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Archive for the ‘Regency Etiquette’ Category

The History of Goody Little Two Shoes was one of the moral lesson books that Jane Austen owned as a child. These seem to have been popular in the Georgian era. Another book with moral lessons came out two years after her death. Entitled The Accidents of Youth, its tales were meant to warn children of risky behaviors and improve their moral conduct. The tales would have been scary enough to make me think twice as a child. I love the Internet Archive, which allows you to read the books virtually intact, with illustrations and original font type. The only thing you can’t do is hold the book or feel the thickness of the pages.

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

accidents of youth2

accidents of youth3

Interestingly, these accidents beset children today, especially those left to their own devices in the countryside.

accidents of youth4

One young man aims at a bird with a slingshot and kills his mother, a horrific tale. Another’s hair is set on fire by a candle.

accidents of youth5

Kitchen accidents were quite common. After death from childbirth, kitchen fires killed more women than other accidents combined. In these stories children are warned of the dangers of hot kettles and catching one’s clothes on fire from coming too close to a fireplace. In the first image, a cast iron pot, hanging directly over the fire on an iron hook tips over, burning the child. Billowing skirts caught fire in fireplaces, as the second image attests.

accidents of youth6The final image in this post shows the danger of a broken glass window and a young boy falling from furniture that he had rearranged at play. Another, earlier book entitled The Blossoms of Morality and published in 1806, concentrates on the instruction of young ladies and gentlemen”. The stories include “Juvenile tyranny conquered” and “The melancholy effects of pride”.  One can imagine that, after reading Fordyce’s Sermons to his young children, Mr. Collins would have picked up these books to read to his children.

I wonder how long the concentration of today’s youth would have lasted when listening to these morality tales. One nanosecond? I think not.

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This image of a bourdaloue might be somewhat confusing to the uninitiated. Could this small and elegant vessel be a gravy boat? Or a blood-letting container?

Sevres bourdaloue, 1831.

This image by Francois Boucher says it all. A fully dressed lady is relieving herself into an object called the bourdaloue or bourdalou, careful not to soil her skirts. Her maid, no doubt, stands nearby, waiting to receive the small chamber pot in order to empty it. The lady (or woman of ill repute) is in a public place – a theatre or tavern, perhaps – but certainly not a church. Wherever she is, the place has no public toilet. And so she must relieve herself standing up, taking care not to soil her skirt and petticoats.

Louis Bourdaloue. Image @Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, the name of this porta potty comes from  Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704), one of Louis XIVs Jesuit priests. His oratorical skills were reputedly so accomplished that people felt they could not miss a single word of his sermons. It is said that women sat through his masses with a bourdaloue placed under their dresses, whose skirts were held out by panniers. Since the priest’s  sermons were somewhat longwinded, the chances that ladies would need to relieve themselves were almost certain.  As a rule, churches and theatres had no toilets, and there were no breaks given during sermons. Ergo these portable urinals, which were ergonomically designed to accommodate the female body.

The vessel was oblong, rectangular, or oval in shape. A slightly raised lip at one end and a handle at the other allowed the woman to relieve herself from a squatting or standing position. The edges curved inward to avoid hurting her tenderest parts.

Sevres bourdaloue, with medallion depicting a scene from Watteau, blue lapis and framed in gold leaf. 1892.

It is a little hard to distinguish truth from fiction, so I am a bit skeptical about this apocryphal tale. Were the priest’s sermons in the early 18th century so truly awe-inspiring that a lady would squat in her pew, however discreetly, to relieve herself in front of her family and other parishioners so as not to miss a word?

In truth it was her maid who brought the vessel in, for bourdaloues were compact and came with a cover. When a lady had to relieve herself she would, I imagine, retreat discreetly to a private corner of a tall pew or to a back or side room in the church. Her maid would then hand the vessel over to her mistress, who took care not to spill any liquid on her skirts. When the lady was finished, she would hand the bourdaloue to her maid to empty its contents.  When attending a play or opera at the theatre, I imagine she would again retreat to a darker more private corner of the box to urinate.

A PAIR OF SEVRES BOURDALOUES (POTS DE CHAMBRE OVALE) CIRCA 1776,

Designed only for women, these bourdalous are quite beautiful. Made of faience or porcelain, they are decorated with flowers or painted scenes. Many are gilded. The portable pots, or coach pots as they were known in England, could be decorated inside as well.  They were quite small and compact, designed for travel, which made it easy to carry them and pack them for coach trips. They were also taken to long banquets, where ladies would scurry behind curtains when they needed to go.

Bourdalou made in France c. 1840. It has an engraved crest and a leather case to contain it. The silver bourdalou is a small urinary receptacle for female use, of compressed eliptical shape and generally made of porcelaine or earthenware, but also made occasionally of silver. Its front end has an incurved rim and, usually, stands on a simple foot ring with a simple loop handle. Also known as a coach pot in England.

Bourdaloues were used throughout the 18th and for most of the 19th century. As water closets began to be built inside homes and buildings, the use of these chamber pots began to be reduced dramatically.

Plain bourdaloue made of creamware. The shape is quite elegant.

Gentlemen had it a little easier, although this satiric French cartoon, which I have shown before, depicts the disgust that Frenchmen felt towards Englishmen who freely pissed in a pot in the dining room. In this instance, the man misses the chamber pot and hits the floor. There seems to be a lack of modesty among these men, which largely holds true today.

c1816, from Fitzwilliam Museum.

