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Archive for the ‘Regency Etiquette’ Category

You deserve a longer letter than this, but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve…” – Jane Austen

Introduction:

In August, 1798, Rev George and Mrs. Austen and their daughters Cassandra and Jane visited Godmersham, Edward Austen-Knight’s estate near Godmersham, Kent, where he had moved with his family in November, 1797. While Jane and her parents returned to Steventon in October, Cassandra remained behind until March, 1799. Jane wrote the following letter on Christmas eve in the middle of Cassandra’s prolonged visit. 

Godmersham-Park-Public-Domain-1799-Wikipedia

Godmersham Park, 1799, Wikipedia public domain image

Jane Austen’s letter:

Steventon: Monday Night, Dec 24 [1798]

My dear Cassandra

Our ball was very thin, but by no means unpleasant. There were thirty-one people, and only eleven ladies out of the number, and but five single women in the room. Of the gentlemen present you may have some idea from the list of my partners—Mr. Wood, G. Lefroy, Rice, a Mr. Butcher (belonging to the Temples, a sailor and not of the 11th Light Dragoons). Mr. Temple (not the horrid one of all). Mr. Wm Orde (cousin to the Kingsclere man). Mr. John Harwood, and Mr. Calland, who appeared as usual with his hat in his hand, and stood every now and then behind Catherine and me to be talked to and abused for not dancing. We teased him, however, into it at last. I was very glad to see him again after so long a separation…

There were twenty dances, and I danced them all, and without any fatigue…My black cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy, and secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room…Of my charities to the poor since I came home you shall have a faithful account. I have given a pair of worsted stockings to Mary Hutchins, Dame Kew, Mary Steevens, and Dame Staples: a shift to Hannah Staples, and a shawl to Betty Dawkins: amounting in all to about half a guinea…

I was to have dined at Deane today, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of snow. We are to have company to dinner on Friday: the three Digweeds and James. We shall be a nice silent party. I suppose.

You deserve a longer letter than this, but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve…God bless you!

Yours affectionately, Jane Austen

Image of Steventon Rectory, Wikimedia Commons

Steventon Parsonage, Wikimedia Commons

This short letter might reveal very little information to the contemporary reader, but Cassandra knew the context of every sentence Jane wrote. She knew the people, time, place, and setting, since she lived it. No detailed descriptions were needed for Cassandra to comprehend the letter’s full meaning

Thankfully for us, records and books exist that will help us make more sense of Jane’s cryptic words.

The Years Leading to Austen’s Letter

Jane and Cassandra had just experienced a number of eventful years. In 1796, Jane met and danced with Tom LeFroy at Deane. We know the details of this meeting in the first existing letter Jane wrote to Cassandra. In August, 1797,  Cassandra learned that Thomas Fowle, her fiance, died tragically of fever in the West Indies months earlier and was buried at sea. A little over a year after the shocking news, she must still have been in deep mourning.

By 1798, Jane had already written the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice, initially entitled First Impressions, and Sense and Sensibility, originally drafted as an epistolary novel entitled Elinor and Marianne. Just five months previously, her dear cousin Lady Williams (Jane Cooper) had died in a carriage accident, another cause for mourning. 

Timeline of events:

1795(?)Cassandra engaged to Thomas Fowle.
 MayMrs. James Austen died.
1795-6Mr. Tom Lefroy at Ashe.
1796 First Impressions (Pride and Prejudice) begun.
1797,Jan.James Austen married Mary Lloyd.
 Feb.Thomas Fowle died of fever in the W. Indies.
 Nov.Jane, with mother and sister, went to Bath.
  First Impressions refused by Cadell.
  Sense and Sensibility (already sketched in Elinor and Marianne) begun.
1798,Aug.Lady Williams (Jane Cooper) killed in a carriage accident.
  Mrs. Knight gave up Godmersham to the Edward Austens. Jane’s first visit there.
1798,Aug.First draft of Northanger Abbey begun.
Timeline/context of the letter in Project Gutenberg:  Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh

About Austen’s Letters

Deidre Le Faye in Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, listed Austen’s known letters in chronological order. At a glance one can see when and where the sisters were apart. Many casual readers think of Jane as a spinster and a homebody, but the list demonstrates how often and how extensively she and Casssandra traveled, largely in the south of England. This link leads to an interactive map of her travels in Smithsonian Magazine. 

