Reading was an important pastime in the Regency. With more leisure came more time. And more reading.
In Heyer’s Cotillion, the heroine has had more than enough leisure time at her guardian’s dreary country house, with nothing but her governess’s bookshelf to entertain–and educate her. She elicits the aid of the hero, who, if he can be persuaded to enter into a pretend engagement with her, will take her to London. There she might have the opportunity to bring the dilatory Mr. Westruther up to scratch.
“No, dash it!” protested Mr. Standen. “Not if you’re engaged to me, Kit!”
She became intent on smoothing the wrinkles from her gloves. Her colour considerably heightened, she said: “No. Only–If there did happen to be some gentleman who–who wished to marry me, do you think he would be deterred by that, Freddy?”
“Be a curst rum touch if he wasn’t, ” replied Freddy unequivocally.
“Yes, but–If he had a partiality for me, and found I had become engaged to Another,” said Kitty, drawing on a knowledge of life culled from the pages of such novels as graced Miss Fishguard’s bookshelf, “he might be wrought upon by jealousy.”
“Who?” demanded Freddy, out of his depth.
“Anyone!” said Kitty.
“But there ain’t anyone!” argued Freddy.
“No,” agreed Kitty, damped. “It was just a passing thought, and not of the least consequence! I shall seek a situation.”
What you read during the Regency was generally held to be informative of your character. In the case of Jane Austen’s novels, you might recall the sensible Anne Elliott in Persuasion enjoys prose and views Mr. Benwick’s inordinate fondness for poetry with a little alarm. Her father, on the other hand, “never took up any book but the Baronetage.”
Then again, too much reliance shouldn’t be placed on a person’s reading selections as a guide to their makeup. This next series of posts is intended to illustrate how diverse a real Regency book can be, and its reader as well. For instance, a novel might deliver a moral tale better than a collection of the vicar’s sermons from Harrow-on-Gate. Also, females thought to be flighty because of their penchant for Gothic tales suddenly reveal themselves to have a will of iron.
Just ask the Honorable Frederick Standen.