Friday, June 24, 2011

The Devil is in the Detail Or,
How not to write a Regency novel
by Lynn Shepherd, Guest Blogger

If you decide to write a novel set in the Regency you have one real labour of love before you, and that’s to negotiate a veritable minefield of complex etiquette. There were so many rules governing social interaction – particularly between men and women – that it’s very easy to get the details wrong, and commit an unintentional howler.
I became very much aware of this when writing my Jane Austen pastiche, Murder at Mansfield Park. You would have thought that simply mimicking what Austen does would be a sufficient guide, but even if you manage to do this without mishap, there are some delightful nuances that Austen employs, which we’ve since lost. For example, a man could not shake a woman’s hand unless she first offered it to him, and when you understand that, there’s an added poignancy to the scene at the end of Emma, when Frank Churchill speaks to Emma for the first time after his secret engagement has come to light:
“I have to thank you, Miss Woodhouse, for a very kind forgiving message in one of Mrs Weston's letters. I hope time has not made you less willing to pardon. I hope you do not retract what you then said." "No, indeed," cried Emma, most happy to begin, "not in the least. I am particularly glad to see and shake hands with you--and to give you joy in person."

I employ this same convention in my own novel, as a way of signposting the subtle shifts in the relationship between my heroine, Mary Crawford, and the detective ‘thief-taker’, Charles Maddox, whom she first dislikes, then fears, and finally comes to respect. This scene marks the lowest point in their relationship:
He would have taken her hand, had she offered it, but she remained seated, and would not catch his eye. He said nothing immediately, but took a seat on the bench beside her. “I see we do not meet as friends, Miss Crawford. I am at a loss to know how I have so far forfeited your good opinion.”

Of course you might reasonably say that very few readers will pick up on such a fine distinction, but those who do will gain an added pleasure from the scene. More to the point, the more things like that you get wrong, the more the reader’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ comes under threat. I may be a purist, but I firmly believe that you can only create a viable illusion of authenticity by remaining completely faithful to the conventions of the period. In fact one of the most telling measures of the vast social distance between my thief-taker and the Mansfield family is his willingness to use the precise niceties of social convention to his own advantage – to observe them when it suits him, and flout them when it doesn’t, as in this Regency version of an ‘interrogation scene’:
“It appears you have little regard for the niceties of common civility, Mr Maddox,” Maria replied archly. “I dare say you will sit down whether I give my permission or no.” “Ah,” he said with a smile, as he sat down beside her, “there you are wrong, Miss Bertram, if you will forgive me. There are few men who are more watchful of what you term ‘niceties’ than I am. Many of my former cases have turned on such things. In my profession it is not only the devil you may find in the detail.” Maria replied only with a toss of her head; she seemed anxious to be gone, but unable to do so without appearing ill-mannered. Maddox smiled to himself – these fine ladies and gentlemen! It was not the first time that he had seen one of their class imprisoned by the iron constraints of politeness and decorum.

Much fun was had in the writing of scenes like this, as I’m sure you can imagine. But it’s not only custom and practice you have to observe as a Regency writer, but the ‘iron constraints’ of contemporary diction.

I spent an enormous amount of time studying Jane Austen’s style, in an effort to pull off what is – admittedly – a rather presumptuous act of literary ventriloquism. Some of that was about catching the rise and fall of her sentences – a difficult thing to describe, but every author has their own unique ‘rhythm’, and Austen more than most. Some of it was also about the tone she uses – the mix of ”playfulness and epigrammatism”, as she herself described it. You see this most obviously in her characteristic ‘balanced’ sentences, where the first half appears to be perfectly straight-faced, only to shift suddenly into delicious irony. This example comes from Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice:
“I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine."

The other area that can be a bear-trap for the unsuspecting is the vocabulary. Many words we use now were also common in Austen’s day, but the context in which they appear has sometimes radically changed. So even if you word-check everything you want to say against Austen’s novels (which I did), you can still make a faux pas if you don’t check the context as well. For example, you might want to refer – as I did - to the ‘atmosphere’ in a room, and be relieved to find that the word does indeed appear once or twice in Austen. However, if you look at these references more closely you’ll see that they all refer either to the weather, or to the physical nature of the air (‘poisonous atmosphere’), and never in our more general sense of ‘mood’.

Another snare for the unwary is ‘assume’ and ‘presume’. Austen only ever uses the word ‘assume’ in the sense of ‘taking on’ or ‘putting on’, and not in the modern sense of ‘making an assumption’. She uses ‘presume’ in the latter case, so I had to do the same (though one instance of ‘assuming’ did slip through the net, so it just shows you how stern you have to be with yourself!).

My own personal favourite here is the word ‘intriguing’. I had a wonderful sentence in my mind in which my thief-taker refers to one of his (female) subjects as “intriguing in both senses of the word”. But when I dutifully forced myself to look the word up, I found that while ‘intriguing’ in the sense of ‘plotting’ is perfectly acceptable in 1811, ‘intriguing’ in the sense of ‘fascinating’ does not come into use until 1909. It cost me dear to press the delete key on that one!

Like I said, you can call me a perfectionist, and I’m sure that there’s hardly one reader in a thousand who would have noticed. But if an author’s worth pastiching, they’re worth pastiching properly. Or at least I think so!

Lynn Shepherd is the author of the award-winning book "Murder at Mansfield Park". She has a doctorate in English Literature from Oxford University, and has published an academic work on the ‘Father of the English novel’, Samuel Richardson. Her next book – another ‘literary murder’ – will be published in 2012. Her website is, and you can follow her on Twitter at @Lynn_Shepherd.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Prince Regent and
L'Ordre du Saint-Esprit 1815

The Prince Regent loved a costume, or a uniform, or any kind of ceremony which required extra-special dressing. So he must have been delighted when the King of France, early in 1815, created him a member of the French Order of the Holy Spirit, and sent him a 'superb dress' with the Order. The Literary Panorama and National Register of March 1815 published a complete description of the dress. When I read it, it sparked several questions in my mind….

The Prince Regent must have loved this outfit. And indeed, as a man who respected history and delighted in its details, he would have been honoured to receive the historic order.
Above is the Grand Royal Coat of Arms of France and Navarre. The collar of L'Ordre du Saint-Esprit circles the two shields at centre. The Order of the Holy Spirit was created by Henri III in 1578 to ensure the loyalty of his most powerful nobles. It was officially abolished during the French Revolution along with all other such orders. But it continued to be supported by the remnants of French royalty and nobility even after the French monarchy was completely eliminated after 1848.

The Collar of L'Ordre du Saint-Esprit

The king who presented the Prince Regent with the Order was Louis XVIII, who ruled around the comings and goings of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was the brother of Louis XVI, ruling de jure from 8 June 1795 to 16 September 1824, after his brother's execution and the death of his young nephew in prison. He only took the throne however from the 11 April 1814 to 20 March 1815 and then following Napoleon's final defeat from 8 July 1815 to his death in September 1824.
From these dates--and the date of the National Register item above--it is clear that King Louis XVIII bestowed the Order of the Holy Spirit on the Prince Regent just before Napoleon's last hundred days began. Within weeks of the bestowal, Louis was again in exile as Napoleon made his final push for domination. Even the journal must have been published just before Napoleon's escape in March 1815.

A final note that I found fascinating: the Cross of the Holy Spirit (part of the accountrements of the order) was hung from a blue riband and the Knights of the Order became known as Les Cordon Bleus. This term came to be associated with excellence--for example, blue ribbon sports winners, and, fine cooking. It is even suggested that the term Cordon Bleu cooking evolved from the brilliance of the Order's dinners!

Ah, the joys of research…

Next week, Regency mystery author Lynn Shepherd will be guest blogging about the niceties of detail in the Regency novel. Lynn is the author of the award-winning Murder at Mansfield Park. Her next book – another ‘literary murder’ – will be published in 2012. Visit her at her website

'Til next time,


Friday, June 10, 2011

Do you know these names?
John Heaviside Clark and George Richmond

I didn't know those names. But I happened upon them both in the past month, and they are both artists. Both lived on into the Victorian era but John Clark was prolific during the Regency and George Richmond's artistic sensibility was certainly informed by his youth during the Regency's heady days.

John Heaviside Clark was born about 1771 in Scotland. He was primarily a painter of seascapes, but landscapes also figured large in his portfolio. I encountered him while writing my blog about the aftermath of the Peace Celebrations in London--he painted the picture of the Chinese Pagoda in Green Park which I reproduced in that blog post. I find his other landscapes equally charming; here is his vision of Fountains Abbey:
I can find little information on Mr. Clark, but he did exhibit at the Royal Academy from 1801 to 1832. He must have travelled widely (or he had a very lively imagination) for his works depict whale hunting, the aboriginals of Australia, Egyptian subjects, and North American scenes.
Clark was an experienced aquatint artist and engraver, and he published at least two books on art which are available at Google Books. He was possibly best known, however, for his work on the Napoleonic Wars. In fact, he was nicknamed 'Waterloo' Clark because he sketched on the battlefield following the action. He also painted such wartime views as "The Allies before Dantzic in Winter" and "French Troops Retreating Through and Plundering a Village".

I cannot reproduce as much of his work as I would like, as it seems to be under license to innumerable art reproduction companies, but it may be viewed here and here. A search of his name in Google Books brings up some downloadable books for which he produced at least some of the illustrations.

George Richmond is another matter entirely. How could I not know his name? I recognized some of his pictures immediately. His self-portraits alone are fascinating; this one left from 1830 is utterly charming.

Technically, I suppose Richmond was more Victorian than Regency, but he was born in 1809. He remembered seeing the Lifeguards return from the Battle of Waterloo, and he became a student at the Royal Academy in 1824. He lived a very long life, dying in 1896, so he spanned most of the century, and lived a full, if challenging, life. How could I not know his name?

In his early years he was a friend of, and was influenced in his art, by William Blake. One look at his "Samson slaying the Philistines..." right shows Blake's influence.

But he was equally at home with landscapes. I do think this one--"Wooded Landscape with a Cottage"--is particularly nice.
In 1830 he married and then determined on portraiture as the best means of earning a living. And he painted every notable in Great Britain, it seems. Here are a few:

Charlotte Bronte

William Wilberforce

Elizabeth Gaskell

And the particularly delightful,
"Swinburne and His Sisters"
These portraits are why I should have known George Richmond. I recognized them, and yet I had never before heard his name. How could I have missed him? I have (informally) studied Victoriana. He was a pre-eminent Victorian, member of every society and club of importance, honoured by his peers, recognized by his country. He had ten children and forty grandchildren. He was a pillar of virtue, and apparently a charming and kindly man. Thank goodness I found out about him! Better late than never...

'Til next time,


Friday, June 3, 2011

Cheltenham -- a Notable Spa

"For walks and for waters, for beaux and for belles,
There's nothing in nature to rival their wells."
So says The English Spy in writing of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in the Cotswold Hills.

We met 'Bernard Blackmantle', The English Spy, a couple of months ago. His real name was Charles Molloy Westmacott. His book The English Spy is a compendium of scurrilous tales and gossip with bits of useful information for the researcher. When I browsed the book I was struck by the illustrations of Cheltenham. I discovered that in the chapter titled "A Trip to the Spas", Blackmantle/Westmacott devotes several pages to Cheltenham, and includes several illustrations by Cruickshank which combine scenes of the town with ribald details.
I must admit that I was not aware of Cheltenham's fame as a spa during the Regency. It was visited by King George III in 1788, and its popularity soared in the following years. It was largely rebuilt, beginning in 1800, and still exists as a lovely Regency town. It was a popular place for retiring military officers, and was according to 'Bernard Blackmantle', home to a large Irish population.

The mineral wells were considered particularly efficacious (causing, according to The English Spy, abrupt exits from the Pump Rooms) and the Montpelier Spa and the Sherborne Spa were accounted 'splendid' and 'elegant' structures of their type. Below is the Royal Wells, with some users hurrying away as others flock in.
The English Spy calls the inhabitants of the town 'Chelts', praises their virtues and revels in describing the eccentrics of the town. He also devotes two or three pages to describing the 'travellers' or 'commercial men' who visit the town. These were travelling salesmen, dealing in everything from jewellry to coffins to wine and timber--'knights of the saddle-bag' the author calls them. They had their own chamber--the Commercial Room--at the Bell Inn in Cheltenham and Cruickshank drew their company with keen observation.
Despite the fact that 'Bernard Blackmantle' and Cruickshank's illustrations stimulated my interest in Cheltenham, they are not the most accurate of guides to its charms. For more realistic and useful information on the spa town, I turned to Google Books and I found some delightful guides. Here is the 1814 title page of one that displays the effusive sentiments of Cheltenham's admirers.
It really is interesting reading, and another (from 1803) titled simply "The History of Cheltenham and its Environs" is also charmingly readable. "Griffith's New Historical Description of Cheltenham" of 1826 includes detailed information about lodging houses, and remarkable analysis of the mineral content of the waters! The engravings in all of these books are captivating and give a wonderful picture of the town in the Regency. I wish I could reproduce them all here, but they will eventually find their way on to the 'Regency World - Villages and Towns' page at my website.

One guide I cannot recommend, except with a giggle, is "Cheltenham; its Beauties and Advantages Attempted in Blank Verse". A sample of its poetry will suffice to explain my laughter (the errors in possessives belong to the original):
It's beauties and it's pleasures,
I fain would raise them higher,
Attracting Whigs and Tories,
In concert to admire,
Forgetting party feelings,
Hail Nature's high display,
It's Waters confer healing,
And chase disease away.
I cannot leave Cheltenham or The English Spy without mentioning 'Blackmantle's' reference to the Berkeley Hunt and the nearby Oakland Cottages. The latter was a 'snug convent' with a 'lady abbess and the fair sisters of Cytherea', and the former would set off from the Cottages and if they failed to find a fox they would return--to enjoy other (!) activities. Such is the salacious nature of The English Spy.
I am grateful to 'Bernard Blackmantle' for making me aware of the importance of Cheltenham in the life of Regency England. It is, I think, the perfect setting for a Regency story. In fact, the spas of England could lead to a series of stories....

'Til next time,


Sources From Google Books:

Griffith, J. K. "A General Cheltenham Guide" 1814
Ruff, H. "The History of Cheltenham and its Environs" 1803
Campbell, C. E. "Cheltenham; Its Beauties and Advantages" 1824
Griffith's "New Historical Description of Cheltenham" 1826

Blackmantle, Bernard "The English Spy" (also from, a more complete version)