Modesty is also lacking in this cartoon of ladies relieving themselves inside a public restroom at Vauxhall Gardens. Four are arrayed on a long latrine against the wall. One lady is refreshing her make up and another is tightening her garter. If such scenes were common for upper class women in public spaces, perhaps many felt no modesty relieving themselves in church as well.

The Inside of the Lady’s Garden at Vauxhall, 1788 by SW Fores. Image @British Library. The interior of a ladies’ cloak-room. Against the wall on two sides of the room is a bench forming a latrine on which four fashionably dressed ladies are seated. On the right a woman in profile to the right, resembling Lady Archer, applies paint to her cheeks before a mirror lit by two candles. A young woman seated beside her on the extreme right ties up her garter.

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When Lady Caroline Lamb met Byron in 1812, the waltz was starting to gain traction with the more progressive elements of Society. This couples dance was considered rather racy in an age when stately group English country dances were the primary offerings at Almack’s.

Thomas Rowlandson’s image of the waltz in 1806

The vivacious and racy Lady Caroline Lamb met Lord Byron in 1812. She recalled that time in a letter she wrote 12 years later:

Devonshire House at that time was closed from my uncles death for one year – at Melbourne House where I lived the Waltzes and Quadrilles were being daily practised – Lady Jersey, Lady Cowper, the Duke of Devonshire, Miss Milbank, and a number of foreigners coming here to learn…

You may imagine what forty or fifty people dancing from 12 in the morning until near dinner time all young gay & noisy were.
In the evenings we either had opposition suppers or went out to Balls and routs – Such was the life I then led when Moore and Rogers introduced Lord Byron to me… Caroline Lamb, 1824, in a letter to Captain Thomas Medwin

It is interesting to note that Caroline mentions Lady Jersey and Lady Cowper, two of the patronesses of Almack’s, where the waltz was banned. Eventually, however, the ultra exclusive Almack’s would cave in, and by 1814 the waltz was finally sanctioned. Young ladies would still need approval before a gentleman could clasp his arm around her waist, but the doors had been opened beyond the confines of the upper classes.

La Walze, Le Bon Genre, 1810. This caricature has a feeling of decadence.

By 1815, when Jane Austen’s Emma was published, the waltz has become so respectable that it would be danced in Highbury at the home of the Coles.

Mrs Weston, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.” – Emma

The waltz looks gentrified in this 1816 illustration.

More on the topic:

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Elegancy and Decadence: The Age of the Regency is a BBC production hosted by Lucy Worsley, the author of If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home. The video is one hour long. So, sit back and enjoy.

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Gentle Readers: To celebrate the 3 millionth visitor to this blog, I will be giving away Tea With Jane Austen, a delightful and informative book by Kim Wilson. Deadline: The contest will end the moment my blog meter records 3 million or July 4th, whichever comes first! Contest Closed! Congratulations, Sherry, and thank you ALL for participating and leaving such excellent questions!

All you need to do is leave a comment and a way for me to reach you. Please address this question: If Jane Austen came over for tea, which burning question would you want to ask her?

Thank you all for visiting my blog and for making it such a joy to meet you online.

Page 16 of Tea with Jane Austen. Image @Amazon.com

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Fashionable mourning dresses, Ladies Museum, 1805

According to Jane Austen chronicler and scholar, David Nokes, when Martha Lloyd’s mother died on April 16, 1805, Jane Austen showed few signs of grief or emotion over that woman’s earthly departure. Instead, Jane wrote a jaunty verse to an uncivil (and imaginary) dressmaker. I surmise that these verses were meant more to cheer Martha up than to bring Martha’s mood down by reminding her of her loss. Mrs Austen, who was known for her droll verses, wrote a mythical reply by the dressmaker. At this time the Austen women were still reeling from Rev. Austen’s death in January and their own change in financial circumstances, having moved to more modest lodgings and becoming accustomed to a drastically reduced style of life. They would soon invite Martha to live with them in Bath. (Martha would remain with the Austen women through their move to Southampton in 1809.) After Jane’s death in 1817, Martha joined Cassandra in Chawton to help look after Mrs. Austen.

The poem that Jane wrote gives us a glimpse into how mourning clothes were made to order quickly. In this for-instance, the dressmaker, Miss Green, was slow to respond.

Lines sent to an uncivil Dress maker

Miss Lloyd has now sent to Miss Green,
As, on opening the box, may be seen,
Some yards of a Black Ploughman’s Gauze,
To be made up directly, because
Miss Lloyd must in mourning appear –
For the death of a Relative dear –
Miss Lloyd must expect to receive
This license to mourn & to grieve,
Complete, er’e the end of the week –
It is better to write than to speak – Jane Austen

Mrs. Austen’s reply as Miss Green

I’ve often made clothes
For those who write prose,
But ’tis the first time
I’ve had orders in rhyme – .
Depend on’t, fair Maid,
You shall be obeyed;
Your garment of black
Shall sit close to your back,
And in every part
I’ll exert all my art;
It shall be the neatest,
And eke the completest
That ever was seen –
Or my name is not Green! – Mrs. Cassandra Austen

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Inquiring readers,

For those of you who have not yet visited Nancy Mayer’s beautiful website, you are in for a treat. Click here to enter Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher: A most proper authority on all things Regency. Nancy has been a member of JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) for some time. She was a member of a local chapter in 1990-1994, then started up a new chapter in 1996, and has been the regional coordinator for northern Georgia since then. Nancy has been researching Regency England for more than twenty years, and finds Google books a big help. While she is responsible for the text on her website, Susan Newman designed the web pages and added the illustrations. Nancy graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions:

1. How and when did you become interested in Jane Austen’s novels?

This is probably heresy, but I came to Austen and her novels because I wanted to learn more about Regency life. I had heard of Pride and Prejudice and seen the old Lawrence Olivier movie, but hadn’t gone any further with it or the other novels until I became interested in the Regency period. After reading Jane Austen’s letters, and some biographical data on her, I started in on her novels. I joined a discussion group in Atlanta around 1990 and haven’t looked back since. Even after twenty years of discussing the novels there is always something new to be found. I am not one who has memorized the books and don’t read them all over every year, but I usually find some new insight each time I do.