Le Faye chronicles the ten letters Jane sent to Cassandra during her visit to Godmersham. They were written from October 24, 1798 to January 23, 1799. This letter, which described past and future events, was dated December 24th, Christmas eve. The ball had already occurred. Christmas festivities in 1798 were rather simple compared to festivities introduced during Queen Victoria’s time, (Click on this link to a Georgian Christmas). Jane must have missed her sister even more on this occasion.

Deirdre Le Faye, in her descriptive article for Persuasion #14, 1992, entitled Jane Austen’s Letters, described the letters as “often hasty and elliptical–the equivalent of chatty telephone conversations between the sisters, keeping each other informed of the events at home…interspersed with news of the day, both local and national.” (p. 82, Jane Austen’s Letters) 

Example of a cross written letter to save paper and postage, much as the Austens sent to each other. The recipient of the letter paid for the postage. Paper was saved by cross writing. Image in the public domain.

Example of a cross written letter to save paper and postage, much as the Austens sent to each other. The recipient of the letter paid for the postage. Paper was saved by cross writing. Image in the public domain.

When Jane and Cassandra were apart, they wrote each other every three days, or five letters in a fortnight. As soon as one was sent, they began to write the next one. The letters followed a pattern, telling the other of the journey, then about daily events and how life was at home, then talking about the visit at the destination, and finally of the journey home. This pattern helped Le Faye determine which letters (or set of letters) were missing or destroyed by Cassandra.

When Jane was ready to mail her letter, Mr. Austen dropped it off at the post box in Deane as he made his rounds throughout his parish. Cassandra bequeathed this letter to Fanny Knatchbull, née Austen-Knight, which eventually made its way into her son’s, Lord Brabourne’s, publication of Jane’s letters.

Events in the Letter: The Ball, the People, and the Setting

The setting

In her December 24th letter, Jane indicated her physical fitness – she danced all twenty dances without any fatigue. As a country girl who helped her family in the kitchen garden or with breakfast, and who walked into town, to church, or to visit neighbors at Deane or Ashe, she was in prime physical condition. View this map of Steventon, Deane, and Ashe.

She described the ball as being thin.

There were thirty-one people, and only eleven ladies out of the number, and but five single women in the room.

It is hard to tell if the ball was public or private. The word “thin,” however, indicated that it must have been public to anyone who had a subscription. If the ball had been private, then the hosts would have ensured that the correct number of persons of both sexes would have been invited. Once they accepted the invitation, good manners would have obliged them to show up. If the December ball had been private, Jane would surely have known who and how many were coming. There would have been few surprises. 

basinstoke town hall

Basingstoke Town Hall in the late 18th early 19th centuries.

Public assembly balls were held in Basingstoke’s town hall, which was a little over 7 miles from Steventon (an hour’s carriage ride in good weather, since horses pulling carriages traveled 6 miles per hour on average). Dancing was performed in a ballroom on the first floor that also held a card room for gentlemen like Mr. Austen, who might not have felt like dancing.

Frequent allusions are made in the “Letters” to the county balls at Basingstoke. These took place, it seems, once a month on a Thursday during the season. They were held in the Assembly Rooms, and were frequented by all the well-to-do families of the out-lying neighbourhood; many of them, like the Austens, coming from long distances, undeterred by the dangers of dark winter nights, lampless lanes, and stormy weather.” – Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends, Constance Hill, Illustrations by Ellen G. Hill, John Lane, The Bodley Head Limited, first Published 1901. Downloaded August 30, 2020.

