An exclusive venue, in the true meaning of the word “exclusive” (as in exclude!), Almack’s required membership fees (called subscriptions) and had a powerful doorkeeper.
A committee of high-born ladies, known as patronesses, further added to the exclusivity factor. They controlled access to tickets and, therefore, who could enter the prized environs.
Though it cost money to get in, money alone didn’t guarantee entry, nor did birth status. Other factors considered were: wit, beauty, careful dressing, being a good dancer, or simply having good taste might tip the scales in your favor.
The despotic patronesses held weekly meetings to select attendees. Once “in”, there were still strict rules which had to be followed, or you risked being turned away. You must arrive on time, properly dressed.
Six or seven patronesses ran Almack’s. Lady Jersey, daughter and wife of earls, was a chatterbox heiress, strictly maintained the cachet of the club. Lady Sefton, married to an earl, considered more amiable, was a renowned society hostess in her own right. Lady Cowper, know for her with, tact and affability, was known to smooth over quarrels. Formidable Lady Castlereagh, Icy Mrs. Drummond-Burrell, ruthless Countess Lieven, and spiteful Princess Esterhazy round out the committee.
It almost makes one not want to even try to gain entrance. Do you think you’d have made the cut? (fantasy here!)
In researching what Regency folk did on their trips to vacation towns, I was surprised how well I could relate to what they did. Some of it reminded me of trips to places like Minocqua, Wisconsin.
Because when you’re there, staying in a rustic cabin or resort on a nearby lake, you do a lot of the same things that Regency vacationers did. Bored, or having a cloudy day, we go into town and visit: the library, the coffee shop, perhaps a theater’s open somewhere. One might buy clothes (t-shirts nowadays), or hats (caps, visors), or a newspaper.
Active people took walks, made rendezvous, picnics, tours, visited waterfalls, paid to enter local attractions, went to dances and concerts, and out to breakfast. I’ve done all those activities on vacation.
It would seem our vacations aren’t as completely different as we may have thought.
What’s your favorite vacation activity? Do you go to resort/vacation communities?
Kristi here. At Regency Reflections we celebrate books containing inspirational stories set in Regency England and this year we have a lot to celebrate. This month alone, two of our own authors saw their debut novels hit the shelves. (Yea, Sarah and Vanessa!)
Today, we have a variety of options when purchasing our reading material. We can get the book electronically, printed and bound with a stunning cover, or even read to us via audiobook in some cases. We can make our purchases online or in a physical bookstore.
Aside from the very obvious lack of internet purchasing and electronic book readers, people wishing to purchase books in Regency England faced other obstacles on the road to filling their personal libraries.
For one thing, books were considerably more expensive in the 19th century. An ordinary servant would have to pay half a month’s salary to purchase even the cheapest of novels. No wonder a full and robust library was such a clear sign of wealth!
Let’s assume that you did have the money to fill your shelves with volumes of written words. How would you purchase them?
Bookstores were becoming quite prevalent by the time the Regency rolled around. Though considerably smaller than your local Barnes and Noble, the were considered large stores at the time. Many served as printers and circulating libraries as well – more on that in a bit. Books could also be purchased on subscription, if you wished to support a particular author or project.
One very large difference in the book buying experience of today and that of two hundred years ago is the cover. Can you imagine getting to choose what the cover of your book looked like? Do you want the picture of the couple or one of a meadow? Maybe you don’t want a picture at all, just the title and author in large letters. It’s pretty hard to fathom.
Back then you weren’t choosing a picture, but choosing the material. And it was more than just hardback or paperback kind of choices. Books were sold unbound and uncut. People would then take the book to a bookbinder. The wealthy had them bound in leather, which varied considerably in quality and types, while the more frugal had theirs sewn into stiff cardboard with a flexible connecting piece. The outside edges were then cut with a sharp knife and the book was ready to read.
If you couldn’t afford to purchase a book you might could afford a subscription to a circulating library. This was a combination of a current day library and coffee shop. The size of the libraries varied greatly. At the turn of the century (1801) the largest could be found in Liverpool with more than 8000 books available. For the same cost as purchasing 2-3 books a year, a person had access to an entire library.
