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.

Love Everlasting, Part 1 ~ A Regency Short Story by Laurie Alice Eakes

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:31–32, kjv

The last place Arabella Barr expected to encounter Major Gareth Reynard was at a Falmouth hiring fair. Three years ago, she would have rejoiced to see his tall, lithe figure striding toward her through a throng, but not there. Not while carrying the tools of her trade along with dozens of other hopeful men and women in need of work, parading past what were mostly the butlers and housekeepers of ladies and gentlemen in need of servants. Yet there she stood, a wooden spoon and a copper pot gleaming in her hand, a mere shade or two brighter than her own ruddy locks. And there he strolled, a glass of lemonade in his hand, and a stout, middle-aged woman in black gown and frilled white cap at his side.

Arabella saw him too late to escape, even if eluding his notice were an option. She could not get hired if she ducked behind the copper pan, or the woman beside her, who was twice her width and half a head taller. And she needed someone to hire her. She had spent nearly every farthing she possessed to remove herself to this remote corner of England in an effort to avoid persons who once called her friend or, at the least, social equal. No employment by the end of the fair meant no roof over her head that night and precious little to eat. So why, oh, why, was he in Cornwall instead of with his regiment in Belgium with half the ton? Why oh why had she not fled somewhere like the Hebrides to find work away from the peers who now shunned her as though she would contaminate them with a mere glimpse of her?

The answer to her decision was simple—a Scots household that could afford a cook would not hire an English one. The reason for Major Reynard’s presence at the Falmouth hiring fair baffled Arabella into immobility of body and thought, as he drew close enough to speak to her.

“Arabella—Miss Barr.” He was not inflicted with immobility. His blue eyes sparkled as though sunshine blessed the warm summer day. His lips, the lower one enticing with its cleft in the middle, curved into a smile. “Here you are at last.”

Apparently paralyzed from the ability to emit speech, Arabella’s mouth remained closed. Not a word formed in her head to move to her tongue, even if those words could force their way past her lips.

“I never thought I’d find you.” Major Reynard was speaking again, though her ears seemed to have lost their ability to understand English, for his syllables made not sense to her. “But now that I have—“

“Sir,” The housekeeper-looking woman beside him interrupted, “begging your pardon, and I don’t recommend you hire this one. She’s too young and too pretty.”

“I’m not interested in hiring her.” Major Reynard reached a hand toward Arabella. “Please, my dear—“

Like a shock from one of those electrifying machines, the words “my dear” shot through Arabella and spurred her into action. She flung up her pot like a shield and fixed him with a glare. “If you have no intention of hiring me, then step aside so someone else can.”

“Arabella, my dear—“

“I am not your dear, or have you forgotten that you jilted me three years ago?” She spun on her broken-down heel and stalked through the crowd to another corner of the grounds.

From the corner of her eye, she watched him bend his head toward the housekeeper as though speaking earnestly, confidentially. Arabella could only guess at the words, as she could see neither Major Reynard’s nor the housekeeper’s faces, nor hear their voices above the tumult of cries of, “Will you pay for this,” from maids wielding dust mops,  and “Hot pies. Get your hot pies here,” from piemen carrying their trays above their heads.

“She nearly ruined my career three years ago, Mrs. Housekeeper.” The major would be saying. Or if he was in a humor to be kind, “Or rather, her father did. I’ve been looking for her to—“

Why he had found her “at last” Arabella couldn’t imagine. He had left the country with his regiment the first week the banns for their nuptials had been called instead of staying in England for the wedding. And Arabella had fled London with little more than the clothes on her back and ring—

A-ha! The ring. He wanted the ring back. No doubt he had found another heiress to bestow the betrothal band upon and couldn’t afford to buy another such bauble on a major’s pay.

Arabella raised her left hand to examine the bare finger. She had sold the ring to hold body and soul together until she convinced someone to hire a cook barely into her twenties.

She lowered her hand to see another housekeeper was bearing down upon her like a hawk on a mouse. “References?” The word was a fox’s yip.

“Yes, ma’am.” Tucking the pot and spoon under one arm, Arabella drew two folded papers from her reticule. “I’ve been creating pastries since I was ten years of age and advanced to sauces and roasting meats when I was fifteen.”

Because she begged the cook in her father’s house to teach her on lonely days when she couldn’t spend her lonely hours riding..

“As you see—“

“Why did you leave your previous employer?” the housekeeper interrupted her.

“Their London chef decided he wanted a spell in their country house.”

And she had seen Major Reynard’s name on the guest list for an upcoming houseparty. The Featherstones had been kind to her. She didn’t wish to embarrass them with her true identity emerging while guests from the haut-ton filled their house.

“As you see from my references, my work was more than satisfactory. I, um—“ She forgot what she intended to say, for she spied the major striding toward her through the crowd without his housekeeper this time. I’m good.” She finished with a lameness that would convince no one to hire her.

But the housekeeper was reading her references with care.

