Why the regency?

I’d like to share why I like this period, and why it’s so rewarding to read-write about.
First, the clothes. Yeah, I know this sounds really superficial, but it was a period of about twenty years when women were not corseted and constricted, and I think that’s very significant. Stays were for support more than shaping. If you look online on costume sites, you can see that some stays were virtually like sports bras. Women could actually move–look how often Jane Austen’s heroines stride across-country. The men’s clothes are a tribute to beautiful, athletic male bodies–hideous on overweight slobs, of course, but then what fashion isn’t–and those tight pants–well, say no more…consider too that women wore no underwear. Oh, the possibilities.
There was so much happening in the early years of the 19c–terrific architecture, music, and literature, the abolitionist movement, and great political change. There were women writers, musicians, and artists, and at least one female astronomer. England was considered a sort of maverick country by the rest of Europe–its monarch, under the control of Parliament, was not a despot; there was a very high level of literacy and many regional newspapers, each issue of which was read by several people, and although a small minority (of men) could vote, the public held the effective and powerful tool of the petition.
And of course the fairy-tale world of the Ton, which I guess I do have to mention. I have to admit a few aristocrats go a long way with me, although I find the concept of great families and their politicking fascinating–one of my favorite books is “The Other Boleyn Girl” by Phillippa Gregory, which is rather like the Sopranos at the Tudor court. And generally my heroes are motivated by family honor and duty to the family name, which leads to some tremendous conflict.
So, what about everyone else?

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9 Responses to Why the regency?

  1. I’m proud to be shallow: for me, it’s about the clothes. I like the freedom of movement, the free thought in arts, sciences, and politics, and, of course, the Societal structure.

  2. Definitely the clothes. First.

    But after that, definitely the literacy. I’ve been reading reports written by domestic informants, for the magistrates who hired them to spy upon local parliamentary reform societies. And besides being fascinating in content, they’re wonderfully writerly documents. I don’t know the literacy rates (does anyone?), but the ordinary working populace read lots of magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides — and of course novels. I love to think about the post coaches setting out from London, bringing all that reading matter to the provinces–every day. It was a talky, contentious period, as well as an elegant one.

    I think of the vaunted “regency elegance” as a kind of tight-sprung moment of precarious balance, sense poised against romantic sensibility, before things take off in a million powerful directions–empire, darwin, steam and industrialism.

  3. Cara King says:

    Hmmm…why the Regency?

    Because of the associations we get from so many wonderful Regency stories (both real and fictional) — Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Beau Brummell, Horatio Hornblower, Percy and Mary Shelley, and of course, the wonderful Regency novels of Georgette Heyer!

    Because the Regency was late enough that our manly heroes were no longer wearing wigs, but early enough that we can imagine England was not overrun by soot and factories.

    Because of the restrained elegance!

    Because Victorians had just too much stuff (and I get enough of that in my real life!)

    Because the men’s clothes were simply yummy.

    Because the Regency was an era that had a lot of intelligent, educated women who exercised power openly and were admired for it (or at least feared!) 🙂

    Cara King, http://www.caraking.com
    MY LADY GAMESTER, Signet Regency 11/05

  4. It’s true, it wasn’t a bad era for women, as long as they had money. Austen’s books are wish-fulfillment in that respect. You can hear the bitterness she feels at being a poor relation, a woman, and unable to direct her own course. But all that makes for excellent fiction!!

  5. Count me among the shallow, then, because I also love the clothes! 🙂 The aesthetics of the period are wonderful, the art, architecture, literature, all of that. I love the cleaner lines, the reflection of a return to what they considered “classical” values, emerging romanticism. (Though, strangely, I also love baroque curlicues and poufy silks).

  6. Elena Greene says:

    Well, I’m with everyone on the clothing–especially form-fitting pants on well-muscled men… Ahem…

    The era is just visually beautiful. I love most of the architecture and interior design. While I like elements of Victorian design, when they’re all jammed together (as the Victorians did) it’s all much too busy for me.

    And the history is interesting, because the Regency was the turning point for so many things. The end of the Napoleonic wars, the beginning of the industrial revolution, the transition from Georgian moral excesses to Victorian stuffiness…

    And then there’s the wit. A lot of my love for the period comes from reading my mother’s Georgette Heyers as a girl, and later from reading Jane Austen.

    I do feel oddly comfortable with the era. A psychic at a conference once told me that historical romance authors are reliving past lives through their work. Is this why I feel compelled to decorate in pseudo-Regency fashion. Why I have an obsession with Wedgewood, and for shield-back chairs????

  7. midisteve says:

    Regency England was an island of composure in a world gone mad. Englishmen of all classes were comfortable with a government divided between King and Paliament and had no use for the tumult of revolution. The King was a harmless symbol of national unity rather than a cause for depotism and strife. Widespread literacy and decent newpapers and periodicals meant Englishmen were relatively well-informed and less suseptible than Frenchmen to demagogery.

    While the English class structure generally held firm, the British navy at least provided a way for citizens of lowly birth, such as Lord Nelson, to rise to the very pinacle of society.

    A peacefull, literate and contented citizenry made ideal workers. Without the distractions of war, business and industry boomed in England as in no other place on Earth. Because of all the forgoing, Englishmen and Englishwomen were able to fully indulge the pursuits of peace: fashion, the arts and, of course, romantic love. It is no accident of history that the Regency Period is so loved and celebrated.

  8. I see the Regency Period as a time of blending, when the old slips gracefully into the modern. I see it as both an ending and a beginning…and depending on how I feel, the thought of it can give me a bittersweet longing for a time lost and a subtle excitement when I consider a vibrant society on the verge of change. But the Regency period is my favorite. It feels like “home,” if that is only because Jane Austen’s lovely voice seduced me. How I wish she had lived longer and left us more to read!

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