2. Which is your favorite Jane Austen book and/or character, and why?

Persuasion. Anne Elliot is my favorite character. She is more mature than the other heroines and so doesn’t make the mistakes they do. One seldom has to blush for her. I also think Wentworth is more romantic than Darcy, but I wouldn’t want to be a sailor’s wife.

3. You are considered an authority on the topic of Jane Austen and the Regency period, and your breadth of knowledge about the era astounds me. What are some of your favorite topics to research and why?

You flatter me. The more I research the more I discover what I don’t know. I like to research marriage, titles, peerage, the law, and mourning rules. I find property law most confusing, and barely know a VanDyke fringe from a scalloped one.

One can find all sorts of period books on Google books.

I am also interested in Lord Byron who was Jane Austen’s contemporary, His life gives the masculine and aristocratic elements missing in Jane Austen’s life. Though they both were alive from 1809 to 1817, one could sometimes think they lived at different times.

4. For the casual (but avid) Jane Austen reader, what are some sources you would recommend for further reading?

  • My Dear Cassandra:The letters of Jane Austen, Selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes Hallet. Clarkston Potter Publishers or Collins & Brown 1990, ISBN 0-51758312-7
  • Some might want the complete letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye, or the ones edited by John Chapman.
  • The novels published by Oxford have great appendices. Some of the Critical editions of the novels have appendices. One should have a copy of Lover’s Vows in one’s Copy of Mansfield Park. There are annotated versions of the stories with explanations of obscure and not so obscure points, and there are even comic book editions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. No matter one’s taste or interests, one should be able to find a connection with Jane Austen.
  • Mrs. Hurst Dancing by Diana Sperling. This isn’t about Jane Austen but the illustrations of the Sperling family could be those of the Younger Dashwoods or the Bennets. # ISBN-10: 0575030356 # ISBN-13: 978-0575030350. Some are exceedingly expensive, but there are remaindered copies and second-hand copies at reasonable prices.
  • Jane Austen and Her times by G.E. Mitton, originally published 1905, 2007 Barnes and Noble.
  • Also there are probably fifty books out there covering everything from Jane Austen and Art to Jane Austen and Zombies. I know of book on Jane Austen and Food, Jane Austen and Crime, Jane Austen and fashion, ( and Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen).
  • Those who like quizzes and challenges might like: Jane Austen Challenge by Helen Barton: BartonBooks (June 2009) # ISBN-10: 0952725754 # ISBN-13: 978-0952725756
  • Also, So you Think You Know Jane Austen? By John Sutherland and Deidre le Faye Oxford University press, ISBN 0-19-280440-5

5. Would you like to share a common misconception about the Regency period with our readers, one that is wrongly perpetuated by book sources, websites, and blogs?

A general error I have found is thinking that the marriage laws, the church, and laws of inheritance were the same then as they are now. Many think the regency period was just like today, but in costume and with horses.

Nancy, thank you for sharing your wonderful insights. I hope readers will bookmark your website and visit it often. It’s best feature, as far as I am concerned, is your answers to their specific questions, like a personal researcher.

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Lady Sarah Jersey

Gentle Readers: In my sidebar I call myself an amateur historian, an apt term as this post will attest. I try to quote from older sources, but this can sometimes backfire. Captain Gronow, for example, whose words I quoted for this post via John Ashton (1890) and Lewis Saul Benjamin (1909), wrote down his memories about the Regency era in 1863, a half century after the events occurred.  Gronow’s memory, unfortunately, was faulty in a few particulars, especially in recalling the names of the patronesses of Almack’s in 1814, and why they turned the Duke of Wellington away. I have placed a number of updates in the original post.

Any individual who has read a novel set in Regency England knows about the assembly rooms at Almack’s and the club’s exclusivity. While Almack’s was notorious for its stale refreshments and thin lemonade in the supper room, the Beau Monde never minded, for the idea was to hob nob with the right people, trot out one’s eligible daughters, and make the best marriages possible given their dowries and family connections. Looks and a personality had very little to do with a young lady’s success in her first season OUT, but a pleasing countenance matched with a fortune would swiftly speed up the unification of great estates or the purchase of a worthy title.

Almack's, Pall Mall, opened in 1765

The Patronesses of Almack’s guarded entry to the club like Valkeries prepared to do battle. No one, not even the Duke of Wellington, would dare to step a foot inside the establishment without a proper voucher, and, indeed, he was turned away once for wearing *gasp* trousers instead of knee breeches. But is this true? Please keep on reading.

