Regency romances use actresses for many purposes. Heroines conceal their identities by treading the boards, courtesans ply their trade through the stage, ladies trick their gentlemen, gentlemen find their mistresses among them. But for many women, acting was a job--a trade, one of the few at which they could earn a living. And if gossip sullied their reputations, many of them did everything in their power to dispel the rumours about their lives and associations.
The popular journals of the days helped them, by publishing brief biographical articles. These articles immortalize women of lesser talent, perhaps, than Sarah Siddons, but no less determination and valor.
La Belle Assemblee, that most popular of ladies' magazines, offered each month "Biographical Sketches of Illustrious and Distinguished Ladies". It included some actresses among these ladies, and calls into question our accepted idea that women of the theatre were consistently condemned.
The Ladies' Monthly Museum likewise published biographical articles on notable women of the day. They frequently included actresses: "Among the numerous candidates for histrionic fame, who are distinguished for their personal attractions, native worth, and rare perfections, we can never be at a loss for subjects to present our readers;...:"
"Miss Taylor is of a good height; her person is formed with great symmetry; she treads the boards with much ease and dignity; and her action is graceful and appropriate. She has a clear, sweet voice..."
The magazine notes that Miss Taylor is capable of "a very powerful and effective piece of acting", and mentions that in one of her roles, "there is not the least tincture of vulgarity."
It seems that the most actresses of the Regency avoided vulgarity even if a stage role called for it! They were careful of their reputations, serious about their careers, and considered worthy of recognition by society. It is a somewhat surprising take on an occupation that we are accustomed to assume was demeaning and held in disrepute.
'Til next time,