of the dance. The bodies of the dancers were never in contact!”

Dance in the Country, Renoir, 1883

The fast pace and consistent twirling of the dance was also a departure from the stately minuets of the past and could prove to be an exhausting and dizzying experience. Cellarius, a French dancing master of the Regency era, warned that, “In close embrace the dancers turned continually while they revolved around the room. There were no steps forward or back, no relief, it was all a continuous whirl of pleasure for those who could take it. The Valser should … take care never to relinquish his lady until he feels that she has entirely recovered herself.”

Needless to say, the more forbidden the dance became the more anxious society was to engage in it. Some of the first members of European aristocracy to be seen publicly favoring the dance were the Emperor Alexander of Russia and Lord Palmerston of England.  When they were seen whirling around English ballrooms with grace and skill, the rest of English society quickly joined in.

Most likely it was this “lighter than air feeling” that brought the waltz into acceptance among Europe’s upper class. Johann Goethe, a German writer and statesman, is known to have enjoyed the waltz. “Never have I moved so lightly. I was no longer a human being. To hold the most adorable creature in one’s arms and fly around with her like the wind, so that everything around us fades away…” By 1820, the dance had finally reached respectability as a permanent fixture at balls throughout English society for the majority of the 19th century and early twentieth century thus earning her position as “Queen” of the ballroom.

Do you know how to waltz?

 

 

Clandestine Eye Jewelry

Eye Miniature brooch, circa 1800

Eye Miniature brooch, circa 1800

Not too long ago, a friend shared a post about Victorian Lover’s Eye jewelry on her Facebook page. I clicked on the link and quickly became fascinated by what I learned.

Eye miniatures, as they were originally known, were small portraits of the human eye painted on brooches, rings, lockets and bracelets. But not just anyone’s eye, these clandestine gifts were exchanged in secret between paramours and effectively concealed the giver’s identity. Only someone with intimate acquaintance — a lover, a spouse, a close family member — would recognize an individual’s eye, thus allowing the gift to be worn in public.

But how did this odd custom become a fad?

Maria Fitzherbert and Prince George !V of Wales

Maria Fitzherbert and Prince George IV of Wales

According to legend, the origin of eye miniatures can be traced to the prince of Wales, who later became King George IV. Young George became smitten with the beautiful, twice-widowed Maria Fitzherbert, who was six years his senior. But according to British law, the prince could not marry Maria, a Catholic. Fearing scandal, she fled to the continent. George, however, was not to be deterred and secretly pursued Maria. On Nov. 3, 1785, the prince sent Maria a written declaration of his love, including a proposal of marriage. To demonstrate his undying affection, he sent a miniature portrait of his own eye, set in a locket, painted by the miniaturist Richard Cosway, one of the celebrated artists of the day. Shortly after, Maria returned to England and married the prince in a secret ceremony on Dec. 15, 1785. The bride, not to be outdone by her prince, commissioned Cosway to paint her own eye in order that she might secretly give a token of her affection. Soon, other British nobility followed the couple’s lead and the fad spread throughout Europe, taking the contintent by storm until about 1820.

Eye Miniature in an Ivory Case with a Mirrored Lid c.1817. .© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Eye Miniature in an Ivory Case with a Mirrored Lid c.1817.
.© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

lovers-eye-ring

Eye Ring, circa1816

Queen Victoria revived the eye miniature fad when she commissioned Sir William Charles Ross to paint portraits of her children and many of her friends and other relatives. A modest resurgence of the art form existed through the the early part of the twentieth century by a few devoted followers of the style, mostly members of the royal family or the aristocracy. Attempts were made by artists at the time to bring the fashion to America with little success.

Eye Miniature with Tears Set in a Brooch with Pearl Frame c.1800. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Eye Miniature with Tears Set in a Brooch with Pearl Frame c.1800.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

In the early nineteenth century eye miniatures were adapted as a form of mourning jewelry sometimes referred to as ‘tear jewelry.’ The purpose of the eye portrait was refocused from romance to remembrance. Portrayed with a tear or depicted as gazing through clouds, these miniatures were seen as tributes to loved ones and friends and often evoked powerful emotions. Mourning eye miniatures included symbolism of the gemstones used to surround the painting. Pearls often represented tears when they surrounded an eye portrait. Diamonds portrayed strength and longevity. Garnets indicated true friendship and turquoise was believed to bring good fortune for the deceased in the after life.