This passage from Social England Under the Regency by John Ashton (p 383) is quite telling:

*The Duke of Wellington

Of course the Creme de la creme went to Almack’s, but numberless were the Peris who sighed to enter that Paradise, and could not. Capt. Gronow, writing of 1814, says: “At the present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack’s, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world. Of the three hundred officers of the Foot Guards, not more than half a dozen were honoured with vouchers of admission to this exclusive temple of the beau monde, the gates of which were guarded by lady patronesses whose smiles or frowns consigned men and women to happiness or despair. These lady patronesses were the Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, Cowper, and Sefton; … and the Countess Lieven.” (Note: At that time, two other patronesses included Lady Downshire and Lady Bathurst.)

Cruikshank, Longitude (Countess Lieven) and Latitude (in capri-length pantaloons) at Almack's.

In a Newspaper of May 12, 1817, we read – “The rigorous rule of entry established at Almack’s Rooms produced a curious incident at the last Ball – The Marquis and Marchioness of W__r, the Marchioness of T__, Lady Charlotte C__ and her daughter, had all been so imprudent as to come to the rooms without tickets, and though so intimately known to the Lady Managers, and so perfectly unexceptionable, they were politely requested to withdraw, and accordingly they all submitted to the injunction. Again at the beginning of the season of 1819, we find these female tyrants issuing the following ukase: “An order has been issued, we understand, by the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s, to prevent the admission of Gentlemen in Trowsers and Cossacks to the balls on Wednesdays, at the same time allowing an exception to those Gentlemen who may be knock kneed or otherwise deformed.” But the male sex were equal to the occasion as we find in the following lines: -

TO THE LADY PATRONESSES OF ALMACK’S

Tired of our trousers are ye grown?

But since to them your anger reaches,

Is it because tis so well known

You always love to wear the breeches.

*Image from Highest Life in London: Tom and Jerry Sporting a Toe among the Corinthians at Almack's in the West, by I. Robert and George Cruikshank, 1821

Update:  Regency Researcher, Nancy Mayer, was kind enough to contact me and set a few facts straight. I have placed her explanations in the update/update below. In the above image, the young bucks are wearing dark suits with dark, close-fitted trousers (Beau Brummel’s influence), while the older men are still in buff-colored knee breeches.

If anyone knows the true story about the Duke and his trousers, please contact me. One conjecture is that Wellington was turned away for arriving after midnight. (Read more about the Patronesses’ edict on trousers in this link to The Beaux of the Regency, Vol. 1.)

Update/Update: Pantaloons, which fitted snug to the leg, came in two lengths: capri and long. A strap under the foot kept long pantaloons in place. (The image below shows the strap.) Thus, the men in the image above were wearing tight pantaloons, for trousers at the time were slightly looser and would have sported gussets that extended the fabric low over the shoe.

Pantaloons with straps, 1821. Image @Republic of Pemberley

In 1814, the date Gronow recollected, trousers (below) were acceptable for day wear only. Pantaloons were worn as evening wear.

Nancy Mayer, a Regency researcher who provided much of the updated information, wrote in a second note: “Luttrell’s poem on Almack’s was published around 1819. According to the verse about the “trowsers”, I think trousers didn’t become an issue until after 1817, at least. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the men are wearing trousers or the longer pantaloons with the strap under the foot. Most of the Lords in the picture of the Trial of Queen Caroline 1820 are wearing trousers or the long pantaloons.”

 

Trouser with gussets, day wear, 1813

More on the topic:

*Images: Carolyn McDowell

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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World.

Hear what a male writer has observed on the fashion of exposing the bosom! A woman, proud of her beauty, says he, may possibly be nothing but a coquet: one who makes a public display of her bosom, is something worse.” – The Mirror of  Graces, by A Lady of Distinction, 1811, p. 120

Could the above statement possibly be true in light of our modern assumptions that the Georgian bossom was displayed in all its soft glory for all to see?

Waiting on the ladies

Our modern perception is heavily influenced by the caricatures of the period that make fun of unrestricted Regency gowns. But how much did contemporary cartoonists exaggerate? And what sort of woman would have exposed her bosom to such an extent that she would have been regarded as worse than a coquet? To be fair, the above image depicts a time (the 1820s) when the waist had gone as high as it could go under a woman’s bosom, skirts had widened and become conical shaped, and hems were festooned and decorated and shortened to reveal slippers and ankles.

Regarding the bosom, the proof is in the pudding, and the best way to assuage our curiosity is to view contemporary examples year by year.

From left, upper row: 1794-1795 walking gowns. 1795-1800 round gown. From left, lower row: 1797 Countess of Oxford. 1798, round gown.

Gentle reader, as you peruse the gallery of images, please look for a pattern. You shall begin to see a distinction between day and evening dress, regardless of the time of year.

1st column, top: 1800, Salucci family. Bottom: 1800 V&A gown. 2nd column, top: 1801 April day gowns. Bottom: 1801 Marie Denise Villiers

While I believe that a variety of cleavages were on display during the Regency era (and I shall delve more into this topic later), the top left portrait of Mrs. Salucci is one of the few instances in which a shadowed cleavage is clearly painted or drawn.

1802 Bosoms. Top right: Princess Augusta. Other two images from Ladies Monthly Museum.

Why is this? One can safely assume that a voluptuous woman with large breasts, even when wearing a dress with a modest neckline, would reveal some cleavage. Thin girls or women with small bosoms would not have as much difficulty following the rules of decorum. Before the 20th century, the feminine ideal was a woman whose curves were bounteous and whose figures were pleasingly plumb. Rich husbands and fathers were proud to show off their well-fed women. Only the poor, who toiled all day and never had enough to eat, or the sick, or those who were metabolically overchallenged, were thin and scrawny. Thus, it made sense that during the Regency heaving bosoms were de rigueur. But were they?

In this image I have included both French, English, and American gowns. Left to right, clockwise, starting at the top. 1803, Costume Parisien. 1803, Mirroir de la Mode. 1805, American neoclassical gown. 1805, English cotton muslin, Kyoto costume Institute. 1804, three French Promenade dresses.

Regardless of nationality, a woman could choose to be as modest (or daring) as she liked. As far as I can tell from fashion images and portraits, modesty won hands down. High necklines, chemisette inserts,  and high collars ruled the day. But night provided a different story.

1806 gowns. Top left, Binney sisters. Top right, Opera and drawing room gowns. Bottom image, Lady Codrington.

In the above composite image of 1806 gowns, more of the bosom is revealed than in previous images. Consider the sources. The Binney sisters and Lady Codrington, who were sitting for their portraits, would have chosen their best gowns to wear. Full dress, or evening dress, revealed more skin. The third image also depicts evening wear. In those two images you can more readily understand why empire gowns created such a stir at first:

Observers of the period frequently deplored the absence of modesty conveyed by a style that was predicated on the prominence and exposure of the breasts and on the barely veiled body….Sheer, narrow dresses … caused a sensation at the beginning of the nineteenth century, more because of their contrast with the elaborate hooped costumes of previous decades than for any real immodesty. – Source: Two dresses [French] (1983.6.1,07.146.5) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1807 Regency gown fashion plates

By now you have seen enough examples to have noticed a trend. Examine the above fashion plate images. Which necklines belong to full dress, or evening gowns, and which belong to day gowns or walking gowns? Of the five necklines, only the top left can be construed as revealing. And this neckline, depending on the size of the woman’s breasts, could be both modest or plunging.

1810 Regency gowns

The 1810 Regency gowns demonstrate a variety of necklines and layers of clothing. As in Cassandra’s portrait of Jane Austen,  chemissetes were widely used. Fichus, shawls, tippets, and pelerines were also popular. The widow in the evening mourning gown (top middle) wears a cross that lies inside her cleavage. The white embroidered gowns (top right and lower left) demonstrate how the neckline is determined by whether the gown is worn for day (top right) or for evening (lower left, image of French gowns, Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Jane Austen by Cassandra, 1810

In the image painted by Cassandra, Jane wears a simple gown, much like the Binney sisters were wearing. You can observe her chemisette under the low neckline, which created a more modest look for day time.

Regency gowns, 1811-1814

Princess Charlotte’s 1814 bellflower court gown (lower right), while breathtaking, did not reveal her bosom. The image of the 1812 full dress (second from top on the left) is a bit misleading, for the decorative drooping elements give the illusion that the neckline is lower than it actually is.  (In this example, it is hard to see the line of the silk fabric running across the top.) The other day gowns cover the torso quite modestly.

1815-1816 Regency Gowns

The high necklines of the 1815 morning gown at top left and Mrs. Jens Wolff’s 1815 satin dress at top right would make a Quaker lady proud. The two 1816 evening gowns show a relatively modest neckline (lower left) and one that could be quite daring (lower right).

Until now I have not discussed the role that corsets played in propping up the bust line. Regency stays, which were darted and laced in the back, were quite short and were much less constricting than earlier Georgian models that cinched in the waist. The purpose of the Regency stay was to support a woman’s bust and create the distinctive Regency “shelf” silhouette.

1819 stays (short on left, long on right with inserted busk). Image @ Kyoto Costume Institute

A rigid wood or bone busk, which served to separate the breasts and encourage good posture, was inserted in the stays (or corseted petticoat).

1810 German copy of James Gillray's cartoon. The lady inserts her busk as her maid ties her stays.

Busks might provide one explanation of why so few drawings and paintings of the era depict a deep, shadowed cleavage, for the breasts were splayed aside. The busks were often hand-carved and decorated by a woman’s sweetheart. The exerpt from a poem entitled: On a Juniper Tree, cut down to make Busks, waxes eloquently about the tree’s sacrifice for beauty.

She cut me down, and did translate,

My being to a happier state.

No martyr for religion died

With half that unconsidering pride;

My top was on that altar laid,

Where Love his softest offerings paid:

And was as fragrant incense burned,

My body into busks was turned:

Where I still guard the sacred store,

And of Love’s temple keep the door.

1817-1820 dresses

By 1817, the stark neoclassical outlines of empire gowns at the turn of the century had given way to a fancier more decorative outline, in which embellishments were added both at the top of the gown and at its hem. The 1817 portrait of Princess Charlotte (top left) is bittersweet, for she died in fall of that year in childbirth. Once again, the popular princess fails to exhibit her cleavage.

Rolinda Sharples’ painting of the cloak room at Clifton Assembly Rooms (top right) shows a woman with a small bust wearing a low décolleté ball dress. Countess Blessington (second from bottom, left) also wore a daring neckline for her sitting for her portrait by Thomas Lawrence. The two evening gowns at the bottom are modest, and the 1820 beige walking dress with its high ruff neck demonstrates the Tudor influences in dress embellishments. Also note the lowered waistline.

1823-1825 dresses

By 1823, Jane Austen had been dead for six years. She would have been shocked to see how many furlebows, tucks, rows of lace, and ribbons decorated ladies gowns. At this time, the waistline was gradually lowering back to its natural position. Gone was the neoclassical Regency empire silhouette. Note how the three ball gowns shown in this series of images provide hardly any chance for a lady to show off her cleavage.

