Friday, October 22, 2010

Mr. Chawleigh, Mr. Driffield and Mr. Luckcock:
the new middle class

Mr. Jonathan Chawleigh and Mr. Josiah Driffield are fictional characters; Mr. Luckcock is an historical figure. They were all of the new middle-class that arose in the Regency era. They were all manufacturers; men born in modest circumstances who rose to business and community prominence through their own efforts and skills.

Mr. Chawleigh is a creation of Georgette Heyer--a caricature of a man: bluff, raw, and uncouth. He is a model for all the middle-class manufacturing men in the Regency fiction that followed Heyer's book "A Civil Contract". The middle-class became a class without elegance, without delicacy and without understanding.

When I began to formulate my book "Daughter of Trade", I was thinking about this unforunate characterization. I did not believe that all of the new middle-class were crass bumpkins, and started to create a family of charming, educated, thoughtful people, happy with their lot in life, caring of their dependents, and proud of their origins and their accomplishments. The Driffield family was born, with Josiah Driffield the patriarch of seven children, ably partnered by his lady.
The above drawing by Jean-Auguste Ingres illustrates the sort of middle-class family the Chawleighs, the Driffields, and the Luckcocks embody.

The other day I began to read a book that has been in my research library for a year or two. "Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850" is an in-depth study of the role of gender in creating the middle class of the industrial age. In the prologue, I discovered Mr. James Luckcock of Birmingham, a manufacturer of jewellery, who was born in 1761 and died in 1835. He might have been the prototype for my Josiah Driffield.

James Luckcock was born in humble circumstances, apprenticed at a young age, rose to manager, and finally to owner of his own manufactory. Like Josiah Driffield, he was a Dissenter in religion, a radical in politics, and a beneficent employer who ran Sunday Schools and Brotherly Societies for his workers. He was a respected member of the community, wrote poetry, and desired nothing more than security for his family, and a pleasant old age. Josiah Driffield was, like James Luckcock, "committed to anti-slavery and to defense of the weak and of animals, and to representation of the people."

These middle-class gentlemen were as worthy of respect as the aristocracy so beloved of Regency fiction authors. In a genre over-loaded with dukes and rakes, I think it can be a good thing for authors to look beyond the cliches and the obvious to take on the realities of the new classes of society that the Regency saw develop. Readers appreciate the change, and I know my fellow authors have risen to the challenge with great books like The Weaver Takes a Wife by Sheri Cobb South. I'd like to hear about your favourite middle-class Regency characters!

~~Next week, Regency author Maggie MacKeever will join us to discuss the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, favorite sister of Czar Alexander of Russia. Maggie MacKeever is, under various pseudonyms, the author of forty-three novels, most of them set in Regency England. Her new release, The Tyburn Waltz, will be published in November by Vintage Ink Press.~~

'Til next time,

Reference: Davidoff, Leonore and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.


Jenny Brown said...

The snobbism of Heyer's aristocrat owes a lot to her own intense social insecurity. Heyer was the classic upstart, an outsider who longed to be part of the British upper class and built a persona completely at odds with her real heritage.

Reading Jane Aiken Hodge's insightful biography, The Private World of Georgette Heyer explains a lot about the fantasy Regency world she created.

The book, The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow, is full of stories about the up-by-the-bootstraps 18th century entrepreneurs who transformed England's economy and had a lot to do with its imperial success. Well worth a read.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks so much for "The Lunar Men" book recommendation, Jenny. I will certainly look it up! I do have 'The Private World of Georgette Heyer' and it is a fascinating book.