The sheer expense of being an avid reader made being well read a sign of gentility and wealth. It also explains why so many stories were printed as serials in newspapers and magazines to make them more accessible to more people.
Have you had a unique experience buying a book or going to the library? Share it in the comments!
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Kristi here. Today is April Fool’s Day in the US. An annoying day where you can’t trust anything you read, hear, say, see, or smell. Basically, your five normal senses are useless and you have to keep a tight grip on your sense of humor to survive. Particularly if you have a jokester in your house.
A sense of humor is a beautiful thing. Often we forget that humor isn’t a modern invention. Because of the long time spent posing for portraits, people always look somber and serious in their paintings. But people in the Regency liked to laugh as much as anyone else.
Caricatures, the precursor to today’s editorial cartoons, not only provided social commentary and news, but provided humor as well. Many of them featured prominent figures of the day with certain features exaggerated to provide entertainment as well as make a point.
Much like tabloids and entertainment magazines of today, these drawings were popular because they kept people informed of what was happening in the world in a fun way. Regency England had it’s own celebrities and the caricature artists were the era’s paparazzi.
Caricatures were such a key part of England during the era that the Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation of Brighton spent nearly £60,000 to obtain 235 original prints. Studying caricatures can tell us a lot about the way culture worked, how various people were thought of, and the general feeling of the time.
Some of the most famous caricature artists, such as Thomas Rowlandson, worked mostly for Robert Ackermann. Known today for his prints of changing fashions and furniture, the Repository actually featured many social caricatures. Ackermann also printed other periodicals that covered travel, literature, and London in general. Rowlandson was not only a caricaturist but a skilled artist as well. Hand colored prints of his etchings could be purchased as well.
If you decide to go looking for more caricatures online, do be careful. Like today, sex, scandal, and politics were popular topics and some of the caricature artists weren’t shy about using nudity or lewdness to make their points. Many caricaturists were quite vulgar.
Laurie Alice here: While working on my next Regency, (Zondervan Books, 2014), I ran into a problem—I needed to entertain a houseguest who is in mourning and who is also. . . We’ll be kind and call her distraught rather than whiny. Since I didn’t want them to play card games commonly associated with gambling, such as silver loo or whist, and this lady is not bright enough to play chess, I went to the well of information that is The Beau Monde ladies, the Regency special interest chapter of Romance Writers of America. As usual, they gave me enough information to keep my guest entertained for weeks; therefore, I thought I would share a few of them with you all.
Let’s start with Spillikins.
This is a game that is still played today. Sticks of varying shapes and sizes are held upright, then allowed to fall into a random pile. The object of the game is to collect as many sticks as you can without disturbing any of the other sticks. I remember playing something similar to this as a child called “Ker plunk”—or something like that.
Another game that reminds me a little of a favorite childhood game was, A Journey Through Europe, or The Play of Geography. The idea was a race through Europe, reaching the goal first. Players moved their game pieces along a map of Europe according to the toss of a dice. Sound a little like The Game of Life?
Other games included first having to put together what we would now call a jigsaw puzzle which resulted in a board game of some kind. These games—and others—were stored in slip cases for easy storage or taking on long road trips.
So now I need to figure out how I can get the heroine and hero playing one of these games. Or maybe that will wait for another book in this series. All I know is that knowing more about the games of the time makes for far more interesting evenings in the country houses in which I like to place my characters, than the standards of playing cards, chess, or music.
This silhouette of Jane Austen is attributed to a silhouette-maker, Mrs. Collins, who worked in Bath around 1800.
It’s hard to imagine not having photography to capture the moments of our everyday lives. Weddings, important events, vacations – these are all moments that we capture digitally or on film to enjoy for years to come.
Even though photography had not yet been invented, it was common practice during the Regency to have a likeness or portrait made of a loved one. But oil paintings were expensive and took many sittings to complete. Even watercolor paintings and high quality sketches took skill, time, and money. For those who did not have the extra funds to spend on such luxuries, a silhouette was a viable alternative to capture a person’s likeness.