One can see the hint of shadow of the woman’s breasts in the large 1823 La Belle Assemblee image in the center and how the artist accommodated the influence of the busk. I included the plain every day green 1825 American gown to show the kind of dress an ordinary woman would sew for herself and wear.

I hope this post has cast a light on a Regency lady’s bosom. A Lady of Distinction wrote in 1811:

Let the youthful female exhibit without shade as much of her bust as shall come within the limits of fashion, without infringing on the borders of immodesty. Let the fair of riper years appear less exposed. To sensible and tasteful women a hint is merely required.”

A tasteful hint? I can only conclude that exposing too much of one’s bosom was not considered lady-like behavior. Thin and small breasted women experienced an easier time following society’s strictures. The well-endowed had a tougher row to hoe, although an enterprising young virgin could always insert a handy nosegay to hide her feminine bounty or add  a pretty bow or a lace embellishment at the precise spot where a gentleman’s eyes should not stray.

Brazen hussies, light skirts, and women of easy virtue could bare as much skin as they pleased, having no reputation to protect. A very rich matron, whose place in society was secure, might be tempted to show more of her bosom than was prudent, but even she would refrain from displaying too many of her feminine allures before she was married!

Next, I will discuss heaving bosoms in Regency films and on book covers, and how the two media have influenced our perception of Regency bustlines.

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Inquiring Readers: This is the second of four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball. This post discusses the dances and etiquette of balls in Jane Austen’s era. Warning: the film adaptations get many dance details wrong.

Dancers, Rowlandson, 1790's

So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger …” Mrs Bennet about Mr. Bingley at The Netherfield Ball.

The English ballroom and assembly room was the courting field upon which gentlemen and ladies on the marriage mart could finally touch one another and spend some time conversing during their long sets or ogle each other without seeming to be too forward or brash. Dancing was such an important social event during the Georgian and Regency eras that girls and boys practiced complicated dance steps with dancing masters and learned to memorize the rules of ballroom etiquette.

The Five Positions of Dancing, Wilson, 1811

Balls were regarded as social experiences, and gentlemen were tasked to dance with as many ladies as they could. This is one reason why Mr. Darcy’s behavior was considered rude at the Meryton Ball- there were several ladies, as Elizabeth pointed out to him and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings, who had to sit out the dance.

“He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.”

Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, danced every dance and thus behaved as a gentleman should.

Ladies had to wait passively for a partner to approach them and when they were, they were then obliged to accept the invitation. One reason why Elizabeth was so vexed when Mr. Collins, who had solicited her for the first two dances at the Netherfield Ball, was that she’d intended to reserve them for Mr. Wickham. Had she refused Mr. Collins, she would have been considered not only rude, but she would have forced to sit out the dances for the rest of the evening.

A Broad Hint of Not Meaning to Dance, Gillray, 1804

The only acceptable excuse in refusing a dance was when a lady had already promised the next set to another, or if she had grown tired and was sitting out the dance. Elizabeth could offer neither excuses at the start of the ball, and thus was forced to partner with Mr. Collins.

At a ball, a lady’s dress and deportment were designed to exhibit her best qualities:

As dancing is the accomplishment most calculated to display a fine form, elegant taste, and graceful carriage to advantage, so towards it our regards must be particularly turned: and we shall find that when Beauty in all her power is to be set forth, she cannot choose a more effective exhibition – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Real Life in London

It was also extremely important for a gentleman to dance well, for such a talent reflected upon his character and abilities. Lizzie’s dances with Mr. Collins were causes of mortification and distress.

Mr. Collins slightly out of step

“Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstacy.”

A gentleman could not ask a lady to dance if they had not been introduced. This point was well made in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine Morland had to sit out the dances in the Upper Rooms in Bath, for Mrs. Allen and she did not know a single soul. Mrs Allen kept sighing throughout the evening, “I wish you could dance, my dear, — I wish you could get a partner.” Mr. Tilney was introduced by Mr. King, the Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Rooms, to Catherine, who could then dance with him. At Rosings, when Mr. Darcy explained to Lizzie that he danced only four dances at the Meryton Assembly ball because he knew only the ladies in his own party, she scoffed and retorted: “True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room.”

Because a ball was considered a social experience, a couple could (at the most) dance only two sets (each set consisted of two dances), which generally lasted from 20-30 minutes per dance. Thus, a couple in love had an opportunity of spending as much as an hour together for each set.

A gentleman, whether single or married, was expected to approach the ladies who wished to dance. Given the etiquette of the day, Mr. Elton’s refusal to dance with poor Harriet at the Crown Ball in Emma was rude in the extreme, but Mr. Knightley performed his gentlemanly duty by asking that young lady to dance (and winning her heart in the process).

A lively dance at Almack's

Regency dances were extremely lively. The dancers were young, generally from 18-30 years of age, and they did NOT slide or glide sedately, as some recent film adaptations seem to suggest. They performed agile dance steps and exerted themselves in vigorous movements which included hopping, jumping, skipping, and clapping hands.

Depending on the dance formation and steps, a gentleman was allowed to touch a lady and hold her hand (and vice versa, as shown in the example of Mansfield Park 1999 above and in the image below).

