Since the Kickstarter for ‘Ever, Jane’ has just 3 funding days remaining, today’s ‘Friday flashback’ is dedicated to Regency England. Please note: I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination and would rather be paid the compliment of being sincere in my appreciation of the period and its culture. If you have something to add, please do so, as I wish to think all the world respectable.
A subset of Georgian England, the Regency period is commonly thought of as the decade from 1810-1820, the time when the Prince Regent ruled prior to ascending the throne, when his father, King George III was deemed unfit. (NB: Have you seen ‘the Madness of King George’? Highly recommend.) Marked by the excess of the aristocracy, the rise of industry, and bookended by the wars in America and France, this period was noted for its refinements in culture. It seemed that, across the classes, all were striving for better lives. Yet the class divide was stark in its economic differences and their ability to achieve that for which they were striving was sharply contrasted. The population boom preceding the period cast a wider net for the tolls extracted on them by the upper classes, and specifically the Regent himself, who paid for their costly pursuits and tastes from the coffers of their estates and the kingdom, which were already taxed from the wars. Thus the divide grew wider.
Yet, with the industrial revolution picking up steam (NPI), the period sought greater and more lavish entertainment. Novels, theatre, and outdoor activities were pursued with abandon across the classes, seeking an escape from their toils and trivialities.
Importantly, the distinct lack of men in the population was noted in these pursuits. But what are men to rocks and mountains? Everything. With so many off at war, or not returning from it, the novels, poetry, and theatre of the era were preoccupied with love and marriage. Therefore, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. After all, for the landed gentry, the object was to honor the rise to power by securing the future with an heir. Primogeniture was still in play and male heirs (and often a spare) were required of all, regardless their class. As such, a tradesman wanted a male heir as much as a peer of the realm; he had a business to pass on, of course. Second only to providing an heir was making a good match for that heir. Here the class divide was stronger than ever. If one was sensible of one’s own good, one was expected not to quit the sphere in which one was brought up. Wealth needed land to verify it; titles needed wealth to fund it – and it was in this circular argument that the Regency period tumbled. Eventually, society morphed, mainly through economic pressure, into one that included a bridge across the classes. But that was many years off.
Thus, it is in this world of propriety and place that Jane Austen lived and wrote. The influences of her time leap from the page still, giving us a first-hand account of daily life behind the shutters and silk and brocade curtains. Much has been written and dissected about the fashion and etiquette of the period. Societal requirements of the young ladies – and gentlemen – of the time varied only with respect to what their classes distinguished. What was acceptable for one was hardly noted in the other. It was, therefore, exceedingly important to be able to sketch the character of another in a moment; one could not be certain that they might ever have another opportunity. And all choices of fashion, deportment, and accoutrements were noted. One could tell in an instant, and indeed even prior to an introduction, the level in society of one’s associates. It was particularly important on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first. Further, to speak one’s mind, to not be intimidated into anything wholly unreasonable was a greater challenge still. Who would want to see their family (or themselves) censured, slighted, and despised through an inappropriate match or untoward behavior? Few, I believe – though I wasn’t there so I cannot prove it. Still, since it is often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us, reading her words has taught me to hope.
How did I fall into this admiration of the time? It came on so gradually that I hardly know when it began. But it is settled, and I am determined to be the happiest ‘Ever, Jane’ player in the world. Join me, why don’t you? Back the project today. You are most welcome!
PS: Did you catch the 16 ‘Pride & Prejudice’ phrases peppered throughout the post?
Want to find out how well you’d fare in Regency England? Take this quiz and find out.
Want to find out more about ‘Ever, Jane’? Click through here for the website.
Want to read a modern adaptation of ‘Pride & Prejudice’? Click here for the Emmy-winning ‘Lizzy Bennet Diaries’.