Regency Impudence: Jane Austen

“..certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it.”

–Emma

Thus the heroine describes Frank Churchill, who has surprised her by admitting he posted to London merely to get his hair cut. She knew him to be a charming fellow, with good address and a handsome appearance. From this she inferred him to be of good character and sensibility.

Seems he might have to go back for another haircut.

Now she is not so sure.

Tonnish gentlemen valued a good barber, particularly one who was awake on every suit in the dressing of hair. But Mr. Churchill wasn’t seeking such services because they were scarce in the country. He went to London at great expense and difficulty to attend to his appearance because of the reaction such impulsive conduct would provoke in others.

He was proud, impudently so, of his folly.

Impudence is the lightning rod that strikes the placid treeline of Regency society. Jane Austen uses the impudent character to put her heroes and heroines in a bustle. Her Churchills and Willoughbys and Wickhams bring conflict and disorder to what would normally be harmonious and orderly.

What Marianne saw in him I confess I shall never know.

‘Brandon is just the kind of man,’ said Willoughby one day when they were talking of him together, ‘whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.’

— Sense and Sensibility

Austen heightens the tension the impudent character brings by placing him very near to his polar opposite. Fully aware of this contrast, the impudent Willoughby does not shrink from commenting on Colonel Brandon’s character.  He is so far unrepentant of his impudence he can scarcely refrain from making the insult so exquisitely wrought in the passage above.

What a bore to be like Colonel Brandon. Now this is impudence indeed!

Mr. Wickham is perhaps the most impudent of Austen characters. Without him, the delicious sparring between hero and heroine would be rather less so. It is near the end of  Pride and Prejudice when the author unveils the tip of impudence’s sword, sharpening folly’s dull blade without warning.

When Wickham returns after marrying Lydia, darling Lizzie is amazed.  She expected Lydia to declare herself well-satisfied, for that gel is unthinking folly itself. But Wickham had been positively constrained to enter into wedlock. Chagrined was he? Indeed, no! Miss Bennet learns a valuable lesson from this unveiling, leaving her to resolve privately that henceforth she will “draw no limits in future to the impudence of an impudent man.”

But my favorite illustration of Wickham’s impudence is delivered by Mr. Bennet.  Mr. Collins has the effrontery to warn against an alliance between the rector’s daughter and Mr. Darcy. Couched in the following ode to such unconscious foolishness, Mr. Bennet makes a despairing admission.

“I cannot help giving [Mr. Collins] precedence even over Mr. Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy of my son-in-law.”

Mr. Collins is completely unaware of how offensive his conduct is, immersed as he is in self-satisfaction. Mr. Bennet finds this amusing. But he views Wickham’s behavior with grim dismay.  Lydia’s happiness has been placed in careless, selfish hands.

Her father is particularly bothered since he knows Mr. Wickham knows. Impudence is very self-aware. It appreciates the consequences of its conduct.

And impudence doesn’t care.

 

 

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The Real Regency Reader: Jane Austen

“It is difficult to think of a novelist who makes reading a more animating part of her characters’ lives than Jane Austen.”

–John Mullan, What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved (2013)

We know how Northanger Abbey’s heroine, like Cotillion’s Kitty, was much guided by knowledge gleaned from novels and therefore committed foibles as a result of such reliance. Or Fanny of Mansfield Park who had rather more learning from books than those rich Bertram girls who supposed her ‘stupid at learning.’ Already mentioned is Sir Elliot of Kellynch Hall in Persuasion whose reading was limited to the Baronetage and so, too, was his conversation. Recall in Pride and Prejudice Miss Bingley’s spectacular attempts at diverting Mr. Darcy from his book when a day earlier she had attacked our darling Lizzie for not playing cards because she loved books.

1940's Pride and Prejudice, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier

1940’s Pride and Prejudice, starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier

I did not understand the significance of reading in Jane Austen’s world until it was illuminated by Professor Mullan:  being literate during the Regency means reading books. In Sense and Sensibility, Lucy Steele is illiterate not because she can’t read, but because she does not read.

“Lucy’s ignorance of books will be as much a torment to poor Edward, her future husband, as her cunning and self-interestedness.”

This blog has mentioned the value of book collecting during the Regency, A library of any size was a mark of distinction because it conferred upon those who had access to it an erudition valued in those days. Professor Mullan points out that Austen had no more than two years’ formal schooling but yet had access to her father’s library which was vast for a country clergyman.

One must suspect that her admiration for books and reading must reflect what Regency readers must have thought:

“I only mean what I have read about.  It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho (Penguin Classics). But you never read novels, I dare say?”

“Why not?”

“Because they are not clever enough for you — gentlemen read better books.”

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” — Mansfield Park

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

The Real Regency Rake: A Man’s Dress

Even in modern times, the rake still manages a “caddish blend of rebellion and classicism” in men’s fashion. Clive Derby’s label RAKE has opened an elegant store in Mayfair where men may shop for luxury bespoke and enjoy an evening with the Whiskey Society. There is even a magazine called  The Rake, which many say is the successor to Men’s Vogue.

Not quite the thing in Regency times. Indeed, a rake could positively put one in a pucker with his manner of dress.

Beau Brummell

Beau Brummell

Take the hero of Heyer’s Cotillion, the Honorable Frederick Standen. He is a little intimidated by his cousin, an acknowledged rake. Jack Westruther flirts with his sister, the married Lady Buckhaven, and seems to enjoy the affections of his fiancée, Miss Kitty Charing. Freddy’s only defense, at the moment, is to decry Jack’s waistcoat:

“Jack,” said Lady Buckhaven, tilting her chin, “said he had never seen me look more becoming.”

