What in the Regency World is a Round Gown?

Susan Karsten here.  I love historic costumes, but am by no means an expert, even though I took the subject in college.  If you are at all like me (Regency fiction reader/fanatic), you’ve come across the archaic and forgotten term “round gown”. Again, if you are like me, you will take a mental guess what that might be, and move on, flipping pages as fast as you can read them.

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To the best of my research,  the round gown appears to be a pre-Regency style that hung on, or was used for day-wear even as fashion moved to a different silhouette. Marie Antoinette is said to have inspired the round gown, then a dress and robe joined together and tied in the front  Later came Josephine Bonaparte who ushered in the slim, high-waisted, gossamer thin chemise dress of the early 19th Century, that we think of first when we think of Regency dresses.

Back to the round gown, the Empire gown’s precursor. The round gown had a soft, round skirt silhouette, with full gatherings at a slightly raised waist, a train, and straight, elbow-length sleeves.  The round gown’s train, which was common for a short time for day wear and lasted until 1805-06 for the evening, would be pinned up for the dance, as mentioned in Austen’s Northanger Abbey. One shudders at the impracticality of these long white muslin dresses in England, a country renowned for wet weather and muddy roads.

So, when you encounter the term “round gown” in your favorite Regency fiction, think of probably a day dress, kept for wearing at home, and more modest than their evening counterparts. An earlier silhouette, and not in the first stare of fashion.

I so hope some of you will add to this description with more yummy details about the mysterious round gown.

Blast from the Past: Marion Chesney’s Regency novels

Hi all, Susan Karsten here!

…Back from an absence of about four months (that pesky tax job). Since I enjoy Camy’s posts on older regency books so much, I am bringing you info about a book, and its author, and telling you about her extensive and delicious back-list of regency reading fun (over 90 titles). If the author Marion Chesney is not familiar to you — get thee to a bookstore — or library in this case — since she isn’t (boo-hoo) writing regencies anymore.

No, she now only writes fabulously popular cozy mysteries now and you may know her as M.C. Beaton. However, her regencies are GREAT, and with some digging, are still available to the avid fan. She’s got some of her backlist out as e-books lately, too.

Chesney’s debut (writing under her own name) book, which I happen to own, is “The Poor Relation.” Heroine and former debutante Amaryllis Duvane’s fortunes have sunk low and she is reduced to the status of serving her wealthier relatives. Her past love, the Marquess of Merechester, shows up to court one of these wicked stepsister types, and the drama begins.

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I’ll happily admit to being a huge fan of Chesney, in all her genres. But the chance to read one of her first efforts makes me admire her career trajectory even more. As one familiarizes oneself with her work, it’s clear that as she gained publishing popularity and confidence, more and more of Chesney’s delicious humor comes out on the page. I can only hope to instigate half as many snickers for my own readers…someday…when I make my debut!

If you’ve ever enjoyed Chesney’s regencies, please add a comment.

Susan Karsten

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Titles from my Favorite Regency Writer, by Susan Karsten

Hi, Regency fans! I got into reading regency fiction when my children were young. I needed something enjoyable, light, and clean to have on hand whenever I had a few spare minutes to read.

One day, at my library, I stumbled across a book from the House for the Season series, by Marion Chesney — the rest is history — regency era history. She’s still my favorite regency fiction author, and I only wish she still wrote in the genre. Following is a list of her prolific output (Enjoy!):

 

  • Regency Gold (1980)
  • Lady Margery’s Intrigue (1980)
  • The Constant Companion (1980)
  • Quadrille (1981)
  • My Lords, Ladies and Marjorie (1981)
  • The Ghost and Lady Alice (1982)
  • Love and Lady Lovelace (1982)
  • Duke’s Diamonds (1982)
  • The Flirt (1985)
  • At The Sign of the Golden Pineapple (1987)
  • Miss Davenport’s Christmas (1993)
  • The Chocolate Debutante (1998)

Westerby[edit]

  1. The Westerby Inheritance (1982)
  2. The Westerby Sisters (1982)

The Six Sisters[edit]

  1. Minerva (1983)
  2. The Taming of Annabelle (1983)
  3. Deirdre and Desire (1984)
  4. Daphne (1984)
  5. Diana the Huntress (1985)
  6. Frederica in Fashion (1985)

A House for the Season Series[edit]

  1. The Miser of Mayfair (1986)
  2. Plain Jane (1986)
  3. The Wicked Godmother (1987)
  4. Rake’s Progress (1987)
  5. The Adventuress (1987)
  6. Rainbird’s Revenge (1988)

The School for Manners[edit]

  1. Refining Felicity (1988)
  2. Perfecting Fiona (1989)
  3. Enlightening Delilah (1989)
  4. Finessing Clarissa (1989)
  5. Animating Maria (1990)
  6. Marrying Harriet (1990)

Waverley Women[edit]

  1. The First Rebellion (1989)
  2. Silken Bonds (1989)
  3. The Love Match (1989)

The Travelling Matchmaker[edit]

  1. Emily Goes to Exeter (1990)
  2. Belinda Goes to Bath (1991)
  3. Penelope Goes to Portsmouth (1991)
  4. Beatrice Goes to Brighton (1991)
  5. Deborah Goes to Dover (1992)
  6. Yvonne Goes to York (1992)

Poor relation[edit]

  1. Lady Fortescue Steps Out (1993)
  2. Miss Tonks Turns to Crime (1993) aka Miss Tonks Takes a Risk
  3. Mrs. Budley Falls From Grace (1993)
  4. Sir Philip’s Folly (1993)
  5. Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue (1994)
  6. Back in Society (1994)

The Daughters of Mannerling[edit]

  1. The Banishment (1995)
  2. The Intrigue (1995)
  3. The Deception (1996)
  4. The Folly (1996)
  5. The Romance (1997)
  6. The Homecoming (1997)

PS: This is not Christian fiction, but is pretty clean.

Would love to hear from other Chesney fans in the comments. Fondly, Susan

New Regency Book: Prelude For A Lord

It’s our very own Camy Tang, writing as the fabulous Camille Elliot! We’re very excited to announce her new Regency novel, Prelude for a Lord. 

About the book:

PreludeCoverAn awkward young woman. A haunted young man. A forbidden instrument. Can the love of music bring them together . . . or will it tear them apart?

Bath, England—1810

At twenty-eight, Alethea Sutherton is past her prime for courtship; but social mores have never been her forté. She might be a lady, but she is first and foremost a musician.

In Regency England, however, the violin is considered an inappropriate instrument for a lady. Ostracized by society for her passion, Alethea practices in secret and waits for her chance to flee to the Continent, where she can play without scandal.

But when a thief’s interest in her violin endangers her and her family, Alethea is determined to discover the enigmatic origins of her instrument . . . with the help of the dark, brooding Lord Dommick.

Scarred by war, Dommick finds solace only in playing his violin. He is persuaded to help Alethea, and discovers an entirely new yearning in his soul.

Alethea finds her reluctant heart drawn to Dommick in the sweetest of duets . . . just as the thief’s desperation builds to a tragic crescendo . . .

Find out more about Camy’s alter ego and links to purchase the book at camilleelliot.com. She’s also giving away three copies of her new book to people who join her email list!

 

What do you “hear” when a book mentions music? Do you ever look up the songs mentioned?

What’s the Deal with Almack’s? by Susan Karsten

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.

Lady Jersey, a famous Almack's Patroness, via Wikimedia Commons
Lady Jersey, a famous Almack’s Patroness, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Interior of Almack's via Wikimedia Commons
Interior of Almack’s via Wikimedia Commons

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!)

To See and Be Seen ~ Regency’s Rotten Row

When I was a teenager, I spent hours strolling the wide halls of the mall, perusing the CD stores and the Hello Kitty paraphernalia in Hallmark. Then I got a job there and got to watch parades of teens do the nightly mating dance around the three layered fountain.

Regency England didn’t have a three story monolith of retail opportunities, but they did have a wide lane where the elite of London’s society went to see and be seen.

Rotten Row today via Wikimedia Commons
Rotten Row today via Wikimedia Commons

Running for one and quarter miles across the lower edge of Hyde Park, Rotten Row gave the Beau Monde a parade ground of epic proportions. The bridal path was covered in a mixture of gravel to support carriage wheels and a soft bark mixture called tan to protect a horse’s legs. It was wide enough for three carriages to ride abreast of each other down the path.

In the mornings, the path was one of the few places in London where horses could be exercised or ridden at a fast pace. It was the domain of grooms and ladies and gentlemen who wished to let the horses go for a good run.

The entrance to Rotten Row from an 1804 drawing, via Wikimedia Commons
The entrance to Rotten Row from an 1804 drawing, via Wikimedia Commons

But come evening, from around 4 in the afternoon until 7 or 8, riders and drivers were expected to maintain a sedate pace so that people could admire each other’s horseflesh, finery, or their latest romantic attachment.

All the riders and carriages in the park were owned by the well-to-do since hired hacks were not allowed within the walls of Hyde Park. Some people took this to extreme, buying and personalizing fancy carriages, which they then paired with horses that coordinated or even matched their rigs.

Should someone wish to participate in the parade without a horse or carriage, walking paths lined each side of the bridal path. More common folk could often be found along here as well, though, treating the parade of ton member as a form of entertainment or celebrity watching.

With the decline of the local mall in most areas, where have you found people go to see and be seen these days?

 

Why is Everyone Standing in the Hall? A post on Regency terminology

As an American, reading books set in England – particularly historical England – could sometimes be confusing. Once I started researching the time period, I realized that certain words had different meanings “across the pond”. So for everyone like me, I’ve put together a list of a few things that used to confuse me. Hope they help!

Hall

Hall is one of those words that seems simple, but has vastly different meanings on each side of the Atlantic. I always wondered why people spent so much time standing around in the hall. Wasn’t it cramped?

Because in America a “hall” is a passageway – usually on the narrow side – that rooms open off of. In Regency England the hall was the area the front door opened into. Similar to an American foyer or vestibule. In large English homes, the hall is a room in an of itself, often a fairly large one since visitors were sometimes required to wait there a while before being admitted further into the house.

Living “in” the street

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jane Bennet mentions that her aunt and uncle live in Grace Church Street. In American English, that implies Grace Church Street is neighborhood or even an apartment building or some other such collection of living spaces.

What is actually means is that her aunt and uncle have a house with a Grace Church Street address. In America we would say they live on Grace Church Street. It’s a distinction that some modern day Regency authors use and others don’t, but now you won’t be confused if you ever come across it.

Townhome

It’s just that: your home in town. When Americans normally think of as being townhomes are actually called terrace houses in England. These are houses that share a wall with another house on one or both sides. Many homes in Mayfair are terrace houses, but not all. So when the heroine heads to her townhome for the season, she’d probably sharing a wall with her neighbor, but not necessarily so.

First Floor

Have you ever seen characters going up to the first floor? Or looking down from a first floor window? For an American that can be quite confusing – to the point that I try to avoid saying which floor they’re on at all.

The “first floor” in America is actually the “ground floor” in England. So people had to actually go up stairs to reach the first floor.

 

What other terms do you find yourself stumbling over? Any other words you’ve found have a double meaning?

London Lights, by Susan Karsten

How do you picture your Regency characters flitting about London by night? Until 1807, London went about by the feeble flicker of oil lamps.


Special interest groups fought against gaslight, fearing the loss of the whale-oil trade. The inflammatory Bill of 1816 (supportive of gas lighting) would also ruin the navy, the ropemakers, sailmakers, etc. etc. according to its opponents.

Yet gaslight did more for prevention of crime “than the days of Alfred the Great”. Lighting at night brought safety, but also enhanced the reputation of London as the City of Sin. “London Lights” was a slang term referring to the regency age’s gilded immorality.
Nightlife entertainments in London were hideously vulgar, and respectable citizens did not take their families out after dark to public venues. My source says the “flaring gaslight” was appropriate to the rough and tumble array of available diversions.

Information is from: Life in Regency England, by R. J. White, publ. 1963

What do you picture for lighting when you are reading or writing regency fiction? Please leave a comment.

Men’s Regency Hair Styles, by Susan Karsten

Hi, Susan Karsten here!

Grecian influence held sway over the men’s hairstyles (as it did for women as well). Short hair prevailed for men during the Regency. Many wore their hair natural, parts were not popular. But the fashionable set wore one of the following hairstyles.

Windswept:

 

Brutus: As popularized by Beau Brummel

Titus:

 

Coup au Vent: This modern hairdresser is doing a style that is very close to what my research describes!

Cherubin:

Which one’s your favorite? Are they what you’d imagined?

Calling Cards: The Voicemail of Regency England

In the days before mobile phones, text messaging, and emails, people had to rely on face to face encounters and letters for communication. A pivotal part of this communication was the calling card. In many books, calling cards are presented to identify themselves when they go visiting, but calling cards were so much more than that.

Woman's calling card case.
Woman’s calling card case.

Change of Address

Many aristocracy lived in multiple places. When they arrived in town, particularly returning to London or another large city, they would go around and leave calling cards to let friends and acquaintances know they had arrived.

Cards were also dispersed when one was leaving town, with a handwritten indication of their departure.

Sign of Popularity

Sometimes these calling cards would be left out in the hall or drawing room, on display so other people could see what influential and important friends someone had. A large pile of calling cards could be akin to a large friend list on Facebook or an enormous Twitter following

The Polite Snub

Once a calling card had been delivered, it was customary to return to the favor, assuming you wished to further the acquaintance of course. If the person were a friend or someone you wanted a close connection with, a visit was in order. A mere returning of your own card meant you acknowledged the relationship. On the other hand, no reciprocation was a quiet indicator of where you stood on the social ladder.

Leaving a Message

Calling cards contained very little information, many bearing only a name while some included the address of the person. This left plenty of room to write a personal message if appropriate. Just as texting has common abbreviations today, calling cards had a similar shorthand. Turning down particular corners would let the card recipient know certain things, for instance letting them know the card had been delivered in person, indicating a more intimate contact.

Corner turning came to mean more and more as time passed. By the mid-19th century some cards were even being printed with words in the corners indicating common messages (such as visit, felicitations, or adieu). That way the message being left could not be misinterpreted.

Caller ID

The most well-known use of calling cards was in requesting admittance to the house. When visiting someone, a calling card would be presented to the servant at the door. The card would then be delivered to the desired recipient who could then decide if they were at home or not. If the person were not inclined or able to accept visitors at the time, but wanted to maintain the relationship, the denial could be accompanied by one of the mistresses own calling cards. The visit would then be returned within a week.

Image from social calls article on JaneAusten.co.uk. Click to see article.

 

 

The practice of calling cards could be very complicated. As in many matters of etiquette it seems like it would be easy to cause an unintended slight to someone. It isn’t all that surprising that many of the aspects of the calling card are glossed over in historical novels.

What do you think? Should the calling card play a more prominent part in novels or would it be horribly distracting?