Allemande

The couple had many opportunities to converse or catch their breaths when they waited for others to finish working their way down a dance progression.  The ability to carry out a conversation was considered very important, as Lizzie pointedly reminded Mr. Darcy:

“Elizabeth … took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’ looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well.—That reply will do for the present.—Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.—But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.”

The dances that would have been danced at the Nethefield Ball were:

The English Country Dance

The characteristic of an English country dance is that of gay simplicity. The steps should be few and easy, and the corresponding motion of the arms and body unaffected, modest , and graceful. – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Country dances consisted of long lines of dances in which the couples performed figures as they progressed down the line.

When a dancer was too tired to do steps, she would have been considered no longer dancing at all, as with Fanny in Chapter 28 of Mansfield Park:

“Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.”

Rather than everyone starting at once, dances would have called and led off by a single couple at the top; as that couple progressed down the set other couples would begin to dance, then lead off in turn as they reached the top, until all the dancers were moving. Jane Austen occasionally got to lead a dance, as she mentioned in a letter of November 20, 1800, to her sister Cassandra:

“My partners were the two St. Johns, Hooper, Holder, and very prodigious Mr. Mathew, with whom I called the last, and whom I liked the best of my little stock.”

This could lead to very long dances indeed (half an hour to an hour) if there were many couples in a set” – What Did Jane Austen Dance?

The Cotillion


The cotillion was based on the 18th-century French contradanse and was popular through the first two decades of the 19th century. It was performed in a square formation by eight dancers, who performed the figure of the dance alternately with ten changes.

The rapid changes of the cotillion are admirably calculated for the display of elegant gayety, and I hope that their animated evolvements will long continue a favourite accomplishment and amusement with our youthful fair. – The Mirror of Graces

The minuet.

The Devonshire Minuet

This dance had grown almost out of fashion by the time A Lady of Distinction wrote The Mirror of Graces, and it is conjectured that Jane Austen must have danced it in her lifetime.

Boulanger

Boulangers, or circular dances, were performed at the end of the evening, when the couples were tired. Jane Austen danced the boulanger, which she mentioned in a letter to Cassandra in 1796: “We dined at Goodnestone, and in the evening danced two country-dances and the Boulangeries.”

Quadrille

Note: the Quadrille and the waltz would not have been danced at the Netherfield Ball. Jane did mention the quadrille in a letter to Fanny Knight, which was dated 1816. And the waltz would not have been regarded an acceptable dance in 1813. It is doubted that Jane ever waltzed. The reel might have been danced at the Meryton Assembly, or at a private dance given by Colonel Foster and his wife, for instance, but it would probably not have been featured at the Netherfield Ball at the same time as a country dance.

Second Note: The movies have it all wrong. According to the author of this post on Capering and Kickery, “Real Regency Dancers Are Au Courant

Along with the peculiar notion that dance figures from the 17th century are useful for the early 19th century comes the even more peculiar notion that entire dances of that era are appropriate. Regency-era dancers were not interested in doing the dances of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, any more than today’s teenagers are. Dances like “Hole in the Wall” and “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” were written in the late 17th century. Their music is completely inappropriate for the Regency era. Their style is inappropriate. Their steps are inappropriate. There is no sense in which these dances belong in the Regency era. Loving obsessions with these dances make me want to cry at the sheer ignorance being promulgated by the people who keep putting these dances in movies.”

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Gentle Reader, July 18th marks the anniversary of Jane Austen’s Death. This post was first published in 2007:

Mary Austen nee Lloyd, the wife of James Austen, was present at Jane’s death. She wrote the following passage in her diary (See image below)

17 July 1817 “Jane Austen was taken for death about ½ past 5 in the Evening”
18 July 1817 Jane breathed her last ½ after four in the morn; only Cass[andra] and I were with her. Henry came, Austen & Ed came, the latter returned home”

Read a sad but fascinating account of Jane’s final hours, Jane Austen’s Final Resting Place, at Hantsweb.
Jane spent her last days in a small house in Winchester, near a doctor of some repute. She wrote in May:

I live chiefly on the sofa, but am allowed to walk from one room to the other. I have been out once in a sedan-chair, and am to repeat it and be promoted to a wheeled chair as the weather serves.” And speaking of her illness she remarks, “On this subject I will only say further that my dearest sister, my tender watchful, indefatigable nurse has not been made ill by her exertions. As to what I owe to her, and to the anxious affection of all my beloved family on this occasion, I can only cry over it, and pray to God to bless them more and more. - Chapter XXIII, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends (John Lane The Bodley Head, 1923) by Constance Hill.


Jane died on July 18, 1817. Cassandra, Jane’s dear sister, wrote these affecting words:

Since Tuesday evening, when her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more and much more comfortably; indeed, during the last eight-and-forty hours she was more asleep than awake. Her looks altered and she fell away, but I perceived no material diminution of strength, and, though I was then hopeless of a recovery, I had no suspicion how rapidly my loss was approaching.

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well — not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings; I am perfectly conscious of the extent of my irreparable loss, but I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time, with rest and change of air, will remove. I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.

She felt herself to be dying about half-an-hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious. During that half-hour was her struggle, poor soul! She said she could not tell us what she suffered, though she complained of little fixed pain. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death, and some of her words were: “God grant me patience, pray for me, oh, pray for me!” Her voice was affected, but as long as she spoke she was intelligible.

Read the rest of the letter on the Republic of Pemberley website.

