I am at a conference for the rest of the week. Workshops begin at 8:30 AM. Working backwards, this means I must be up by 5 AM to get washed and dressed, eat breakfast, drive to the training site, set up the workshop room, and be ready to greet participants (without a bleary eye) by 8:15 AM.
Upon reading my statements, early morning risers will think, “What’s so strange about that?” But for those of us who were meant to keep Regency hours, this schedule is akin to torture. I would much have preferred Jane Austen’s hours.
How the English during the Regency era spent their mornings depended on their status. The schedule of the modern day trainer or worker is, in fact, one that a servant in the 19th century would have kept, rising at dawn to haul and boil water, stoke the fires, and get the house in shape before the gentry arose. Unlike 19th century servants, modern day folks generally eat breakfast before the workday begins. Servants, who had been toiling for at least 3-4 hours making the house ready for the day and tending to the family’s needs, would not break their fast until after the family’s breakfast dishes had been cleared and rinsed.
Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Knightley, both country gentlemen, would rise earlier than their city counterparts, who kept later more fashionable hours. Upon rising at 7 AM, Jane Austen, for example, would not immediately sit down to breakfast. She would write letters or practice on the piano, walk in the garden to pick flowers, or even go into the village to run a short errand before sitting down with her family at 9 AM to partake of a simple breakfast consisting of rolls, breads, butter, preserves, and tea or a pot of hot chocolate. If she were on vacation or at the seaside, she might take a leisurely stroll to the beach or point of interest before partaking of the morning meal at an inn.
Lady Bertram, whose day revolved around pleasing herself, would in all likelihood arise from her bed much later than Jane and remain in her dressing room with her maid until she was suitably dressed. Before breakfast, she would also consult with her housekeeper about the household plans for the day, giving her instructions to relay to the cook about the day’s meals. She might write letters in her boudoir and emerge in her morning gown and cap to eat breakfast with her family, or perhaps have it sent to her rooms on a tray.
Sir Thomas Bertram or Mr. Knightley would also delay breakfast. They might consult with their bailiffs, or check out a new horse at the stable before consuming their morning meal. General Tilney stuck to a strict schedule and had the family eat breakfast at nine. The Middletons, whose house was always filled with guests, ate breakfast at Barton Park around 10 AM. Some families sat down together, while others strolled in during a certain set time, say between 10 and 11 AM let’s say, to help themselves from dishes placed on a sideboard. One imagines that the Tilneys observed the former practice, whereas Mr. Bingley and the Middletons allowed people to wander into the breakfast room at their own pleasure. Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s rich brother, had breakfast served at 10 AM, and expected the entire family to be at the table.
By 11:30 AM, breakfast service was generally over. Town times were much different, and meals were served at a later, more fashionable hour. Often the very fashionable would stick to those hours even when in the country. Lizzie Bennet walked 3 miles to Netherfield Park after breakfast to be with her sick sister, Jane, only to encounter Mr. Bingley’s town guests just sitting down to breakfast over an hour later.
The Regency definition of morning differed vastly from ours. Visiting hours were kept at set times. A family might receive visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, or on Wednesday, between 11 AM to 3 PM. These hours were considered morning hours. When Anne Elliot arrived at Uppercross Cottage at 1:00 PM, she considered the time to be early in the morning.
Regency ladies wore morning gowns when they were at home. If a lady had no plans to go visiting or receive visitors, and simply stayed at home, she would wear her morning gown well past the hour of three, not bothering to change until dinner, when she was expected to dress more formally. Morning gowns could be made of simple dimity gowns covered by a pinafore if the lady, like Elinor Dashwood or Cassandra Austen at Chawton Cottage, was working in the kitchen or garden, or the gown could be made of finer stuff, like a delicate muslin. Ladies in morning gowns could be seen by family and guests, but they would never dare set foot in public while wearing one.
I must admit to liking Regency hours. On the weekends or on vacations, I rise late and will lounge for hours in my study/dressing room, reading or writing for my blog while sipping coffee. I’ll throw on some clothes and walk my dog Cody, and afterwards will make breakfast. I’ll then hang around the house in my ratty lounge wear, doing a little of this and a little of that, before donning more respectable garments to receive visitors, go out and shop, or visit with friends and family. If I am home all day, I’ll stay in my frayed jeans and tee shirt.
Would that my daily schedule resembled my weekend schedule! But, alas, I must work to earn my dog’s kibbles. The clock tells me I must get dressed now and be out of the door in half an hour. The powers that be decreed that our work day starts anywhere between 7 and 9 AM (even earlier for many). Obviously, considering those hours, our bosses view us more as servants than as revered guests.
I, for one, was meant to be a lady of leisure. Perhaps I shall be reincarnated as one?
More on the topic:
- Common meals in the 18th Century
- English Breakfast
- Breakfast in the 18th Century: The Unexamined Meal, Jim Chevallier