“She might have written those herself.” Major Reynard’s rich timbre rolled over her ears like a drayman’s wagon now, though once upon a time, it had sent shivers of delight racing through her. “She has a fine hand.”

“I don’t. I mean, I didn’t. That is to say. . .” Arabella’s voice trailed off as the potential employer thrust the letters back.

“You look too young.” She trundled off to  a stout woman with a dented tin pot.

“How could you?” Tears stung Arabella’s eyes. She blinked them back and thrust the handle of her wooden spoon into Major Reynard’s neatly tied cravat. “She was giving me serious consideration and now-now you’ve ruined it. But what should I expect from you other than to to ruin my life?”

“You don’t need to be working like a common servant now that I have finally located you.” He reached for her arm.

She jerked away. “You are giving all the potential employers a wrong impression of me.”

“Miss Barr, I am trying to talk to you.”

“And what you are doing is creating a scene.”

A circle of silent onlookers surrounded them.

“We can’t talk here, Ara—Miss Barr.” The major took her elbow. “I have a private parlor in the inn and my housekeeper will chaperone.”

She tucked pot, spoon, and the bag with her measly belongings behind her back. “The time for talking to me was three years ago. But, you couldn’t flee fast enough from so much as a fare-the-well.” Tears stung her eyes, clogged her throat, and she stepped backward before he noticed.

And stepped on someone’s foot.

“Yow, ye broke me toe.” The cry sounded more like the yowl of a cat defending its territory than a young woman.

The blow she dealt Arabella on the side of her head with the handle of a broom felt more like a truncheon. She gasped and staggered. Her pot flew in one direction, her spoon in another. The pot knocked the brushes from the hand of a chimney sweep, and a stray dog snatched up the spoon and darted through the crowd as though he had captured a meaty bone.

Major Reynard captured Arabella by her arms. “Are you all right? Shall I catch that woman and lay an information against her for assaulting her?”

“My spoon. My pot.” Arabella shrieked her dismay. “I need them. I—“ She yanked free and darted after the sweep with her pot. She couldn’t afford a new one. She wouldn’t have that one if she hadn’t slipped it out of the house ahead of the bailiffs come to collect all the Barrs’ worldly possessions.

But the sweep was small as his kind was wont to be, and the fair crowded. He vanished from her sight before she ran a dozen yards.

And she had just lost her reticule. One cord of her bag still dangled over her sleeve from where a cutpurse had taken advantage of the chaos and run off with the last of her worldly wealth—two shillings and a happens.

She stared at the frayed string and wished the maid had wielded the broom a little harder. If she had been knocked unconscious, she could wake up to discover this was all a nightmare. But she was already awake and this was not a nightmare. Stark reality told her she was now bereft of the tools of her trade, her references, and a paltry sum of money, but enough for a pie.

How she would adore a pie. Though the crust would likely be tough and greasy, not her own flaky pastry light enough to blow away with a puff of air, sustenance of any kind would help ease the gnawing emptiness inside her, an emptiness caused by a lack of nourishment for the past two days, and a hollow place in her chest once filled by her love for a dashing cavalry officer.

That cavalry officer reached her side and simply held out his elbow for her to take as though they promenaded through a garden party at a country house and not through a malodorous throng. He wore the buckskin breeches and top boots of the country gentleman rather than his uniform, and yet he was no less dashing. Chiseled features, broad shoulders, and narrow hips did that for a man when he was also confident to the point of arrogance, expecting all to move from his path and do his bidding despite his position of the third son of a modestly prosperous baronet.

Resigned to the notion that she should at least get a meal from his wish to speak to her, Arabella was no different than those around him. She took his elbow and allowed him to lead her through a throng that parted like a joint beneath a cleaver

Half way across the green, he stopped and held out his hand. “I will carry your bag.”

She gave it to him. That was easier than arguing. He took it with the tensed muscles of someone who expected a heavy burden. At the lightness of the bag, little more than a drawstring sack like an over-sized reticule, he took half a minute to gaze down at her, his dark blue eyes registering an expression she chose to believe was pity.

“I expected more,” he said.

“What more could I have after three years on the run?”

“But why—“ He shook his head and resumed walking, his stride long, his footfalls striking the ground hard enough for her to feel them through his arm.

“That damage your conscience?” she taunted. “If you have one.”

“Arabella, please don’t.” He didn’t say what he didn’t want from her—as if he hadn’t said that loudly and clearly three years earlier—for the reached the inn.

The tap and coffeerooms bulged with sweating, shouting humanity on either side of the entryway. The Major shouldered his way through the swarm and up a flight of steps to a room at the top of the steps. He knocked and the housekeeper opened the portal to show a plainly furnished room with a table and chairs, a sideboard and desk, an oasis in the desert.

“Mrs. Polglaze,” Reynard said, “did you order some dinner?”

“I did, sir, and there’s warm water in the next room if Miss Barr wishes to freshen herself up a mite.” She bestowed a kindly look upon Arabella. “Shall I show you the way?”

