I'm teaching a workshop!

I’m teaching an online class on Regency politics! It’s open to everyone ($20, with $5 off for Beau Monde members).

Covent Garden Market, Westminster Election by Rowlandson

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I am happy to answer questions and provide supplemental info, and I will be assuming that you came in knowing nothing about the subject (since I knew nothing myself before I started researching), so don’t worry that you have to be a historian to sign up.

The Regency British political system was complex, evolving, and unique—and even if women couldn’t sit in Parliament, they were involved in it everywhere, as patronesses, hostesses, possessors of pocket boroughs, information brokers, canvassers, and more. You’ll get a detailed overview of Parliament, political parties, elections, and the patronage system, and then explore the many ways that contemporary women (particularly elite women) participated.

Sign up through the Beau Monde Regency Academe (but you DO NOT have to be a member to register).

A pair of living turtle doves on a little bed of roses

Okay, I have discovered something AMAZING. I was reading The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650–1950 by Roy Porter and Lesley Hall, as you do, and I read what may be the greatest phrase of all time:

Graham was, perhaps, a wizard showman flourishing in the lubricious twilight world of sex aids

I’m going to let you read that again

Graham was, perhaps, a wizard showman flourishing in the lubricious twilight world of sex aids


Dr. James Graham, wizard showman flourishing in the lubricious twilight world of sex aids

In fact, I think I’m just going to start carrying those and passing them out at conferences.

Dr. James Graham was a sexologist (quack?) whose greatest claim to fame was his Celestial Bed, built in 1780, which he described as “12 ft. long by 9ft. wide, supported by forty pillars of brilliant glass of the most exquisitive workmanship, in richly variated colours. The super-celestial dome of the bed, which contains the odoriferous, balmy and ethereal spices, odours and essences, which is the grand reservoir of those reviving invigorating influences which are exhaled by the breath of the music and by the exhilarating force of electrical fire, is covered on the other side with brilliant panes of looking-glass.

On the utmost summit of the dome are placed two exquisite figures of Cupid and Psyche, with a figure of Hymen behind, with his torch flaming with electrical fire in one hand and with the other, supporting a celestial crown, sparkling over a pair of living turtle doves, on a little bed of roses.

The other elegant group of figures which sport on the top of the dome, having each of them musical instruments in their hands, which by the most expensive mechanism, breathe forth sound corresponding to their instruments, flutes, guitars, violins, clarinets, trumpets, horns, oboes, kettle drums, etc.

At the head of the bed appears sparkling with electrical fire a great first commandment: ‘BE FRUITFUL, MULTIPLY AND REPLENISH THE EARTH’. Under that is an elegant sweet-toned organ in front of which is a fine landscape of moving figures, priest and bride’s procession entering the Temple of Hymen.

The chief principle of my Celestial Bed is produced by artificial lodestones. About 15 cwt. [hundredweight] of compound magnets are continually pouring forth in an everflowing circle…

Any gentleman and his lady desirous of progeny, and wishing to spend an evening in the Celestial apartment, which coition may, on compliment of a £50 bank note, be permitted to partake of the heavenly joys it affords by causing immediate conception, accompanied by the soft music. Superior ecstasy which the parties enjoy in the Celestial Bed is really astonishing and never before thought of in this world: the barren must certainly become fruitful when they are powerfully agitated in the delights of love.”

Fifty to sixty pounds of chocolate

One of my favorite research books for True Pretenses was The Jews of Georgian England 1714–1830 by Todd Endelman. Check out this excerpt (which, by the way, gives a pretty clear demonstration of how what we would consider “bribes” were a normal and accepted part of Regency civic and political operations):


Because of the opposition of the great London merchants, the number of licensed Jewish brokers continued to be limited to twelve until 1830. Whenever one of the twelve Jewish brokers died or resigned, there was intense competition to obtain the vacated position. [Would this be a great plot for a romance or what?] This allowed the Lord Mayor, who had the right to nominate a successor, to exact a substantial fee from whomever he nominated. In 1815, for example, Moses Montefiore’s uncle paid £1,200 to obtain a broker’s medal for him[…]

At a meeting of the Court of Common Council in May 1830, Pellatt suggested that the Court increase the Lord Mayor’s allowance by £100 annually to compensate him for the loss of income that would result from abolishing the restriction on the number of Jewish brokers. Interestingly, he mentioned that he had discovered a precedent for such an increase. In 1782, the Lord Mayor had been granted an additional £50 a year for abandoning his right to an annual gift from the Spanish and Portugeuse Jews’ Synagogue[…] The records of the Sephardi congregation reveal that, from very early on, the Jewish community made an annual gift to the Lord Mayor. In 1671, it was a pipe of wine, costing £48; some years later it became the practice to present him with a purse containing fifty guineas; ultimately the money gift was replaced by a specially designed silver salver. (In 1679, the salver contained sweetmeats; in 1716, fifty to sixty pounds of chocolate.)

One such salver, in the collection of the Jewish Museum. “This lord mayor’s tray was fashioned by John Ruslen, a well-established English silversmith who had for twenty-eight years provided Jewish ritual objects for Bevis Marks. Aside from his five existing presentation salvers, records indicate commissions for a sanctuary lamp in 1682; a pair of Torah finials (rimmonim) in 1702; and the Hanukkah lamp of 1709, depicting Elijah and the ravens.” From thejewishmuseum.org

Offering bribes to powerful and arbitrary officials was, of course, the practice in every Jewish community in the premodern world. The Dutch and French Protestant communities in London also presented the Lord Mayor with an annual tribute—a pair of silver flagons—but they gave up this practice in 1739, when they considered it unnecessary. The Jews, on the other hand, continued to make an annual offering for another forty years.

She gained the love and esteem of all her neighbors

I’ve always hesitated to write a hero and heroine who can’t marry at the end. Could it be a satisfying HEA in a historical romance? And yet I’d love to write a heroine who’s separated from her husband, without having to kill the husband off. This, from Unquiet Lives, is making me rethink some assumptions:

In 1771 the Newcastle Courant lamented the death of Mrs. Grizzel Ross. Stating that she was 100 years old, and born of noble parents, it commented matter-of-factly that she had ‘eloped from her husband about 45 years ago,’ and settled at Hepple, Northumberland, where she ‘gained the love and esteem of all her neighbors.’

Of course, it sounds like Mrs. Grizzel Ross lived alone (in this period “eloped” was used when women left their husbands even if they weren’t eloping with anyone), but I’ve got some examples of socially accepted bigamy coming up, too! The Regency was probably more sexually conservative than the 1770s as it transitioned towards Victorian mores, but I need to keep reminding myself that even then, there was a much broader range of behavior available to people than is portrayed in Dickens novels, just as not everyone in American in the 1940s lived their lives by the Hays Code.

What do you think? Could you believe in a historical HEA where the hero and heroine couldn’t marry?

By your holy office you should be a peace maker

I just finished reading Unquiet Lives: Marriage and Marriage Breakdown in England, 1660–1800, by Joanne Bailey. There were more statistics than I wanted, and less details about individual court cases/newspaper ads/etc., but I learned a lot of fascinating stuff. Overall, I think what I learned is that separations were not that uncommon, and neither was cohabitation or even remarriage after a separation. I’m going to be posting some of the most interesting cases/plot bunnies…

[trigger warning: references to domestic violence]

The fact that their [local clergymen’s] remit included reconciling warring couples is highlighted by the church court prosecution of the curate John Turner in 1706, which claimed that ‘[you] doth breed strife and sedition amongst your Neighbors and very often between Man and Wife by adviseing them to part from one another (whereas by your holy office you should be a peace maker…)’

[…]Edward Bearparke complained[…]Turner had endeavored to widen a breach between him and his wife, by telling her to procure a warrant from a justice of the peace against him [which would require him to appear in court for “mediation, usually between wives and violent husbands or husbands who refused to contribute to the domestic economy”]. She probably saw this somewhat differently.

1. Bearparke is my new favorite name and I WILL be using it.

2. I’d love to read a romance with a separation- and warrant-encouraging curate as the hero! Who should the heroine be?

Do you think, after knowing him and hearing him speak, I can mate with such as you?