The people

Dancers Jane described in her letter were:

Rev George and Mrs Anne Lefroy (née Brydges). The reverend obtained his living in Ashe in 1783, and Madam Lefroy, as she was locally known, was Jane’s good friend and mentor. In her letters, Jane talked of visiting friends and neighbors, such as the Lefroys of Ashe Park, which was within easy walking distance. In 1800, Jane wrote:

“We had a very pleasant day on Monday at Ashe (Park). We sat down fourteen to dinner in the study, the dining-room being not habitable from the storms having blown…down its chimney. There was a whist and a casino table…” – Constance Hill

Ashe Rectory-Hill

Ashe Rectory. Illustration by Ellen Hill

Mr. Wood: All we know about John Wood is that he was Jane’s dance partner. 

Rice is most likely Henry Rice, who married Jemima-Lucy Lefroy. He was known to be a fun-loving spendthrift who was often bailed out by his mother.

Mr. Temple, mostly likely Frank, who served in the navy. His friend was Samuel Butcher.

Mr. Butcher (belonging to the Temples, a sailor and not of the 11th Light Dragoons.) Samuel Butcher was five years older than Jane. He was appointed to HMS Sans Pareil in 1795.

Mr. Wm Orde (cousin to the Kingscler man) of Nunnykirk “perhaps.” He remained unmarried.

Mr. Calland, who Penelope Hughes-Hallett identified as the Rector of Bentworth. The joke in the Austen family was that he always appeared at any function with a hat in his hand, which Mrs. Austen made fun of with a poem. On this day, Jane and her friend Catherine teased him into dancing.

Catherine is Catherine Bigg, daughter of Mr. Bigg Wither of Manydown Park, and Jane’s good friend.

“Manydown is within easy reach of Basingstoke, and Jane often stayed there when the Assembly balls took place. She had done so on the present occasion.”- Constance Hill

18th century engraving of Manydown Park

18th century engraving of Manydown Park

Of my charities to the poor…

In this section of the letter, Jane listed the Steventon villagers who received her largesse:

I have given a pair of worsted stockings to Mary Hutchins, Dame Kew, Mary Steevens, and Dame Staples: a shift to Hannah Staples, and a shawl to Betty Dawkins:”

Hannah was Dame Staples’ daughter. Jane Austen, as a rector’s daughter of the most influential man (not the richest) in the parishes he served, was obligated to support the many poor ladies in Steventon. Her gifts, simple as they seemed, were multiplied by the gifts of food and clothing from the community at large and kept the villager women from dire extremes. Mrs. and Miss Bates in Emma depend on the kindness of neighbors to survive, as Jane wrote in scene after scene.

The Austens, while influential in Steventon, were not rich. They belonged, as Lucy Worsley writes in Jane Austen at Home, to the pseudo-gentry.

“Jane belonged to the pseudo-gentry; there was land in her family, but her parents and siblings didn’t own land, so they had to make do and mend and gloss things over.”

Pseudo-gentry kept up appearances even though their means fell short of their richer neighbors, friends, and relatives. Still, Jane managed from her meager yearly-pin money of around £20 to spend a sum “amounting in all to about half a guinea….”

Half a guinea was a gold coin minted from the Guinea Coast in Africa, which ceased to be minted around the time of this letter. The idea that Jane possessed a gold coin is far fetched. In Austen’s day, a guinea had a value of 21 shillings–this value could change depending on the quality of the coinage in use. Interestingly, the gold coin’s purchasing power (comparing Austen’s time to now), remains a little over 1 pound today. (CPI Inflation calendar).

The ball and dances

Balls in the days of Miss Austen consisted mainly of country dances, for the stately minuet was going out of vogue, while the rapid waltz had not yet come in. We must picture to ourselves the ladies and gentlemen ranged in two long rows facing one another, whilst the couples at the extreme ends danced down the set; the most important lady present having been privileged to “call” or lead off the dance.”… Constance Hill

Which dances did Jane Austen dance?