She showed Arabella to an adjoining room. Warm water and soap, though harsh, restored some of her dignity. A comb for her tumbled hair helped even more. The smell of meat pies and other savory dishes brought into the parlor by an inn servant nearly restored her to a shred of the confidence that had gotten her out of London and into a paying position before she starved to death.

Then she strolled into the parlor and faced Major Gareth Reynard in enough quiet and privacy for them to speak for the first time since he slipped out of her life. The fragrance of the meal gagged her. Her knees grew so weak she clutched the back of a chair to stop herself from dropping to her knees on the floorboards. Only her pride gave her the strength to look the major in the eyes.

“What do you want?” she demanded.

“Your forgiveness.” He gripped the back of his own chair. He had removed his gloves prior to eating, and his knuckles shone as white as hers. “And to tell you why I did what I did. To explain. . . Explain. . .”

Arabella made herself laugh. “You think you can explain away leaving me at the altar or as near as it doesn’t matter?”

“Not explain away, but—“

“Thank you, sirrah, and your actions gave me all the explanation I have needed for the past three years and continue to need. You promised me everlasting love, but vanished into the arms of the war the day after the constable hauled my father off to Newgate Prison.”

Part 2 of Love Everlasting can be read here

So what do you think? Is any excuse good enough to explain the major jilting his fiancee practically at the altar? Regardless, how can Arabella forgive him? Could you forgive a man who left you at the altar in an hour of desperate need or any other time?

 

Ring Bell For Service ~ The Prevalency of the Regency Bell Pull

Kristi here.

How many times have you read of the hero or heroine of a Regency novel ringing the bell for the servant? Did they really do that? Were bell pulls as common as we think they were?

The answer is a somewhat complicated yes and no.

Bells have long been used to summon servants, though during the Regency the idea of summoning them from anywhere in the house was still fairly new.

Staff Call Bells in a line
Staff Call Bells via Wikimedia Commons

From the time the small handbell was invented, people have used them to summon servants waiting in the hall or across the room. Simple systems that connected a room to a nearby antechamber were documented during the first decade of the eighteenth century. The idea of a house-wide network of bells wasn’t introduced for another 35 years.

Though the actual creation of the full house servant bell system is debated, the first known advertisement for such a system was in 1744. It worked via a series of copper wires, springs, and pulleys to pass the vibration caused by pulling the cord to the bell in the servants’ area.

With more than 60 years from the introduction of the bell pull to the onset of the Regency, modern thinking would assume the system would be nearly ubiquitous. In places such as Mayfair, where most houses were built after 1750, the bell systems probably were very prevalent.

Jane Austen mentions ringing for servants in Pride and Prejudice when she tells Kitty to ring for Hill. Though we don’t know if this referred to the simpler “pulley bell” of the early 1700s or the household bells of the mid-1700s, it does show that bell systems were not confined to only the fashionable and trendy areas of England.

Bigger houses required more bells. Click the picture for an article on indicator boxes and bells after the introduction of electric systems.

But what about the old country houses? Some of the sprawling estates our aristocratic heroes and heroines call home were built centuries before the introduction of a bell system. Since many of these families also maintained residences in town, it’s hard to imagine them forgoing the luxury and privacy of the bells when they adjourned to the country.

The answer was pipes and tubes.

Older homes could be fitted with a network of pipes and tubes that acted as conduits for all the bell mechanisms. Plumbers (who were also busy retrofitting homes with the newfangled indoor plumbing) and chimney sweeps often began second careers and bell-hangers.

This wasn’t done everywhere, however, because some houses that installed and external bell (the first doorbells) sometimes places a sign above the pull telling visitors what to do.

Another issue with these spring-based bell systems was maintenance. Getting to a disconnected wire or pulley within the network of refitted tubes could be extremely difficult.

As the bell systems became more and more prevalent in the country homes, the indicator boards advanced. Some would utilize different sizes and tones of bells to allow servants to better hear which room was summoning them. Others created elaborate sets of flaps and labels to let servants see which person had rung.

In the 1840s, electric bell systems began to appear. This limited the amount of cumbersome maintenance and allowed for much more elaborate indicator boards. People of the Regency, however, wouldn’t have seen these as electricity was still little more than a novelty.

The bells were likely a bittersweet invention for servants. While the installation of a bell system meant that a footman didn’t have to stand in the hall for hours awaiting instruction, it also meant that whenever a bell was rung, the servant had to run up the stairs to get the instruction and then back down to see to the request. Over time the addition of speaking tubes and in-house telephones provided more direct communication, but those weren’t to grace English homes until well after the Regency period.

 

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?

 

What on Earth is Calf’s Foot Jelly? by Susan Karsten

Calf's foot jelly

If you’ve done a significant amount of reading of regency fiction, you’ve come across a female character taking calf’s foot jelly to an invalid, usually someone poor. It was thought to be exceeding nutritious, but that is not necessarily true, according to my research. It was a thrifty, economizing concoction, made from a leftover part of a beef.