Without an inscription, the identity of those painted eyes on these much sought after heirlooms remains a mystery to this day.

What do you think of the lover’s eye jewelry? Creepy, romantic, or just plain weird?

 

Three Myths About Jane Austen’s England

George IV from Huish's Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)

George IV

Historically, the Regency Period in England lasted for only nine years, beginning when King George III was declared mentally unfit to rule in 1810. The Prince Regent took over for his father until his death in 1820, when George IV became King of England in his own right.

This is the time period when Jane Austen wrote her novels. However, many novels and period dramas have Regency Era characteristics but are set outside the timeline above. Culturally speaking, the Regency Era began in the later years of George III’s reign and denoted the architecture, fashion, literature and music of the period until the death of King William and the ascension of Queen Victoria in 1837.

As a lover of all things Jane Austen, I was curious about some of the social customs of the time and was surprised by some of what I learned.

Belton House in Lincolnshire (south front, above) was built in the late 17th century for Sir John Brownlow.

Belton House in Lincolnshire (south front, above) was built in the late 17th century for Sir John Brownlow.

Women Could Own Property  I’d always wondered about this one. I never understood why in Pride and Prejudice Lizzy and her sisters could not own property but the powerful Lady Catherine de Bourgh could. In the Regency Era a marriage was very much a business contract. Once an offer had been made and accepted, both families would reveal their circumstances to the other and the negotiations ensued. While it is true that once married a woman’s property became entirely under her husband’s control, an astute and wealthy family would want to negotiate a settlement for their daughter. This was land and/or money set aside for her and her children should she become a widow. Of course, a kind husband could also provide a jointure in his will which designated a pre-determined amount of land and/or money to his dependents upon his death. Mr. Bennet, however, could not leave a jointure for his widow because his land had been entailed away. An entail put limits or restrictions on the inheritance of land, usually requiring the property be inherited by the closest male heir. An entail remained with the land for several generations. It was designed to protect the property from being broken up or sold off. Power and social status were derived by land ownership. Preventing the property from being divided and sold to pay a squanderer’s debts was seen as a way to protect one’s descendants and the family name. However, if no male heirs were conceived the property would be inherited by nephews or distant cousins leaving wives and daughter’s dependent on the generosity of those they barely knew.

The first quadrille at Almack's c1815 from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)

The first quadrille at Almack’s c1815
from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)

When Dancing, Women Led the Way  One of my favorite parts of any British period drama are what my sister and I call the “tippy-toe” dance scenes. But did you know that in Regency dances the women led and the gentlemen followed? The paces of the dance were designed to put the genteel young lady on exhibit. She always moved first. The gentleman’s responsibility was to steer her through the intricate steps with the hopes of avoiding any Mr. Collins’ style disasters. Many of the most popular dances of the era were a blend of both town and country culture. Following the French Revolution, many English aristocrats abandon their stately Georgian movements for steps resembling traditional country dances they were acquainted with from their summer holidays. The hops and stomps of the livelier jigs were replaced with dainty steps and baroque music and the closer proximity allowed for quiet conversation, smiles and flirtation.

“Oh, ah, let em ring again.” George Cruikshank (Servants ignoring the bell)

“Oh, ah, let em ring again.” George Cruikshank (Servants ignoring the bell)

Rank Wasn’t Just for the Upper Class  During the Regency era, anyone who wanted to portray themselves as having an ounce of middle-class respectability employed domestic help. Maintaining even a modest home (keeping it lit, heated and clean) could be a full-time job. So it shouldn’t be surprising that keeping a grand home functioning in elegant style might require up to fifty servants. Just as the members of the ton were classified by rank and precedence, so were the servants hired to maintain, clean and run their homes.  The greater the servant’s responsibilities, the closer the servant worked with the master or mistress of the estate, the higher their standing. The master’s steward stood at the top of this pecking order. Functioning much like a personal assistant, he managed all staff and household affairs. In the master’s absence, he often performed day to day tasks and made decisions in his place. Under him, the butler and the housekeeper supervised male and female staff, respectively. The lower one’s rank, the more physically demanding the work. It was not uncommon for scullery maids, lowest of the female servants, to clean and scour the kitchen for 18 hours a day.  Servants of equal job title under the same roof would be ranked by the standing, in the family line as well as society, of whom they served. The prominence of the person served was far more important than length of service to the family.

What Regency Era custom do you find most interesting?

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