Regency Terms: Introduction

Mr. Standen, already shaken by having his hand rubbed worshipfully against a lady’s cheek, goggled at her.  “You think I’ve got brains?” he said, awed.  “Not confusing me with Charlie?”

“Charlie!” uttered Miss Charing contemptuously.  “I darseay he has book-learning, but you have–you have address, Freddy!”

“Well, by Jove!” said Mr. Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.

Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer

The Queen of Regency Romance, IMHO, not only uses Regency lexicon to great effect, she encases these foreign sounding English terms in clever context that makes their meaning unmistakeable.

What does it mean to have address?

In a world where birth and wealth define one’s status, an added avenue of distinction was good character, a notion well-advanced in the works of Jane Austen.  Address was often (!) considered an indication of good character.  During social activities, manners, dress and ability to dance could be displayed to advantage, and were often taken as the first  indications of one’s character, achieved separately and independent of one’s antecedents. 

Hence Elizabeth Bennett’s outspoken inquiry into Mr. Darcy’s character, despite his prominent birth and fortune, is rather amusing:  “I’m trying to make it out!”

In Heyer’s Cotillion, Freddy, also known as the Honorable Freddy Standen, is the son and heir of wealthy Lord Legerwood.  But he was primarily favored for his address, which was displayed to great advantage in the competitive environs of Almack’s, that exclusive club where unmarried debutantes and gentlemen of the ton would gather for the Season.  Freddy could always be depended upon to ask the wallflower for a dance, or facilitate introductions that promoted connections essential to future alliances (marriage) among the ton.

He was really handy at a party.

Even before Kitty Charing drew his attention to this quality she admired in him, Freddy used his address on several occasions to get her out of a scrape.  You’ll have to read this delightful, traditional Regency to see how such a quality endeared a generation of readers to a character diametrically opposed to the rake.  Freddy made a romantic hero, nonetheless.

There are a number of wonderful sites that give a general overview, and glossary, of Regency terms.  I’ve listed them here:

http://www.thenonesuch.com/lexicon.html – excellent overall summary and glossary

http://www.michelesinclair.com/regency_era_info.shtml#lexicon – quite good for Regency dances

http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/social-customs-and-the-regency-world/ this marvelous(!) site could not be more comprehensive.

More to come on specific Regency terms.

In the meantime, enjoy this picture of a gallery in Apsley House above, not unlike the gallery where Vivien first saw the portrait of Calumet in Northam House.

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