Calf’s foot jelly has two forms: sweet, common in 19th-century Britain and America, and savoury–called petcha, a standard of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. Both dishes start with a long braise of split cow’s feet. The latter (for a sickroom concoction) adds garlic, onion, salt and pepper, and usually retains the meat that falls from the feet; the former (for a dessert) adds sugar, Madeira wine, brandy, cinnamon and citrus, and discards the meat. In both cases the stock is chilled until it sets, and the fat that rises to the top is skimmed.

The key component of both is collagen–a protein found mainly in connective tissue, in which feet abound. Collagen makes meat tough, but it also makes the same cut, after stewing, silky and rich. Smart cooks have long begged chicken feet from the butcher: they give chicken soup extra body. Hot, collagen imparts richness; chilled, it turns to gelatin.

To boil it down/summarize: Stock made by boiling a calf’s foot in water; which sets to a stiff jelly on cooling. It consists largely of water and gelatin, so is of little nutritional value.

Note: The New Female Instructor strongly advises against the addition of wine when the jelly is to be used for an ill person. Lemonade was often given to an ill-person along with barley water and tea.

To the readers, have you come across this, and wondered? To the fellow-Regency writers, have you ever included a character delivering this to a poor sick person?

104_2304Susan Karsten, regency blogger, author

The Husband Campaign ~ Guest Post by Regina Scott

Like many of the wonderful writers on this blog, I work hard to make sure my stories are true to the historical period, but there are some areas of the Regency that frankly scare me. I am in awe of the writers who can name every battle Wellington fought in or the color of the braid on the 95th Rifle’s uniform. I admire authors who manage to study period medical books without growing queasy. And if you can figure out how to do more than describe the colors of horses as they pull the appropriate carriage to whisk a heroine away to a ball, well, you have my respect.

Regina Scott The Husband CampaignAnd then along came John, Lord Hascot, the hero of my April Regency-set romance from Love Inspired Historical, The Husband Campaign. John who raises hunters, those powerful horses that carried gentlemen into the hunting field and, occasionally, into battle. I was fairly certain I would never be able to think about horses the way John, Lord Hascot, does. Horses are John’s life. But they would need to become the life of any lady he wed. How could I possibly describe Lady Amelia’s response to John’s horses or her own?

Luckily, research led me to an exceptional little book, lovingly recreated online, called The Young Lady’s Equestrian Manual. Though its original publication date of 1838 (taken from material dating from 1829) post-dates the Regency, it is close enough that I felt comfortable relying on it. The manual describes such things as how to choose a proper ladies mount, the various parts of the horse and its accoutrements, and how to mount, manage the reins, and find your seat. It confirms that the way a lady sat upon her horse was very important to many Regency era gentlemen, as this passage indicates:

“A lady seldom appears to greater advantage than when mounted on a fine horse, if her deportment be graceful, and her positions correspond with his paces and attitudes; but the reverse is the case, if, instead of acting with, and influencing the movements of the horse, she appear to be tossed to and fro, and overcome by them. She should rise, descend, advance, and stop with, and not after the animal. From this harmony of motion result ease, elegance, and the most brilliant effect.”

And how, you might ask, can a lady have the best deportment on horseback? The manual explains that as well. A lady must

• Keep her shoulders even but back
• Put no weight on the stirrup
• Incline partially backward
• Keep her head in an even, natural position looking straight ahead
• Hold her elbows steady and near her side, with the lower part of the arm at a right angle to the upper
• Above all, never carry the whip in a way that might tickle the horse.

Got all that? Good, because according to the manual, “Nothing can be more detrimental to the grace of a lady’s appearance on horseback, than a bad position: a recent author says, it is a sight that would spoil the finest landscape in the world.”

All I can say is that I’m glad Amelia gets to ride the horses and I only have to read about them. What about you? Do you ride? Were you given any rules of the road for how to sit on horseback? Are you glad women are no longer constrained to riding sidesaddle?

reginascott11-07mediumAfter 27 sweet historical romances set in the Regency period, Regina Scott knows there is still much to learn. You can learn more about her at her website at www.reginascott.com, her blog she shares with author Marissa Doyle at www.nineteenteen.com, and her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/authorreginacott.

 

 

 

 

Book Blurb
The moment John, Lord Hascot, encounters a young woman sheltering in his abandoned stable, his future is sealed. To prevent scandal, and protect Lady Amelia Jacoby from her parents’ ire, he must propose. John’s ability to trust vanished when his former love married his twin brother. Yet he offers Amelia everything she could want, except affection.

Amelia sees John’s true nature shine through when he cares for his horses. But the brooding aristocrat seems determined to keep her at arm’s length. Little by little Amelia will turn Hollyoak Farm into a home, but can she turn a marriage of convenience into a joyful union?

Heroine Rescued from Fruitless Vanity by Regency Hero! “A Heart’s Rebellion”

Lovely heroine, Jessamine Barry, daughter of a vicar no less, is tempted, and gives in to vanity when she allows a flattering knave to draw her away from her standards.

A Heart's RebellionYou may have noted my journalistic headline-style title, and the 30 word summary with which I started this post. I don’t know if I got your attention, but the book “A Heart’s Rebellion” got my attention as a wonderful read. And since it has simmered in my heart and mind for a few weeks, a marvelous truth-filled spiritual theme has surfaced from the book’s delight-filled sea of lavish plot, setting, and characterization.

The hero, Lancelot Marfleet, is a Christlike man.  However, he is not deliciously handsome like so many romance heroes. But from Scripture, we learn that our Lord himself was not particularly attractive or handsome:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him,

nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”  

Isaiah 53:2 

The heroine is Jessamine Barry, who sidetracks onto a tangent of worldliness, seeking satisfaction in being admired by a man…any man.

She reminds me of Folly, a name which could be used for Jessamine as she leaves her family home for the bright lights of London. She also discards the teachings of her youth:

“The wisest of women builds her house, but Folly with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14:1

Lancelot, in his Christlike way, shows grace to Jessamine, is patient, long-suffering, and kind, even when she is not.  He ultimately rescues her from her sin and gives her a way out.  He draws her to himself in love and completely saves her.  For me, this chain of events makes this book even more worthwhile for the picture of redemption shown through the character of Lancelot.

To celebrate the release of A Heart’s Rebellion, author Ruth Axtell will be giving away two copies of her book. The first giveaway ended Monday, March 24 at midnight, and the second ends Monday, March 31 (today) at midnight. To enter the giveaway, answer the following question in the comments below:

Giveaway Question: The hero in A Heart’s Rebellion, Lancelot Marfleet, has a hobby, which is botany. What is a famous botanical garden in London, which existed in regency times?

Also, If you’ve read the book, did you notice any other Christlike attributes of the hero? I’d love to read your comments on this post, Thanks for your time, Susan Karsten

 

The Eye of the Beholder: Standards of Regency Beauty

Kristi here. In a recent fit of nostalgia, I’ve been watching some of my favorite shows from the eighties on Netflix. Aside from the huge difference in sound and film quality and the stiltedness of some of the acting, I was struck by the vast gulf that existed between what was considered beautiful then, and what it is now.

The fashioning of hair and clothes are obviously different – high-waisted jumpsuit with enormous shoudlerpad,s anyone? – but as I put on my analytical thinking cap, I saw it went deeper. The size and shape of the bodies and even the eyebrows is different.

If standards of beauty can change that much in thirty years, imagine how they could have altered in 200 years. What was considered beautiful in the Regency era?

natural-regency-makeupPale Skin

Pale skin was considered a sign of wealth as it meant you didn’t have to work outside. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s tan is remarked upon when she travels to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle. Caroline attempts to use Elizabeth’s darkened skin to diminish Darcy’s attraction.

Curves 

The Regency ideal was a good deal plumper than today’s standard of beauty. Paintings and poetry from the day show an affection for plumper backsides and dimpled thighs. Again this was a sign of wealth. The plumper people didn’t have to work psychically and they had plenty to eat.

The appealing curves extended to the facial regions as well, with rounded, young looking faces reigning the day instead of the cut cheekbones of modern times.

1817 fashion plate
Notice the ruffles, embroidery, and sheer sleeves of this 1817 gown.

Delicate Clothing

Light colors, embroidery, and nearly translucent fabrics were the epitome of fashion. Yards of ruffles and ropes of jewels were the epitome of beautiful. The glittery adornments and delicate clothing were, once again, signs of wealth.

The more delicate appearance also extended to the hair, with wigs and enormous headpieces falling out of fashion, curls, feathers, and natural hair were prized. This signified that not only could your delicate hairdo withstand your lifestyle, but that you were healthy, as wigs had become popular in an attempt to disguise illness induced hair loss.

Shoes were also delicate, especially evening shoes. Men were known to still wear the occasional heel on a night out and more than one woman packed an extra set of dancing slippers in her reticule.

 

Beauty trends of the Regency era were obviously tied to what the wealthy could attain. Do you think that holds true today? Do you think the working classes of the Regency had the same opinions of beauty as the upper classes did?

 

A Proper Prodigal, Regency Short Story (part 1) ~ by Susan Karsten

 

 “Miss Virginia!” The dubious butler called – nay bellowed – her name.

Virginia Mortimer jumped at the stentorian tones. She’d asked for the summons, but it hadn’t been necessary. It seemed she’d hardly slept at all. She’d been up and dressed for the last hour.

She took a last glance around the plush bedroom. How elegant it had seemed the night she arrived. In the light of what had transpired over the last few weeks, it looked tawdry now – faded and dusty in the dawn light now shafting through the windows.

The hackney must be here to take her to the posting inn. To ride a public stagecoach home to Primrose Hall would serve as only the latest indignity of her headlong fall from grace

On the floor, half under the bedside table, the corner of a book caught her eye. She reached for it, not wanting to leave a trace of herself behind. It was a slim leather-bound book, given to her by her parents. Stamped in gold letters on the front was the word ‘Psalter’. She jammed it into her capacious reticule.