Country dances as late as 1798 had very little variation, with long lines of couples progressing up and down a set that could last from twenty minutes to as much as an hour. This and other dances mentioned by Austen included cotillions performed as a square by four couples. The boulanger was known as a “finishing” dance performed at the last. It was physically an easy dance to do and one that after a night of physical exertion was probably most welcome. – (“What did Jane Austen Dance,” Capering & Kickery, 2009)

Dances Austen might have danced in 1798, since they were popular during that time, were the Scotch reel, the minuet (rapidly going out of fashion), and Sir Roger de Coverley, another finishing dance (although no record exists of Jane mentioning this dance). One dance she and her contemporaries decidedly did not dance during this period was the waltz, although Jane might have heard its music. (Capering & Kickery.)

The Music

Jane adored music and she made eight volumes of her own collections, two of which she wrote by hand (copying sheets of music). The music included songs by Handel and English composers, and instrumental pieces by Correlli, Gluck and J.C. Bach. (Jane Austen and classical music: how Bath brought them together, Discover Music.)

'The London March', manuscript music copied by Jane Austen, image in the public domain

‘The London March’, manuscript music copied by Jane Austen, image in the public domain

Susan of Capering and Kickery reminds readers that dancers during the end of the 18th century and in the Regency era paid attention to fashionable “music in the moment.” Dancers would not have chosen to dance to music popular in the 17th or early 18th centuries. “Austen was no more likely to dance a 75- or 100-year old dance than she was to wear fashions from a hundred years earlier.”

Many contemporary comments regarding the music in the recent mini-series of “Sanditon” and the film, “Emma.” 2020, were scathing regarding the raw country tunes that were played in the dance scenes, many of which were Scottish airs and folk music, like “The Water is Wide,” which is popular to this day. Yet these movies have it wrong. 

“… dances like “Hole in the Wall,” “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot,” “Childgrove,” and “Grimstock” (all dating from 1650 to 1710) are nothing Jane Austen or her characters would have been caught dead dancing.”- Capering and Kickery

Yet, due to films, such as 1995’s “Pride and Prejudice” (an adaptation I admire), modern audiences accept these dance choices as authentic. Neither Cassandra nor Jane would have.

The Musicians

Well-paid musicians in London would have played more sophisticated pieces from the Continent interspersed with popular English music. Country balls, however, employed traveling musicians (from 5-6) who sought work from town to town. Villagers and townsmen might have sought out local talent, who consisted of anyone who could play an instrument, no matter the quality of their play. Think of Mary Bennet, whose talent at the piano forte was bad, versus an impresario like Jane Fairfax.  Elizabeth Bennet could play tolerably well and Anne Elliot was called upon to play at the piano forte as the family rolled up the carpet for an impromptu dance in the evening. 

Image of Henry Raeburn, violinist and composer, 1727-1807

Henry Raeburn, violinist and composer, 1727-1807

Ball dress:

The only reference Austen makes to her dress is:

My black cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy, and secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room…”

At twenty-three years of age, Jane was almost on the shelf and in danger of becoming a spinster. She had begun to wear caps earlier than most other unmarried ladies, and in this respect her quote was not surprising. It is hard, however, to find a black cap in the fashion magazines of her day and before. Black hats were shown in the magazines, but not caps in that color. They were generally made of white muslin and sewn by the women who wore them. Tom Fowle’s death hit Cassandra hard (she was not to learn of his passing until months after the event when the ship made it back to port.)

