The Real Regency Hoyden: What does she look like?

“I have been in love a great many times,” said Byron, “but I always had a low opinion of women.”

Raphael's Portrait of a Young Woman

Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Woman

This remark from such a man as Byron startled me, and I could not avoid expressing my surprise, adding, “that such a declaration would not be believed by his fair readers.”

But he persisted in the assertion and asked me if I thought Raphael had a very exalted notion of the sex, because he painted so many graceful and engaging female figures.

“As proof of his actual taste and discernment in female matters,” added Byron, “look at his Fornarina, the idol of his affections, a strapping country hoyden–as fat. coarse and unsentimental in looks as one could desire.”

Conversations of an American with Lord Byron, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art, Vol. 27 (1835)

Raphael’s “Young Woman” is, according to tradition, the Roman Margherita Luti, the painter’s mistress and a bakeress. I’ll grant you the headdress does not typically call to mind such an occupation but a hoyden?

It is revealing that it is not her nakedness or apparent lack of modesty Byron finds objectionable. He disdains her size (strapping) and rustic attributes. She is unrefined and even running to fat.

Curious that he leaves the term “unsentimental” for the last of his condemnation. This is the worst of anything he can say about her. She is obviously a hoyden and therefore lacking in sentiment. Or is it that she looks unsentimental and is therefore a hoyden?

Byron was a romantic. His literary works held sway during the Regency and influenced taste toward “intuition and emotion.” This was partly a reaction against the past which valued the rational and the objective (the boring).

In a glance, Byron could perceive in the rustic a hoyden nature which had no appreciation for the fine arts and social graces. Recall his low opinion of women. Perhaps none of them could achieve his artist’s exquisite perception of what is good. He compares himself to Raphael in this instance.

Byron wasn’t personally acquainted with La Fornarina. For all he knew, she might have been able to translate Latin to her native Italian. But since she was a hoyden, in either appearance or sentiment, she was worthy of low opinion.

Never mind that she could bake a cake.

Raphael's sarcophagus: they say he died from excessive sex with Luti

Raphael’s sarcophagus: they say he died from excessive sex with Luti

The Real Regency Hoyden: the Sexed Mind

During the Regency, the rising middle class added to the ever increasing demand for more daughters to be accomplished. Voluminous writings pondered the wisdom of educating so many females.

“The shoemaker, the publican, the barber, the tailor, the butcher, the journeyman weaver, send their daughters to boarding schools, and no sooner do they enter those seminaries then they are all at once transformed into young ladies,..” — An Inquiry into the Best System of Female Education, J. L. Chirol (1809)

The italics are the author’s–as is the scorn.

"And what is hell, can you tell me that? A pit full of fire. ..What must you do to avoid it? ..I must keep in good health and not die." --Jane Eyre

“And what is hell, can you tell me that?
A pit full of fire.
..What must you do to avoid it?
..I must keep in good health and not die.” –Jane Eyre

Despite this disdain, it was generally conceded that female education was not a bad thing, as long as it did not seek to blur the differences between the minds of male and female:

 “The mind of each sex has some kind of natural bias…Women have generally quicker perceptions, men have juster sentiments. Women consider how things may be prettily laid. Men how they may be properly laid.” — Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education  (1811).

Table-setting was always the province of men in great houses.

The sexed mind refers to that ruling theory of education in the Regency which demands curriculum be tailored to the sex of the pupil. The character of a hoyden figures largely in these musings, although she does not cut as attractive a figure as she did during the Restoration. She exists to illustrate what educators must endeavor to thwart–the boldness and vivacity that threatens to allow a girl to cross over into the province of men.

Just possessing qualities of quickness, even in a young girl, is evidence of her lacking in mental capacity, according to the noted Reverend John Bennett in his Strictures on Female Education (1793). It was an argument that couldn’t be answered, and therefore became more cemented as the nineteenth century wore on.