Only then did she turn to the door, square her shoulders and respond to the odious butler. “I’m coming!”

The cad who’d brought her to this nadir was nowhere to be seen. She didn’t care to say ‘good bye’ and her departure wouldn’t matter to him when he stumbled in from another night of carousing.

The butler eyed her valise, but made no move to assist, but simply opened the door. No pretense of respect, he closed the door as she humped her own valise down the scrubbed white steps. She rummaged in her reticule, and handed a note to the driver before hiking her skirts and launching herself awkwardly into the hackney. The hackney gave a lurch, and she was on her way home. Back to the small village of Beckston to face her parents’ recriminations and her future as a ruined maiden.

Though the day was sunny, a high wind blew swirls of gray smoke down into the dusty inn yard where she waited, clutching her cloak about her and hoping her large bonnet hid her face. She wondered what the chances were that someone of her village would be making this same journey.

When the coach arrived, she was the first passenger to board. One by one, others entered the coach. She held her breath as each passenger mounted, letting it out when she recognized no familiar face. What would the grim-faced soldier, the plain lady in the depressing bonnet, or the elderly clergyman think of her if they knew what she really was, and that she was slinking home in shame?

Only two months ago, when she slipped out during the night, she’d left her childhood behind, naively thinking she knew better than her parents. She’d believed Lord Beckwith’s son Randall loved her and would do right by her, no matter what her mother and father said to the contrary.

Virginia had noticed Randall for the first time at the Beckwith’s annual picnic at their country estate outside Beckston.  He must have been down from Cambridge. The local gentry were invited for the day, which began with competitive games on the lawn for entire community, followed by a picnic. The gentry then joined houseguests and the noble lords of the manor for an evening dinner and ball inside, while the common folk reveled on outdoors.

Invited with her family to the dinner and ball, she enjoyed the lavish surroundings, and never expected to draw Randall’s attention. From the moment he’d lofted a crumpled note at her she’d been hooked. A note which landed down the front of her bodice. She fished it out, read the words ‘You’re beautiful’ and looked up in surprise to lock eyes with the impossibly handsome young man.

His wavy blond hair, chiseled straight nose, teal-blue eyes and muscular physique caught all the young girls’ fancy, and when he kept paying her, a mere barrister’s daughter,  particular attention, she was sunk.

As the coach rumbled out of the London inn yard, Virginia’s mind shied away from continuing this inward litany of her fall, and instead thought ahead to her arrival home. Her parents’ quick response of ‘yes’ to her note requesting them to allow her to come home came as a relief since she had only a few coins and nowhere else to go. Beyond that, she didn’t know what to expect of her homecoming.

***

Hours later, her mother sailed toward her with open arms. “Darling, you’re home!” Hugs, pats on the back, and murmurs of welcome caused the tears to flow. Virginia vowed right then and there never to disregard her parents’ wishes again. They had tried to tell her what was best, but she had defied them for Randall and his false promises.

She drew away from her mother’s embrace and girded herself to look her parents in the eye. “Mother – Father, how can I thank you? I am so sorry. How could I have been so blind, so foolish?” Fresh gales of tears followed.

“We forgive you, Virginia.”  Her father’s gentle tone only served to make her feel more quilty. “Here, you must be chilled to the bone. Put this on.” Her father moved around behind her and laid a fur-lined robe across her shoulders. “A little homecoming gift.”

How forgiving they were. In fact, they acted as if nothing had changed and Virginia’s flight of passion hadn’t ever occurred.  Mother led her to her old room upstairs, and Father trailed behind with her valise.

A dreamlike state swept over Virginia – how unreal to be back in her frilly, maidenly girlhood bedroom with its narrow bed, after the shameful deeds she’d done. Defying, sneaking away, rebelling outright and allowing herself to be deceived by a seducer.

“Put your things away, dear, and then come down for supper. We have a surprise for you.”

Virginia used the pretty china pitcher and bowl on the washstand to freshen up after the dusty travel. She’d left in London the lavish wardrobe Randall gave her. But here were all the dresses she left behind, hanging in the white-painted wooden wardrobe. How soft, simple, and demure the pale-colored muslin dresses appeared. Do I even have the right to dress as a maiden?

She had no one to hold responsible but herself. Taught from childhood to be pure, Virginia threw that teaching to the wind on the basis of a few kisses and compelling whispered words, and then allowed young love’s passion to take control. Yes, Randall was the instigator, but she alone chose sin, her own conscience told her that.

She picked a pink and white dress with a silk ribbon sash, and shimmied it over her head. Her parents must have dismissed her maid when she left, and she had to shift for herself, for now at least. She stood in front of the mirror, tying the sash into a bow, then turning it to the back. The high-waisted dress was almost too flattering to her young figure. She didn’t deserve to look so young and pretty anymore.

She sat down at the dressing table and picked up her silver-backed brush, scraping her long, glossy brown hair back into a tight chignon, wishing she could bind her sinful past as easily. But the relentless door to the future stood open, and she had to walk through.

