From The Austen Connection:
Lately we’ve been thinking way too much about the real life of the Regency.
And what’s got us thinking about this is not only the recent discussions about what’s historic and what’s not in the recent Persuasion film, but also a big book – Robert Morrison’s history The Regency Years: During which Jane Austen writes, Napoleon fights, Byron makes love, and Britain becomes modern.
It appears, friends, that in Jane Austen’s real times it was of course (we know this, but we forget!) not just manners and romance among the privet hedges but also was an awful lot of chaos, and violence, and injustice based on gender, on race, on class, on ability, and on whom we chose to love.
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Here’s our list of some serious Real Regency things – just a few – that you can often see in the subtext of Austen but that you might not find in the bold glare of the screen version of your favorite Jane Austen adaptation.
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We have on the side of the Rakes, not only Willoughby, Wickham and Henry Crawford breaking hearts, but we also have Lydia Bennet, and also: Mary Crawford, who in this day and age we’re always tempted to like! We have lady rakes!
Other Real Regency Lady Rakes, to list just three obvious ones, include Lady Libertines like:
- Real-life Lady Caroline Lamb, and her novel Glenarvon
- Real-life Duchess of Devonshire, and her novel The Sylph
- Real-life Claire Clairmont, half-sister of Mary Shelley, who labored away pursuing Percy Shelley in a love triangle with Shelley and Shelley, and then pursued Byron, with whom she had a child, Allegra.
Yes, the Lady Libertines might have more at stake and more suffering at hand than their male-identifying counterparts – but like their Libertine male cousins, they do operate from a position of privilege that powers their carelessness.
It’s a class thing: Rakes and Privilege
And Austen for one is not here for any of it.
These rakes like Byron, Shelley, and the Prince Regent himself were able to simply ignore social strictures of their day. They “reveled in almost unfettered sexual freedom” of the “libertine creed,” writes Morrison. “The Regency era was the last great brazen huzzah for rakes” before the Evangelical forces won out for the Victorian age.
Yes these rakes are present in the adaptations, but in the Real Regency they were a dominant force, and part of the power base.
So next time you are enjoying your Austen adaptation’s rolling bucolic countryside drive into an English Great House like Mansfield Park, just remember that Austen was de-fanging, parodying, and turning upside down the immense powers of rakery, privilege, exploitation, and carelessness exemplified by the gentleman sitting on top of it all – whether it’s Mansfield’s Henry Crawford, or the Prince Regent himself, chief rake of the Regency.
Link to the rest at The Austen Connection