So. I’ve been reading a lot about Jews in Regency England. And I checked out a book from the library called The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, from Cromwell to Churchill. Every other book I’ve read has discussed philosemitism as a creepy, fetishizing phenomenon, frequently focusing on the importance of being kind to Jews so that they’ll convert and bring about Jesus’s return. The author of this book (Gertrude Himmelfarb) disagrees! She agrees that some philosemites go too far, but thinks philosemitism “reflects the principles and policies that have made modern England a model of liberality and civility.” She describes Evangelical Christians as “among [Jews’] most faithful allies.”

So okay, I don’t agree with this woman politically. There could still be useful stuff in this book. I skim through it. I see there’s a section on Ivanhoe. I love Ivanhoe a ridiculous amount, so I read the section. I don’t really agree with her analysis of the book (it’s one of the many stories that portray a minority woman as beautiful and incredible—and of course, in love with a majority guy—and minority men as distasteful, unmanly, and unattractive, while Himmelfarb describes Isaac as “a worthy father of Rebecca”), but whatever.

“One foot nearer, and I plunge myself over the precipice!”

She discusses Rebecca’s firm repudiation of Rowena’s suggestion that she convert to Christianity (“I may not change the faith of my athers like a garment unsuited to the climate in which I seek to dwell, &c.”). THEN I READ THIS:

In 1849, Thackeray published a spoof, Rebecca and Rowena, with Rowena a shrew jealous of her husband’s feelings for Rebecca, and Ivanhoe, something of a drunkard, going off to fight for Richard. Eventually, after Rowena’s death, he is free to marry Rebecca. But even that marriage is melancholic. “I think,” the final sentence reads, “these were a solemn pair and died rather early.” “Solemn” or not, Rebecca the Jewess is unquestionably the heroine of the parody. Scott may have thought it inappropriate to have her marry Ivanhoe, but Thackeray did not. Nor did their readers. A Jewess, proud and resolute in her Jewishness, was thought to be a fit spouse for the hero, a Christian and a veteran of the Crusades.

“A Jewess, proud and resolute in her Jewishness, was thought to be a fit spouse for the hero.”

Now I happen to have read Rebecca and Rowena. And I know that the plot turns on one very important point: Rebecca converts. To be specific, Rowena makes Ivanhoe promise on her deathbed that he will never marry a Jewess. Oh noes! But fortunately Rebecca has been a Christian ALL ALONG! Look:

“Father,” she said, in a thrilling low steady voice, “I am not of your religion[…]I—I am of his religion.”

“His! whose, in the name of Moses, girl?” cried Isaac.

Rebecca clasped her hands on her beating chest and looked round with dauntless eyes. “Of his,” she said, “who saved my life and your honor: of my dear, dear champion’s. I never can be his, but I will be no other’s. Give my money to my kinsmen; it is that they long for. Take the dross, Simeon and Solomon, Jonah and Jochanan, and divide it among you, and leave me. I will never be yours, I tell you, never. Do you think, after knowing him and hearing him speak,—after watching him wounded on his pillow, and glorious in battle (her eyes melted and kindled again as she spoke these words), I can mate with such as you? Go. Leave me to myself. I am none of yours. I love him—I love him. Fate divides us long, long miles separate us; and I know we may never meet again. But I love and bless him always. Yes, always. My prayers are his; my faith is his. Yes, my faith is your faith, Wilfred—Wilfred! I have no kindred more,—I am a Christian!”

Does this sound like a Jewess, proud and resolute in her Jewishness, to you? (Thackeray’s story is actually very funny and clever, and also interesting because you can see trends in fanfiction, such as the villification of a canon love interest, spontaneously manifesting themselves, and I love it. My favorite joke is when Ivanhoe decides to hide his true identity and becomes known as “the Knight of the Wig and Spectacles.” But. It’s not the LEAST antisemitic/racist thing I’ve ever read.)

And Himmelfarb chose to simply not mention this. Now, okay, if Himmelfarb wanted to make the argument that Rebecca’s conversion isn’t the point—that the point is that lots and lots of people were willing to ship Rebecca and Ivanhoe together despite Scott’s original portrayal of her—okay. It’s a point that could be made, I guess. But she didn’t make it. And what she did seems to me outright intellectually dishonest. She knew saying that Thackeray required Rebecca to convert would run counter to her argument, so she left it out—and if you read what she wrote, in my opinion, while it doesn’t actually lie, most people reading it would naturally assume that Rebecca does NOT convert.

This book is now useless to me as a source because I can’t trust anything it says. Why would you undermine your own scholarly work this way?

Have you ever had this experience—reading a nonfiction book and coming across something so wrong it casts doubt on everything else?

I can never be thankful enough

From The Angel in the House:

“In Coelebs [in Search of a Wife, a novel by Hannah More], Charles, the hero of the novel, speaks to the Stanleys’ lame gardener, who details all the kind things Lucilla and her family have done for him. The gardener ends his recital with, ‘At Christmas they give me a new suit from top to toe, so that I want for nothing but a more thankful heart, for I never can be grateful enough to God and my benefactors.'[…]According to Peter M. Blau, who applies Mauss’s observations [on gift economies] to a capitalist society in his Exchange and Power in Social Life, the dual obligation to receive and to repay a gift ‘makes it possible for largess to become a source of subordination over others, that is, for the distribution of goods and services to others to be a means of establishing superiority over them.’ Lucilla’s charity, then, is a gift that marks her generosity, but it is also a way of establishing superiority and power over those socially beneath her, as well as changing the meaning of the exchange of goods and services between them. The gardener, as an employee on the Stanley estate, receives pay for work done, and, under the terms of a market economy, he could be seen as a ‘free’ agent exchanging his labor for a wage. By extending charity toward him, the Stanleys displace the market economy with a gift economy that obligates the gardener and makes his labor insufficient as a repayment for goods received. Thus the ‘economy of charity,’ based on the type of gift exchange in wihich there is a ‘unilateral supply of benefits,’ makes the poor or laboring-class recipients of philanthropy ‘obligated to and dependent on those who furnish [those benefits] and thus subject to their power,’ whether the poor are dependents on a rural estate or urban laborers. Of course, if women are the primary agents of charitable giving, this way of defining their activity puts them in a position of considerable power and authority over those they ‘serve’–a position they would not normally hold in customary market exchanges.”

Embellishing poverty itself

From The Angel Out of the House, discussing Sarah Scott’s 1762 novel Millenium Hall, about a charity-working proto-commune for unmarried gentlewomen:

“What the narrator first notices about the ladies’ schools is that the pupils are ‘perfectly clean’ and always busy. The narrator uses the word ‘clean’ every time he brings up the subject of the poor who are served by Millenium Hall. This preoccupation with cleanliness–an ‘article of unspeakable Moment,’ as one charity sermon put it–is a key element in the philanthropic goals of restoring both the health and morals of the nation’s working population. If the poor are clean, they are understood to be deserving, and the charity bestowed on them can be expected to achieve its desired goal.”

A bunch of rich guys conduct a committee meetings with to-do lists while eating rich food (one visibly suffers from gout) and drinking. When the poor clamor to be let in at the door, they are forcibly ejected.
“A Select Vestry” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1806. The parish collected taxes called “poor rates” and administered parish relief (i.e. welfare). The vestry was the administrative body of the parish, sometimes it included most or all of the congregation, but a “select vestry” was when a parish had a smaller committee that made some/most/all of the decisions. Image from Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library, call number 806.00.00.49.

Reading this book and its descriptions of women’s charitable work was pretty upsetting. Charity work and activism was one of the few socially acceptable substantive outlets for women’s energy (I’d say profession, except that these women usually didn’t get paid). This was important work that needed to be done, and no one else was doing it. And yet (this is so painfully familiar) it’s often really a way of getting power for upper- and middle-class women at the expense of poor people (and that’s not even getting into all the messed-up stuff in the Abolitionist movement). Look at this:

“Along with the implied power that philanthropy gives to the benefactor in [Hannah] More’s vision of an ideally functioning society comes the right and responsibility of the philanthropic woman to superintend those she relieves. Philanthropy creates an unrepayable obligation; it also affords the upper-class woman the right to supervise the household of the poor. One of Lucilla’s [from Coelebs in Search of a Wife] philanthropic projects, for example, involves her orchard and garden. When one of the servants or a girl from the charity school marries–‘provided they have conducted themselves well, and made a prudent choice’–Lucilla ‘presents their little empty garden with a dozen young apple trees, and few trees of other sorts, never forgetting to embellish their little court with roses and honeysuckles.’ This, recollects Charles, explains the ‘many young orchards and flourishing cottage gardens’ in the village that ’embellish poverty itself,’ rendering it pleasing to the eye of the tasteful rich. Besides nourishing their aesthetic sense, these flowers, although transplanted to the gardens of the poor, still evidently belong to the rich–another characteristic of a gift exchange economy. Charles cuts a bouquet of roses for Lucilla from the bush outside the cottage of one of ‘her poor’ without even mentioning it to the inhabitants of the cottage present in the room.”

Something about that moment of cutting the roses without asking is just so chilling, it turns my stomach. One of the ongoing struggles of writing historical romance is the politics of accuracy (which is not to say that classism is a thing that only existed in the past, or anything!). On the one hand, writing a heroine who behaves like Lucilla is gross and offensive. On the other hand, writing an upper-class heroine who is so amazing she does charity in a way miraculously free of problematic attitudes that were completely entrenched in the British society of her time has the potential to be equally gross and offensive, by erasing the experiences of Regency poor people. And my Lydia is from a staunchly Tory family which makes her not only conservative for our time, but conservative for hers.

My current strategy seems to be to greatly soften what I would consider “period-accurate” behavior–since I know I wouldn’t want to be reading a fun love story and suddenly have my stomach turned by classism (I can always go to Georgette Heyer for that…look, I love her, but every so often there’s just that worm in the apple, you know?)–while still giving Lydia hints of prejudice that are either questioned by Lydia herself, or undercut by the narration.

Fast and loose

New History Hoydens post up about Regency scams and con artists!

“Pin-and-girdle” and “prick-the-garter” are two names for the same game, in which a belt or long piece of cloth is doubled and then folded a number of times, then held in the swindler’s hand. The flat is given a pin and bets that he can stick the pin in the belt at the place where it was doubled. Of course, the game is rigged and he can’t. This game dates back a good long way. This game has many names and variations, but one of its earliest names was “fast and loose” (attested 1578, and using “fast” in the sense of “immobile, fixed” as in “stand fast”), which is where the idea of “playing fast and loose with” something or someone comes from!

Men led, but women organized

Another one from The Angel out of the House:

Sensibility posed a dilemma for men, claims Barker-Benfield [in The Culture of Sensibility], because they were caught between an older definition of manhood characterized by disorder and violence and a newer version that was more ‘decent’ but also less discernable from what was defined as ‘feminine.’ Barker-Benfield implies that men’s participation in philanthropic associations was one way to reconcile this dilemma. By joining together to raise subscriptions for charitable purposes, men of business could distinguish themselves from an older corrupt male culture, demonstrate their sympathy and public spirit, and bond together with other men of sympathy in groups that resembled old-styled clubs without duplicating the perceived excesses of such male assemblies; in addition, participating in philanthropic associations could be an effective way of making business contacts or of establishing a reputation that would enhance a man’s business affairs. Thus joining philanthropic causes was a suitably masculine way for a man to exhibit his sympathetic nature. Barker-Benfield’s contention that participation in philanthropic institutions could resolve men’s difficulties with being both sympathetic and masculine helps to explain why women were largely excluded from such participation throughout much of the eighteenth century, despite their traditional association with sympathy and charity.”

…And, of course, men were more likely to have ready access to the money needed for financial contributions to charity. Elliott goes on to say:

“The historian Donna T. Andrew does note the names of many women on subscription lists [“subscription” being the contemporary word for a charitable donation] and identifies the charities to which they were most likely to contribute. Published philanthropic writings, especially charity sermons, provide further evidence of eighteenth-century women’s participation in philanthropy by explicitly addressing women and soliciting their donations. Focusing primarily on women’s financial contributions to philanthropic institutions, however, tends to obscure the kind of charitable contribution that consisted of time and personal energy rather than money. This less historically visible kind of charity, as Andrew mentions, became more and more significant to society’s understanding of philanthropy as the century progressed–and it was also the kind of charity that women had been practicing for centuries.”