***

“You look charming, my dear girl.” Virginia’s father pulled a chair out for her to sit at the intimate family table.

“Yes, not a day older than when you left.” Mrs. Mortimer beamed upon her daughter.

“Dear, don’t talk about that yet, let Virgie have her favorite dinner first.” He lifted the cover off a roast of beef, surrounded by potatoes and vegetables and a ring of parsley clusters.

“You’re too good to me. I don’t deserve this.” Virginia lifted her index finger to wipe away a tear.

“Remember, God’s love never fails. And we want to be like Him. Love covers a multitude of sins. His love and ours.” Mr. Mortimer laid his hand on her shoulder.

“Now let’s pray.” He bowed his head. “Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for bringing our daughter home. Thank you for this food, In Jesus Name, Amen. There, now we can eat.”

***

“But Father, we can’t have a party. A celebration for my return? How will I face the neighborhood?” They’d moved across the hall after dinner to the drawing room, where a fire crackled in the hearth.

“As far as anyone here knows, you’ve been visiting an elderly relative in the north. I felt the Lord would forgive a bit of dissembling to protect your name, unsullied, as it were.”

“Yes, we are just so grateful you are back, and none’s the wiser. We’ll just go on as before.” Mrs. Mortimer’s smile became tremulous.

“And, before you ask, we heard Beckwith’s son was given an ultimatum to join the army, else be shipped off to the West Indies to manage a plantation. He got into a duel in London and won’t be back here.  He’s probably landed on the continent by now. As a younger son, he won’t be needed, either. The eldest two all have well-established nurseries. But enough about that family.”

“Now let’s have a song, Virgie.”

She took her Psalter over to the piano and started riffling through the pages. Settling on one, she began to sing and accompany herself to Psalm 68. “This one reminds me of me.”

“God frees the captive and He sends

The blessedness of home and friends,

And only those in darkness stay

Who will not trust Him and obey.”

She hung her head a moment, then straightened her spine, and turned toward her parents. “Mother, Father, I want to make very clear that I am repentant and have submitted my life to Christ now. I know it’s belated, and you always wanted me to have the Faith. Now I do. It took my fall into the miry pit to bring me to my senses and to throw myself on God’s mercy.”

“We forgive you, don’t we Tansy?” Overjoyed, with tears spilling, Mr. Mortimer looked to his wife.

Mrs. Mortimer’s face lit up, wet with tears of joy, and she responded likewise. “Yes, Harold, we both forgive. Now let it go, dear Virginia. God forgives you too, and you need to move on with your life.”

“I was such a fool to believe Randall. He told me we’d be married, so it didn’t matter because we were in love, and that God knew we were sincere. He never intended to wed me. In fact, he ended laughing in my face, and told me to find my own way home.”

“Such a base seducer will always say anything to achieve his wicked will. Most rakes at least keep hands off well-born maidens. So sorry you had to learn such a hard lesson.” Mrs. Mortimer rose and put her arm around Virginia’s shoulders. “Now come over to the sofa, and let’s plan the party. All our friends will want to celebrate your homecoming with us.

***

Long, quiet days of healing commenced. Virginia helped around the house, doing little chores like peeling apples, mending linens, knitting socks, and helping plan the party her parents insisted on.

Dread flickered in her mid-section every time she thought ahead to the celebration, but she steeled her nerves, not wishing to disappoint her parents. They seemed so hopeful everything could return to how it had been before her disgrace.

Even though her parents thought nobody knew of her shameful fall from grace, Virginia braced herself each time someone came to the house or she ran into someone in the village. What if . . . someone knew something, and spread gossip? She’d hate that, but worse, hate the taint that would fall on her family.

The day of the party arrived. She could put off her preparations no longer. Up she went, to her boudoir, where her maid fussed around, waiting to work her magic.

“Lizzy, I’m so glad you were able to come back to work. I wasn’t gone long, but you could have easily been hired on somewhere else.”

“Miss, glad I am to be back here,” her young tidy maid said with a grin. “The only job on offer whilst ye were gone was at the fishmongers, cleaning fish.”

“Well then, let’s do my hair, and get me dressed. I’ve picked out that ivory taffeta, trimmed in coral.”

Lizzy’s deft hands created a stylish psyche knot.  Virginia approved, tilting her head this way, and that. “I love this style. I should have tried it sooner.” Maybe this party wouldn’t be a disaster. Her heart began to hope.

She stepped into the dress, and the maid fastened it. High waisted, it flattered her figure and whispered when she walked. A filmy fichu of ivory silk filled in the too-low neckline. Styles of the day tended toward the immodest, but Virginia was done with that. The coral cameo necklace her mother brought in earlier that evening complemented her coloring.

 *

“There you are!” Her mother scurried over and grasped Virginia’s elbow as she entered the drawing room where the guests had begun to gather. “You must meet the Ashleighs, from rural Beckston. They are twins, just your age.” Mrs. Mortimer towed her across the room.

Dread of facing the guests took the form of a rock in Virginia’s stomach. But she had no choice, the party had commenced whether she was ready or not.

“Mr. Quentin Ashleigh, Miss Annabelle Ashleigh, this is my daughter Virginia. She has just returned from a lengthy trip visiting relatives.” Mrs. Mortimer performed the introductions then turned and flitted off to greet more new arrivals. Virginia caught a glimpse of her mother’s crossed fingers.

Virginia made small talk with the Ashleigh twins. He had intelligent brown eyes and curly russet hair, and his sister though not identical, had similar coloring. Virginia relaxed and the rock of dread melted away under the bright beam of the twins’ sparkling personalities.

“Miss Mortimer, your mother is a darling, she invited us for tonight when she heard we were newly settled in Beckston.” Annabelle’s curls jiggled along with her words.

“She is a sweet lady, if a daughter’s opinion counts.” Virginia replied, smiling. “Where in rural Beckston do you reside?”

“We just moved to Fairbrook Manor – just a mile or so east of here – my family’s owned it for decades. My sister and I had our fill of London for the time.”

“Yes, I’m somewhat familiar with Fairbrook. One mile out isn’t too inconvenient. For shopping and church and so forth.”

“Not inconvenient at all. I hear there’s to be dancing later, Miss Mortimer, may I have the first dance? Nothing like being first in line.” Quentin’s twinkly dark-blue eyes danced between teasing and sincere, producing a pleasing swirl of enticement affecting Virginia’s equanimity. Was he flirting?

“Certainly. By all means, let me find my dance card. I wasn’t prepared.”

As she walked off to locate the card, Virginia wanted to kick herself for sounding like such a dull pattern card of propriety. She needed balance. Balance between being a frivolous fool and a staunch starchbucket.

She didn’t get back to Quentin with her dance card prior to the time dinner was announced, because she was greeted by old friends every step of the way. For the promenade of precedence into the dining room, she was paired with her elderly vicar Mr. Cranston, a widower in his seventies. As they proceeded, he said, “So glad you’re back from your sojourn. A short visit away can do wonders for the appreciation of home, no?”

Caught by the vicar’s words, she was busy deciphering them, searching for hidden meaning, and didn’t realize until the last moment that she’d been seated next to Quentin. She quashed the spurt of interest that rose up in her, and applied her attention to the vicar on her left. Why then, did her right side feel so aware, so alive?

“Miss Mortimer?” A voice intruded on the one-sided conversation she was having, rather listening to, with the vicar. Mr. Cranston’s avocation involved everything to do with bees, and it appeared he planned to tell her all he knew – tonight, at the table.

So it was with relief that she excused herself from the apiarist, and turned toward Quentin Ashleigh. “If you’d like to ask me anything about bees, I can now answer.”

He chuckled, and laid his index finger against his temple. “Nothing at the moment, but I shall remember to ask, should I need your new-gained knowledge.”

Virginia enjoyed the low-key facetious humor with which he answered, and felt quite amicable toward the young man.

“I wonder, did you bring your dance card to the dining room? You never brought it back for me to sign. Am I too late for the first dance?”

“Oh, no. I promised it. I have the card right here.” She lifted the evening reticule, a small bead-embellished pouch that hung on her wrist. She extracted the card and handed it with its attached pencil, to Quentin.

He took it from her, stroked his chin, and said, “Perhaps you’ll allow me two dances? If that’s not too greedy?” The candlelight gleamed off his hair.

Boggled at the pleasant sensations flooding her at the fellow’s kind, friendly, flirtatiousness, she answered without overthinking. “Yes, and no.”

Confusion played across his face before it gave way to wry humor.

He gave a bark of laughter. “You are quite concise, Miss Mortimer. I like that.”

And she liked him. More and more the weeks in London felt like nothing but a bad dream. Back in the loving climate of Mortimer House, the broken spirit she’d brought home had been replaced by a new heart, ready to live again.

No one had even hinted at a breath of scandal about her. She’d dodged the broad-reaching brush of the gossips and society was none the wiser regarding her fall from moral purity. She let out a grateful relieved breath upon this thought, only to have her attentive tablemate inquire as to her state of mind.

“That was a prodigious breath – almost a sigh. Do tell.”

“Nothing, just breathing, if that’s quite all right.” She quirked a smile his way to soften the string of her abrupt rejoinder.

The lengthy meal ended, and the women departed for the drawing room, the men remaining in the dining room for brandy. When the time came for dancing, Quentin bowed in front of her and they sailed off to join a set of country dances The figures of the dances took them apart, and only allowed moments to converse.

“You are a lovely dancer, Miss Mortimer.” Spoken before he sailed down the line, away from her.

The next time their orbits collided, she answered. “And you are a fine dancer, as well, Mr. Ashleigh.”  They both chuckled at the gap between their brief interchanges, before being swept apart again.

***

 Greetings, dear readers! Any guesses on the outcome here? Will he turn out to be a cad, as well? Leave a comment, please 🙂 Susan Karsten