“Sort of thing he would say,” responded Freddy, unimpressed. “Daresay you think he looks becoming in that devilish waistcoat he has on. Well, he don’t, that’s all! Take my word for it!”

Affronted, she exclaimed, “I never knew you to be so disagreeable! I have a very good mind not to invite Kitty to visit me!”

A rake wears a devilish waistcoat because he is careless about his dress, at least in the eyes of an Exquisite, like the elegant Mr. Standen.

John Mytton was also careless about his clothes. He had an abundance of them, as a rake must, and a peculiar disregard for their care and use:

“I once counted a hundred and fifty-two pairs of breeches and trousers, with an appropriate apportionment of coats, waistcoats, etc…. The clothes he would put on his person, just as they came to his hand, or as his wild fancy prompted him, and I have seen him nearly destroy a new coat at once wearing. His shoes and boots, all London make, and very light, were also destroyed in an equally summary manner, in his long walks over the country, through or over everything that came in his way.” — Nimrod, Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton

Mytton shooting in a fine lawn nightshirt

Mytton shooting in a fine lawn nightshirt

What a man wears is a matter of character.

Recall Lizzie Bennet’s attempts to discern the character of Mr. Darcy in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The hero  is a cold, reserved fellow–and his dress gives no clue as to resolve the varying accounts she has had of him.

We can only guess what Miss Bennet might have to say about Mytton’s character. Look at what the man is wearing.

Regency Brothers – Tinker, Painter, Soldier and–Arsonist

We love the Regency era novels of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for the same reasons we like the Edwardian era dramas of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. These are stories that take place in stratified societies with rules the plot must heed like lodestones. If they stray too far they will offend the reader.

It sounds like a recipe for boredom and might well be–but for the persons that threaten to upset one’s beautiful world. Characters like George Wickham, Mrs. Clay, Mr. Parks and Tom Branson.

This post is an introduction to four brothers of the Regency, whose contributions, some dubious, enriched and horrified the Beau Monde.

Syon Park's conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Syon Park’s conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

The Martin boys were among twelve children born to William Fenwick Martin and his wife Isabella in Northumberland. The family was decidedly lower class, the father being somewhat peripatetic in both lodging and trade. He had at one time been a fencing master but also built coaches, tanned hides and kept taverns.

Such an unstable environment was perhaps unsuitable for raising children and they were sent to live at various times with relatives before both parents died in 1813.

The sons were as follows:

The Tinker:  William– the oldest. An inventor and philosopher who “tinkered” with machines and ideas.

The Painter:  John — the youngest. An artist and historical painter to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

The Soldier:  Richard — the second oldest. A quartermaster in the Guards, serving in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

The Arsonist:  Jonathan – the third oldest. Arguably the most famous of all.

They entertained the ton, existing in the beautiful world that was all around them, but forever out of reach.

Perhaps their stories will entertain you as well.

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Regency nudes

the Mazarin Adonis

Presently, Diana and Griffin came to the conservatory that served as a transition from the house to its parkland.

Lord Montgomery seemed to find something wanting.  “Where is the statuary?  Most great country houses have a room full of the stuff.”

“Are you a coinnosseur?” Diana asked.

Griffin opened the door for her to step through.  “It depends on the subject.”

He followed her to the railing of the flagstoned veranda overlooking an ornamental lake.  “I believe the dowager countess had an affinity for statues.  Northam Park would not be complete without a nude of your namesake, the goddess of the hunt.”

Griffin’s teasing was not without basis.  They had seen the virgin huntress executed in every conceivable media throughout their inspection of the estate.  Moreover, he was quite correct that her grandmother had been a patroness of the arts.   Lady Nellie, as she was affectionately called, once supported the noted painter and bluestocking Angelica Kauffman.

But her grand passion was for the unadorned figure, sculpted in the manner of classical antiquity.

Lord Montgomery would not be so bold if he knew what her grandmother’s collection consisted of.

Diana raised her eyebrows in pretended severity.  “We keep all the nudes in London.”

“A pity.”

Diana looked away from his interested stare as if embarrassed, her finger artlessly tracing an invisible line along the railing.

“Yes, it is,” she eventually replied.  “You see, Grandmama was in the habit of commissioning likenesses of young men she admired.  There are at least two male nudes that bear a striking resemblance to yourself.”

“Good God,” he exclaimed.  “You must be joking.”

“Really, my lord.  It was only your face Grandmama used, I’m persuaded.”

“You minx.”

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Who can forget that marvelous scene in the 2005 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice featuring Pemberley’s sculpture gallery?  The gallery (pictured above) was filmed at Chatsworth, a real location Austen notes in her novel.  The scene is infused with the strong contemporary feel of the Regency and its desire for beauty.

The sculpture collection was assembled in large part by the sixth Duke of Devonshire, the Bachelor Duke.  He shared a passion for art with the Prince Regent.

Venus and Adonis – Antonio Canova (circa 1820)

In my book, Northam Park is in every way comparable to Chatsworth, except it does not have a sculpture gallery.  His Grace makes a couple of appearanced in Notorious Match as he and Diana are about the same age.  At one time, before Griffin returned to England, it was thought the heiress to Northam and the duke might make a match of it.  But it became clear they would not suit.

Griffin is the exact opposite of His Grace.  He has lost his own estate, Tremont, and has no fortune.  Moreover, he is a mere lord.

Yet he has the face of a sculpted Adonis.