Even the feminists who should have stood by the hoyden added their scorn to Mr. Chirol’s:

“I also object to many females being shut up together in nurseries, schools or convents. I cannot recollect, without indignation, the jokes and hoyden tricks which knots of young women indulged themselves in, when in my youth accident threw me, an awkward rustic, in their way.” — Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)

"Ye virgins fair; ye lovely flowers, the blooming pride of vernal hours! Chase while I speak, O chase away, what e're is frolic, lively and gay."

“Ye virgins fair; ye lovely flowers, the blooming pride of vernal hours! Chase while I speak, O chase away, what e’re is frolic, lively and gay.”

The Real Regency Hoyden: Down a Primrose Path

ScarlettIt was the same conflicting emotion that made her desire to appear a delicate and high-bred lady with boys, and to be, as well, a hoyden who was not above a few kisses….

“Oh, Honey, no. Don’t be unkind. She’s just high-spirited and vivacious.”

—- Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett’s time came well after the Regency. However, the censure that fell upon her was from the same rain cloud which hovered over early nineteenth century England. Hoydens were not whores, per se, but any sign of vivacity, or high-spirits, might lead a young woman astray.

Hoydens generally appeared in early nineteenth century fiction as a foil to the modest, well-behaved heroine. Of course, modest, well-behaved heroines could be dead bores. Therefore, they were given mysterious secrets to keep or sent away to frightening places where all sorts of things might happen to them in their innocence. The hoydenish character was a tool to complicate matters.

In retrospect, it seems ironic that it is the hoyden who appears more in control of the tangled events which entrap her more strait-laced sister.

Sophia Lee was the daughter of an actor and became a well-known mistress of a girls’ school in Bath. It was perhaps prudent that she waited to publish her Gothic novels until after retiring from her headmistress vocation. In 1804 she published The Life of a Lover, a Series of Letters, in which the estimable heroine had the profound misfortune of bearing the same name as the natural daughter of the “dissolute Lady Leybourne” with “a levity which a cloisterSophia Lee, "The Life of a Lover" cannot abate, and a face pretty enough to make the seclusion necessary.”

They both find themselves boarders at a French nunnery and at once the hoyden sets about making mischief, when she’s not casting lures at a disreputable marquis. Before she departs from the story, “to fly to the arms of my lover,” she and another whom the heroine had reason to trust betray her.

The hoyden intercepts the heroine’s letters to the man she loves and through clever guile works a misconception that thwarts the heroine and her beloved. In a black moment, the heroine considers why virtue has served her so ill. The hoyden has no such recriminations. She is, if anything, very sure of herself:

“Two heads are better than one at a plot; and mine, they tell me, equal to most of my sex!”

The Real Regency Hoyden

“A wild, boisterous girl. A tomboy.”

Originally the term hoyden referred to a boy–a rude, boorish youth noted in sixteenth century school records. Later the word becomes a symbol of a rude, boorish girl in Vanbrugh’s The Relapse, a parody on an earlier play extolling the reformation of the rake. For more on rakes, please see the previous posts on this blog.

An oldie but a goodie. Joan Smith. Joan Wilder. Great romance--Juanita!

Joan Wilder? THE Joan Wilder? No, but someone even better in the 80s.

In The Relapse, the character Hoyden is a country heiress whose romping ways make her impatient for a life in the city. There she imagines wild indulgence in excitement and intrigue. She manages to marry two men on the same day to achieve this ambition.

“…her language is too lewd to be quoted. Here is a compound of ill manners and contradiction! Is this a good resemblance of quality, the description of a great heiress and the effect of a cautious education? By her coarseness you would think her bred upon a common, and by her confidence, in the nursery of a play-house.” –Jeremy Collier, A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698)

Not at all flattering.

The distinction of being a hoyden was scarcely more flattering by the nineteenth century. Indeed, its precise meaning remained more or less the same. It was not her occupation, her sins, nor her flamboyance that was censured—but the fact she cared not a whit what others thought.

Well-known examples of hoydenish behavior during the Regency will be examined in future posts. A new series, if you will, of the real Regency hoyden.

“Good gracious, what fun this has been! Who knew I would return home married?” Lydia laughed.

Her insensitivity upset Jane, Elizabeth and their father.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen