I found many fascinating facts in the Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World. One that most particularly piqued my interest was that ladies generally did not wear drawers in Jane Austen’s day. I wondered about that statement. Then I viewed the following hand colored etching attributed to Thomas Rowlandson.
This caricature depicts the staircase leading to the Great Room at Somerset House in Pall Mall, which was where the members of the Royal Academy exhibited their paintings. The stairway to the Great Room was steep and long, and undoubtedly tough to negotiate during crowded days.
Rowlandson’s caricature speaks to the popular perception that there were two kinds of viewers who came to Somerset House: Those who wanted to see the paintings and sculptures, and those who came to ogle the ladies whose legs and ankles were exposed walking up those prominent stairs.
In Rowlandson’s cartoon, the ladies tumble down in a domino effect, revealing much, much more than a neat turn of ankle. I adore the details in this scene: The rakes ready to take their visual fill of the unfortunate situation, while elegant ladies tumble haplessly, limbs akimbo and tender parts exposed. Interestingly, the ladies are wearing stockings but not much more beneath those gauzy muslins. Rowlandson proves Margaret C. Sullivan right and I am happy for it.
The Romantic Cosmopolitanism: The 12th Annual NASSR Conference: “Eyes on the Metropole: Seeing London and Beyond”, By Sharon M. Twigg and Theresa M. Kelley