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Belle Assemblee Morning Dress, 1818

Belle Assemblee Morning Dress, 1818

Outward manifestations of grief have changed in mourning rituals over the centuries. These days when we think of 19th century mourning, we tend to confuse elaborate Victorian rules of the 1860’s with the less rigid mourning etiquette of the earlier 19th century. Mourning fashions during the Regency Period are fully described in Dressing for Mourning in the Regency on the Jane Austen Centre’s website. Only the wealthy could afford the specially made fashionable mourning outfits shown in the fashion plates featured in Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblee, but the rising popularity of fashion magazines meant that the details of dress quickly spread through the provinces. Most people remade mourning clothes from an existing wardrobe, adding new linings to cloaks and pelisses, covering existing bonnets with a new piece of crape, and dyeing old dresses. Jane Austen wrote about her mother in 1808: “My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme.

One can imagine how an illustration like the one on the right would inspire women to add mourning details to their wardrobes, but such an expensive outfit would still be beyond most women’s means. The middle class was rising in numbers at a time when mourning clothes became more affordable through mass production of cloth. With these cheaper, more readily available clothes, the custom of wearing specially made mourning outfits (as opposed to remade) began to trickle down the social ladder. The very poor, who often did not own more than one outfit, could not afford to follow these wardrobe rules. They could not even afford the dark or black caps and bonnets that were worn with these ensembles. All they could manage at most was a touch of black, such as a ribbon or armband.

Ackermann, Mourning Dress,, 1819

Ackermann, Mourning Dress,, 1819

One feature that characterized custom made or manufactured mourning clothes of the era were broad or deep hems of at least three inches. Women dressed in crêpe, the fabric of choice, or wore black bombazine silk, which had a matte finish as opposed to the sheen of regular silk, and converted their narrow hems into broad hems. Black was the only acceptable color in the first stage of mourning, which for widows and widowers lasted one year and one day.  After the initial mourning period was over, the griever could choose wear subdued grays, purples, lilacs, and lavenders, as well as white, which had been the color of mourning during the medieval period.  There were reports of widows choosing to wear heavy widow’s weeds for the rest of their lives, but in the early 19th century these decisions were made from choice and were not dictated by the inflexible example set by Queen Victoria.

Shiny material was unacceptable during heavy mourning, when only flat matte colors would do. Two stages of mourning – full mourning and half mourning – were already being followed, as evidenced in the fashion plates between 1800 and 1820. The subdued colors of half mourning were supposed to help a person transition to the brighter colors of regular wear, but for some, death was so common in an extended family that it might take some individuals years before they could safely abandon their mourning garb.

Women largely took on the burdens of official grieving. A man might be expected to wear a dark jacket black cravat, black or white shirt, black bordered handkerchief or armband, or a black ornament on his hat, but his life was not turned upside down like a woman’s, for he often wore black clothes as a matter of course.

Locket with Jane Austen's hair (?)

Locket with Jane Austen's hair (?)

Early in the mourning process, only matte black jewelry made with jet or black amber could be worn. During the second phase of mourning, the wearer was given a wider choice of jewelry to wear. Jewelry made with the beloved’s hair, such as this brooch made (purportedly) with Jane Austen’s hair, was extremely popular and had a long tradition harking back to the 1600’s. In medieval times, giving a token of one’s hair was a gesture of love or courtship.  (Willoughby took a lock of Marianne’s hair, which gave her family the impression that they were engaged.) Hair symbolized life, and was long-lasting. It is remarkable how “fresh” some of the hair samples in centuries old jewelry still seems today.

Evening Dress, Full Mourning, 1817

Evening Dress, Full Mourning, 1817

Widows and widowers followed stricter rules of mourning and for them the mourning period was the most intense and lasted the longest. Friends, acquaintances and employees mourned officially to a lesser degree, depending on their relationship to the dead person. ” The degree of the loss depends on the person, an infant had practically no value to society but adolescents were recognized more. Grandparents were not a marked loss as their usefulness had passed, the longest period is that of a spouse.” - Death.

Author Georgette Heyer, who knew the Regency Period backwards and forwards, included a passage in A Civil Contract in which the bride’s new family contemplated introducing her (Jenny) to Society after her husband’s father had recently died. It was obvious that her new mother-in-law could not introduce her, for she was still wearing the veil and observing the first stages of mourning:

[Lady Oversley] perceived the intricacies of the situation at once, and gave the matter her profound consideration. “She must be presented,” she decided. “It would have a very strange appearance if she weren’t, because one always is, you know, on the occasion of one’s marriage. And there is nothing improper in going to a Drawing-Room when in mourning, though not, I think, in colour—except lavender, perhaps. Only, who is to present her? In general, one’s mother does so, but poor Jenny has no mother, and even if she had—dear me, yes! this is a trifle awkward, because I don’t think you could ask it of your own mother. Not while she is in such deep mourning, I mean! Well, it will have to be me, though I am strongly of the opinion that if we could but hit on a member of your own family it would create a better impression.”
“My Aunt Nassington?” suggested Adam.
“Would she?”
“I think she might.”

It was traditional for the nation to mourn the death of a royal. Princess Charlotte’s death from childbirth in 1817 resulted in an elaborate funeral that rivaled the one held more recently for Princess Diana, and inspired the populace to wear black. This nation wide mourning was a precursor to the elaborate ceremonies that would be planned for Prince Albert’s funeral almost half a decade later in 1861.

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*A special thank you to Laurel Ann of Austenprose and my blog partner at Jane Austen Today for sending me most of the images for this post.

Half mourning evening dress, 1819

Half mourning evening dress, 1819

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