Cassandra knew exactly what Jane was writing about regarding the cap; but we can only conjecture. Regency mourning customs were not as strict as in Victorian times, but wearing a black cap was perhaps Jane’s way of honoring his memory and perhaps Jane Cooper. The following quote from The British Library states:

The Gallery of Fashion shows a lot of mourning dresses. A woman might spend a considerable part of her life wearing mourning of some sort, for distant relatives as well as close ones, so it is not surprising that there was a pressure to remain fashionable while doing so.” – Gallery of Fashion, The British Library.

In any case, little is known of the black cap. The closeup of this image is the only 1798 full dress example I found online after hours of searching.

Detail, Fashion Plate, 'Full Dress for Decr. 1798' for 'Lady's Monthly Museum'

Detail, Fashion Plate, ‘Full Dress for Dec. 1798’ for ‘Lady’s Monthly Museum’

In 1798, ladies’ dresses made the transition from round gowns (so prettily drawn in Nicholas Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion (1794-1802) to sleeker, more figure hugging gowns popular in the early 19th century. 

Fashion Plate, 'Full Dress for Decr. 1798' for 'Lady's Monthly Museum', LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Fashion Plate, ‘Full Dress for Decr. 1798’ for ‘Lady’s Monthly Museum’, LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Women’s dresses during this decade sported trains. Austen’s gown in the ball she attended in 1798 was probably a full dress gown, since the senior Austens were too often strapped for income to afford a full array of morning gowns, walking gowns, dinner gowns, full dress gowns, and ball gowns for their two girls. 

Jane began to write Northanger Abbey in 1798, when gowns with trains were fashionable. This extra fabric must have gotten quite dirty during country walks and work around the house, and might have tripped the dancer and her partners if left to its own devices. This passage from her novel provided the solution:

The progress of the friendship between Catherine and Isabella was quick as its beginning had been warm, and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends or themselves. They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set;” – Chapter 5, Northanger Abbey

Image of "Pinned up each others trains", Northanger Abbey illustration in the public domain, Hugh Thompson. British Library.

“Pinned up each others trains”, Northanger Abbey illustration in the public domain, Hugh Thompson. British Library.

Shoes and the accoutrements of a lady’s dance wardrobe

Interestingly, many shoes made for dancing lasted for only one evening or two. The slippers, constructed of cloth or delicate kid, barely lasted the full hours of physical exertion. The slippers were festooned with rosettes made with a fabric that matched or complimented the ladies’ gowns. Mrs. Austen made dance slippers of fabric for her grandchildren, much in this tradition.

Gloves not only came above the elbow, but were often made of kid leather, which were a buttery color. The gloves also were made with white or an assortment of pale, soft colored cloths. Gentlemen wore gloves as well, for it was unseemly for a gentleman and lady to touch each other with bare hands. Another necessity, especially on warm nights, or when candlelight and exertion overheated the ballroom, was a fan. 

Dance cards were not yet as popular as in the 19th century, but a lady knew not to commit to too many dances ahead of the ball in case a likely prospect entered the room later in the evening. A couple could dance only two sets together, for dancing more than two was considered ill-mannered.

As mentioned in this letter, only five single women danced in a room with twenty men, which meant that each female was quite busy and exhausted at the end of the night. After supper, served around midnight, the ladies and their partner sat with the lady’s family or chaperones. The etiquette of the ballroom was quite strict. Once a lady refused to dance with a gentleman, she had to sit out the rest of the dances for the evening.

In her novels, Jane used this convention to differentiate the villains from the obedient or the heroes and heroines, or to demonstrate personality quirks. Mr. Elton’s rudeness in refusing a dance with poor Harriet Smith in Emma humiliated the young woman and spoke ill of his character. Mr. Knightley, in inviting Harriet to dance, showed his heroic instincts. These actions demonstrated a gentleman’s quality better than any exposition Jane could have written. Her contemporary readers knew this, but we in the 21st century must learn these quirks of etiquette through research and reading.

Post Ball mentions

I was to have dined at Deane today, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of snow. We are to have company to dinner on Friday: the three Digweeds and James. We shall be a nice silent party. I suppose.”

Deane House-Hill

Image of Deane House, Ellen Hill.

Dining at Deane meant dining in the old manor house of Deane with Squire Harwood and his family. In this house Jane had danced with Tom Lefroy in 1796. The Harwoods were very well off according to late 18th century standards, but this was not to last. Upon his death in 1813, it was discovered that John Harwood had mortgaged his estate to the hilt, leaving his heir in ruin and his widow and daughter with nothing.

As for not dining with the Harwoods in December, 1798, the narrow country lanes between Steventon, Deane and Ashe were filled with deep ruts. Wet snow would have deterred the company from visiting their good friends. 

Austen’s letter ends with a planned dinner with the Digweeds on Friday, December 28th. The Digweeds were tenants of Steventon Manor in Steventon Parish, who rented the land from Mr. Knight in Godmersham Park. (p. 18, Jane Austen’s Country Life.) The Digweeds and the Austens grazed hundreds of sheep around the village. (p. 21, Country Life.) Harry and William-Francis Digweed (who, with their brothers, were playmates with the Austen siblings) were joint tenants until 1798. James Digweed, ordained in 1797, became curate of Steventon in 1798. Jane, it seems, anticipated a quiet (boring?) evening.

Gentle reader: This analysis ends my research into this letter, which was sent shorthand to Cassandra. She would have mentally filled in the gaps easily and fluently, gaps that we today struggle to understand.   

Deirdre Le Fay, who passed away just a few weeks ago, painstakingly researched Austen’s letters and their corresponding information for her massive undertaking, Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th edition. With its lists of letters, the letters, abbreviations and citations, notes and general notes on the letters, select bibliography, biographical index, topographical index, subject index, and general index is 667 pages long. This world has lost a scholar of the first rank. 

References: 

Jane Austen’s Letters, Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 4th Edition (December 1, 2011), ISBN-100199576076, ISBN-13 : 978-0199576074

Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, Deidre Le Faye, Frances Lincoln (June 1, 2014) ISBN-100711231583, ISBN-13978-0711231580

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, Lucy Worsley, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2017. Hardcover, 400 pages. ISBN-13978-1250131607, ISBN-10125013160X

A Dance With Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters went to the Ball, Susannah Fullerton, Frances Lincoln, 2012. ISBN-100711232458, ISBN-13 978-0711232457

“Historian Lucy Worsley goes around the houses with Jane Austen at York Literature Festival,” By Charles Hutchinson, The Press, 19th March 2018: Downloaded 8/25/2020, https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16097178.historian-lucy-worsley-goes-around-houses-jane-austen-york-literature-festival/

A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, Sue Wilkes, https://visitjaneaustensengland.blogspot.com/2015/07/down-on-farm.html

“The Three Churches of Steventon, Ashe, and Deane.” Downloaded 8-29-2020: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/england/hampshire/the-three-churches-of-steventon-ashe-and-deane?u=i

“Steventon, Basingstoke, Deane survey,” downloaded 8-29-2020: https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/local/steventon-basingstoke-and-deane

Shoe roses: downloaded August 30, 2020. https://janeausten.co.uk/blogs/fashion-to-make/make-shoe-roses  “No aunt, no officers, no news could be sought after; — the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy.”–P&P Netherfield Ball

“What Did Jane Austen Dance?” Capering & Kickery, Nov 1, 2009: Downloaded Aug 30, 2020. https://www.kickery.com/2009/11/what-did-jane-austen-dance.html

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Understanding the subtle nuances behind formal introductions and customary greetings during Jane Austen’s lifetime is a lot of fun, and it can provide a unique level of insight into her books. The reason: Austen uses breaches of etiquette and manners as commentaries on her characters. In her book Those Elegant Decorums, Jane Nardin says, “In Jane Austen’s novels, a person’s social behavior is the external manifestation of his moral character” (12).

Austen utilizes greetings such as formal introductions, handshakes, curtsies, bows, and even the infamous “cut,” in order to help drive her plots, provide insightful information about her characters, and give subtle hints to her readers.

Making Introductions

 Throughout her novels, Jane Austen makes clever use of the rule that two strangers cannot interact socially until they have been properly introduced by a third party or mutual acquaintance. Today, it might seem rude to mingle with someone in a social setting and not introduce ourselves, but Kirsten Olsen says in All Things Austen that “genteel people who had not been introduced simply did not speak to one another” (132). Austen is able to use this code of conduct to the advantage and disadvantage of her characters.

Catherine Moorland feels the disadvantage of this rule acutely when she first goes to Bath: “she longed to dance, but she had not an acquaintance in the room” and Mrs. Allen only says, “every now and then, ‘I wish you could dance, my dear—I wish you could get a partner.’” (Northanger Abbey 21). Because they have no acquaintance, Catherine cannot dance. When they find a place for tea next to a large party of people, they even spend the meal “without having anything to do there, or anybody to speak to, except each other” (22). But if a girl cannot get a dance partner or find friends at the tea table without an acquaintance, how can she meet a marriage partner? Luckily, there was an exception to this rule: The master of ceremonies at the Lower Rooms could make a proper introduction, which is how Catherine meets Henry Tilney. (See Vic’s article on The Lower Assembly Rooms and Bath Society for more.)

Austen also uses this rule of introductions as the essential “hook” that grabs the reader’s attention at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice when Mrs. Bennet harasses Mr. Bennet to pay a visit to Mr. Bingley. Among the gentry in the country, when someone moved into the neighborhood, it was polite for his neighbors to call on him. Obviously, Mr. Bennet must introduce himself so that his daughters can meet Mr. Bingley. However, there is another reason for Mrs. Bennet’s insistence: Once the call is made, it must be returned. As Olsen says, “virtually all visits required a reciprocal visit so that once one started visiting at a particular house, it was hard to stop” (Olsen 385). This bit of information makes Mrs. Bennet’s shrewd scheming even more humorous for she knows it will inevitably lead to her daughters being introduced to Mr. Bingley.

Later in Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Collins introduces himself to Mr. Darcy without having been formally introduced, it is an embarrassing breach of conduct, especially as he is of inferior social rank: “Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme, assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side; and that if it were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance” (PP 79). This is not merely a terrible social faux pas—Austen is bringing attention to Mr. Collins’s ignorance and over-inflated sense of pride in regard to his connection to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Polite Gestures and Greetings

Austen also uses bows, curtsies, nods, and other physical gestures purposefully; body language carries a lot of meaning in her books. Bowing and curtsying, for instance, was to be done elegantly and gracefully. However, the depth and duration of a bow depended on the circumstances. For example, “A short, curt bow, more like a nod, could indicate displeasure or mere formal acknowledgement, while a long bow could be ridiculous in some situations and lend emphasis to one’s words or departure in others” (Olsen 131). We see an example of this subtlety when Mr. Darcy only bows slightly and moves away after Mr. Collins comes forward to introduce himself. Mr. Collins tells Elizabeth that the introduction went well, but from mere observation Elizabeth can see that the opposite is true.

Gentlemen were also expected to bow upon taking leave of a lady. Bows or tips of the hat were given in greeting to women, social superiors, and to acquaintances seen at a distance. Nodding was also important. Nodding was also common courtesy among women. And, much like a visit, a tip of the hat or nod of the head must be returned, as we see in Northanger Abbey when Catherine is looking for Mr. Tilney but is also occupied with “returning the nods and smiles of Miss Thorpe,” which “claimed much of her leisure” (Austen NA 35).

