Sex, drugs, celebrities, vampires – Just another day in the Regency

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

Lady rakes! 

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

6 thoughts on “Sex, drugs, celebrities, vampires – Just another day in the Regency”

  1. In other words, no story is authentic (not even Jane Austen’s) unless it:

    * Covers the full spectrum of economics, social issues, class structures, political contests of its particular place and time

    * Focuses on those things which are closer to modern concerns and sensibilities

    * Is filled with irrelevant detail for the particular story at hand, to satisfy readers who aren’t content with a particular story because they prefer whatever confirms their prejudices/judgment/perspective (or lack thereof).

    * Eschews a universal human theme in favor of something that flatters the current reader’s preoccupations.

    This is as much to say that maybe not all books are for all readers. Are any?

    • Or maybe you ignore the OP and its ilk.
      Just “Garden Party” your way and see what happens.

      It’s *your* story.
      If they want it different, they can write their own. KDP is open to all.

    • Insulting Ms. Austen is a dangerous (and foolish) undertaking.

      I don’t believe anyone else writing in that era (or several other eras) has remained so relevant to the examination of human nature in any time as she has.

  2. Or you could parody the parodies. "Duel and Duality" is viciously accurate in parodying both neo-Austenism (which was, 35 years ago now, just beginning its rise to prominence in the UK) and the “real world” Regency structure. Not to mention hilarious.

    Do not get me started on the lit’rary theorizing; I have my scars from MLA conferences during the first run of Blackadder Over There. The 25 minutes of “Alice’s Restaurant” (live, in harmony) are nothing compared to 80s seminar material. I won’t be proud. Or tired.

    Although it’s not integrated elegantly, the OP’s unstated premise is not that “everything” must be included in a work of historical fiction. It is, instead, the duality of (a) not treating a work of fiction as a work of history, and (b) not giving a work of historical fiction too much credibility as even reflecting a historical mindset when its omissions are not mice in the baseboards but pink elephants on parade (the difference between the mice of “ahistorical undergarments” and the pink elephants of “ignoring pervasive racism and class warfare before they were given clear vocabulary and theory 50 years later”). And it’s worth remembering, too, that Austen is not historical fiction — it was contemporary fiction to her that has become historical fiction to us (too often emulated/fan-idolized by people who know little or nothing about what has been learned about either “fiction” or “history” since it was written). This is the difference between “enjoy what was written then on its own terms” and “emulate it today, pretending that nothing has happened or been learned in the interim.” It is a difference that Establishment Publishing would just as soon not acknowledge at all.

  3. Two hundred years from now, I expect someone will point out that much of today’s fiction ignores the epidemic of micro-aggression and pronoun ambiguity that marks the times. Now is the time to fix that. Don’t be an author who just tells a story without the right message.

    • Or they might shake their heads at what trivialities people argued over while their civilization was on its last legs. The whole of the Identity Wars might be forgotten in an instant.
      All it’ll take is a “Pearly Harbor” or “Sputnik” moment.
      Today’s “critical” is tomorrow’s meaningless.
      There’s no guarantees about what the future might bring.

Comments are closed.