In simplest terms, a silhouette is the art of casting a shadow of one’s profile onto a sheet of paper and either cutting out or blackening the image. Originally, this art form was known as creating a profile miniature or shade. The term “silhouette” is credited to the Frenchman Eteinne de Silhouette (1709-1797). Silhouette, a finance minister to Louis XV, did not invent the art form, but his skill for cutting profiles earned him notoriety. Additionally, his frugal tendencies made the term “silhouette” synonymous with this inexpensive hobby.
Many people are most familiar with silhouettes that have been cut from black paper, but there were actually several different techniques one could use to create a silhouette. The most popular technique was to place a candle near a person’s profile and cast a shadow on paper. Then the shadow was traced and then either cut out with sharp, tiny scissors or and darkened with charcoal or lampblack. Yet another technique was the “hollow cut silhouette”, in which the profiled image was cut from the paper and black material (silk, paper, etc.) was placed behind the empty space to reveal the image. Another more detailed technique was the painted silhouette, in which the artist would either trace or create the profile with oil paint or watercolours.
This silhouette of Robert Burns was created by John Wiers in 1787.
Because it was an inexpensive, easy, and relatively quick process, creating silhouettes became a popular party activity. In fact, George III was fond of making silhouettes and threw elaborate “shade” parties. Most cities – especially larger resort towns – had silhouette artists for hire. One of the most-well known silhouette artists during the Regency was John Miers (1756-1821). The majority of his career took place in London where, in his early years, he charged a guinea per silhouette. He was noted for his incredible speed and his infamous “three-minute sittings.” He, along with other professional silhouette artists, expanded the art form and created silhouettes on plaster, ivory, wax and glass. The most desirable silhouettes were drawn by hand (not traced) and often found their way onto jewelry and other valuable items.
If you would like to read more on this topic, be sure to check out this article by Linore Burkhard, a Regency Reflections blog contributor: Rise of the Silhouette
No matter the job or social class, people have always found ways to entertain themselves and have fun. Some people have more time to pursue these endeavors than others, but everyone must find the time to enjoy themselves or suffer potential emotional burnout.
It was no different in 19th century England. One pastime that crossed all class and social lines was cards. Men and women, elite and servant, shopkeeper and soldier – all were known to deal in a hand from time to time.
Most of the games involved an element of gambling, using poker chip-like markers to place and collect bets. These were called fish, though by this time they didn’t always look like fish. (You can see pictures and learn more about gaming fish here.)
Were you to sit down at a table with your favorite Regency heroine, the cards would be similar enough to modern decks that you would have little trouble figuring out what was in your hand. You would have to do a bit more counting though, as the corner indexes didn’t appear until later in the 19th century. During the Regency cards simply had the needed number of emblems, requiring frequent counting to ensure the card’s number.
You might even recognize one or two of the games being played at the Regency card table.
Vingt-et-un is still played in every casino around the country, though in America it is commonly referred to as Twenty-one or Blackjack.
Cribbage was well established by this time. Rules have shifted and adjusted over the years, but the game was largely the same, including the peg board.
Whist is a game found frequently in Regency-based novels. A precursor to today’s game of Bridge, Whist is played by two pairs of partners and was more of a gentleman’s game, though the ladies were known to play it as well.
Cards were such a ubiquitous enjoyment that parties and social gatherings were formed around the versatile game apparatus. When many people wished to play together, they played “round” games. These could, theoretically, be played by any number of people, so were excellent for parties and generally allowed for more camaraderie among the participants than the more serious and structured games, such as Whist.
Many of the “round” games seemed to derive from the French game Loo. Players had to pay into the pool in order to participate. Everyone would then be dealt a hand of cards (either three or five cards each, depending on the version.) Each person that won a trick would get a proportionate share of the pool.
Cards during the early 19th century did not yet bear the intricate patterned backs we are used to today, instead they were plain white, lending themselves to card marking and cheating, even inadvertently, with slight smudges and markings.
The wealthy would provide packs of brand new, government sealed playing cards when they had guests over. The less affluent made do with the cleanest deck they had available.
While today’s card backs bear everything from red and blue swirls to pictures of sports teams or even our own families, one thing remains the same. Even the barest of game cabinets is likely to contain a deck of cards.
So break open a pack and take yourself back to Regency England. Don’t worry if you don’t have anyone to play with. Deal out a regular game of solitaire and tell yourself you’re playing Patience.