Shaking hands was generally used between men of the same social class. However, Olsen says that “women could choose to shake hands, even with a man, though conduct books indicated that this was a favour (sic) to be distributed with care” (131). We see in Sense and Sensibility that Marianne has become accustomed to granting this favor to Willoughby (and is hurt by his apparent indifference) when she holds out her hand to him and cries: “Will you not shake hands with me?” when they see one another at a party in London (176). When she first sees him, he merely bows “without attempting to speak to her, or to approach.” After spending so much time together, he is incredibly uncomfortable and acts as though they do not know each other as well as they do. Austen uses this scene to reveal to the reader that Willoughby’s feelings and intentions toward Marianne have changed abruptly.

The Cut

Finally, we see that once two people have been introduced, each one must give and return the appropriate calls, bows, curtsies, and nods. When someone deliberately chose not to engage in these polite customs and acknowledge an acquaintance, it was known as a “cut.” Olsen explains that “[a]n introduction was a matter of some importance, as once two people were introduced, they had to ‘know’ each other for good, acknowledging each other’s presence every time they met and accepting visits back and forth. The only way out of perpetual acquaintance was for one…to do something so horrific and unforgivable that the other might ‘cut’ him” (Olsen 132).

For instance, when meeting on the street, if one man saw a gentleman acquaintance, he would tip his hat. The other could then nod back. However, to ignore the other person and refuse to acknowledge him was a “cut.” The “cut” is used pointedly in Pride and Prejudice when Darcy sees Wickham in Meryton: “Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat—a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What could be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to know” (73).

The cut is highlighted several times in Austen’s novels because “in her social world it was almost as dramatic an incident as could possibly happen” (Olsen 133). We see the cut used several times as a way to show that a relationship between two people has been broken for one reason or another. In Sense and Sensibility, after Willoughby breaks Marianne’s heart and she become ill, he tells Elinor that Sir John spoke to him for the first time in two months when they met in public. He says “[t]hat he had cut me ever since my marriage, I had seen without surprise or resentment” (330). Depending on the situation, sometimes it is the one being cut or the one giving the cut who is at fault.

In Pride and Prejudice, when Jane visits Miss Bingley in London, Miss Bingley waits several weeks before returning the call (though a call should be returned within a day or two. Jane writes to Elizabeth: “It was very evident that she had no pleasure in [the visit]; she made a slight, formal, apology, for not calling before, said not a word of wishing to see me again, and was in every respect so altered a creature, that when she went away, I was perfectly resolved to continue the acquaintance no longer” (148). This is a subtle cut and was considered highly impolite.

In each of her novels, Austen utilizes social gestures such as they to give her readers special insight into her characters and plots. When someone is in error, we should always look closely to find out why Austen has written it that way. Often, when the code of conduct is not followed, something (or someone) is amiss. Exploring these nuances is one way to understand the underlying meaning in Austen’s books. For more on these topics, see… (links/references)

Rachel Dodge, May 24, 2017

Inquiring readers: About Ms. Dodge, the author of this article (and more to come):

Rachel Dodge’s knowledge of Jane Austen and the Regency World is impeccable. She has an M.A. in English literature in creative writing and public relations, and is a free freelance web and marketing content writer/editor for churches, missionary organizations, and small businesses. Rachel is a frequent speaker at libraries, literary groups, and reading groups about Jane Austen, 18th-century literature, and the Regency Era. Her written works include: “Exploring Womanhood: Moral Instruction, the Ideal Female, and 18th-Century Conduct in Pride & Prejudice.” (Master’s Thesis on the topic of female etiquette in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). She belongs to JASNA National, JASNA Greater Sacramento, and Inspire Writers.

You can see why I am so pleased to add Rachel to the Jane Austen’s World group of contributing writers! Please welcome her aboard.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane, and R. W. Chapman. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

–. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

–. Sense and Sensilibity. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Nardin, Jane, and Jane Austen. Those Elegant Decorums the Concept of Propriety in Jane Austen’s Novels. Albany, State Univ. of New York Press, 2012.

Olsen, Kirstin. All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World. Oxford, Greenwood World, 2008.

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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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