Quote Jane

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

maandag 5 april 2010

Society during the Regency

The period of the Regency, 1811-1820, valued elegance and cultivation above all else, having thrown off the rougher and readier social manners of the preceding century. By the time Austen was writing, the West Country town of Bath, where her family had earlier lived for four years, had become the most important centre of social life outside London.

Dancing the night away . Dances were somewhere for the young and single to find a future partner.
The focal point of high society was dancing. As well as providing occasions to be seen, dances were also events at which the young and single might hope to meet a future partner. Buildings like the magnificent Assembly Rooms at Bath – which endured from the 1770s until its destruction by wartime bombing in 1942 – were designed purely for the purpose of public dancing. At the great country houses, a high level of formality was the norm, with professional musicians and lavish catering, but even a simple at-home might end with dancing as the favoured form of after-dinner entertainment.
By the 1810s, English country dancing in line formation had replaced the highly stylised forms of European dancing, such as gavottes and minuets. The new dances were the livelier cotillion and quadrille, and – most daringly – the waltz. The waltz was seen as rather risqué, because it involved intimate close contact with one partner, as opposed to the group formation of the quadrilles.

Passing the time
We can’t help noticing that Jane Austen’s characters don’t actually do very much, reflecting the life of cultivated leisure that even the reasonably well-off were able to afford. Reading, writing letters, sauntering about the garden, playing cards or chess and, of course, dancing were the most obvious means of filling up the day. Conversation was considered an art, and turned on observations on the behaviour of others, and on romantic entanglements and possible matchmaking.
Bath, with its classical colonnades and neat squares, made the perfect backdrop to this regulated, well-ordered life of studied civility. In a sense, the whole social tone mirrored a certain Greek ideal of the cultured life, a style given impetus by the rediscovery of ancient Athenian style that accompanied Lord Elgin’s return with the Parthenon Marbles in 1806.

Taking the waters
The previously unremarkable Elizabethan town of Bath was rebuilt in the elegant Palladian style by the father-and-son architectural partnership of the Woods. In 1755, the original Roman baths had been rediscovered. They were restored, and Bath became a must-do stopover for anybody seeking to improve their health, as many did, by "taking the waters" at one of England’s spa towns.
In Regency Bath, taking the waters meant drinking them, rather than bathing in them, and many did, gathering in the generous space of the Pump Room to chat over several healing glasses of Avon’s finest. Austen’s Admiral Croft, in Persuasion (1818), has come to Bath in the hope of curing his persistent gout by taking the water.

Dressing the part
In the early years of the 19th century, women’s fashion suddenly took on an altogether simpler mode of understatement as a reaction to previous excesses. The crinolined dresses and extravagantly coiffed hair of the Rococo era gave way to a much less affected look (although false ringlets were often applied to shorter hair to enhance the face and show off earrings).
Shawls made of muslin, twill and cashmere were worn slung over light dresses to imitate the classical tradition of draped outer clothing. Tippets made of swans down or fur were the forerunners of the stole or scarf. A short tailless riding-jacket known as a spencer, and copied from male fashion, was widely popular.
Headgear consisted of simple caps worn during the day, and then more elaborate trimmed bonnets and turbans for glamorous evening wear. Very long gloves, reaching practically to the shoulder, were worn on formal evening occasions. Reticule (usually known as “ridicule”) handbags and purses catered to the lack of pocket space in the less voluminous dresses of the Regency. Accessories such as parasols and fans were decorative rather than functional. Footwear was usually delicate pumps for indoors and for short excursions over tiled walkways in the gardens, with short boots for sturdier outdoor wear.
Austen werd geboren in Hampshire. Haar vader was een geestelijke. Het grootste deel van haar leven bleef zij in haar geboortestreek. Austen had zes broers en een oudere zuster, Cassandra, met wie zij zeer hecht was. Het enige onbetwiste portret van Jane Austen is een gekleurde schets die door Cassandra werd gemaakt en nu in de National Portrait Gallery in Londen hangt. In 1801 verhuisde de familie naar Bath. In 1802 werd Austen ten huwelijk gevraagd door de rijke Harris Bigg-Wither en zij stemde toe; de volgende dag deelde ze echter mee dat zij haar woord niet kon houden en trok haar instemming in. De reden hiervoor is niet bekend, maar Austen is nooit getrouwd. Na de dood van haar vader in 1805 woonden Jane, haar zuster en haar moeder daar nog verscheidene jaren tot zij in 1809 naar Chawton verhuisden. Hier had haar rijke broer Edward een landgoed met een plattelandshuisje, dat hij aan zijn moeder en zusters schonk (dit huis is tegenwoordig open voor het publiek). Zelfs nadat zij naam gemaakt had als romanschrijfster bleef zij in relatieve stilte leven, maar haar gezondheid ging sterk achteruit. Er wordt nu aangenomen dat zij de ziekte van Addison had, waarvan toen de oorzaak nog onbekend was. Ze reisde naar Winchester om behandeling te zoeken, maar stierf daar en werd begraven in de kathedraal.
Tot Austens beroemdste werk behoort de roman Emma. Het boek wordt vaak aangehaald vanwege de perfectie van vorm. Moderne critici blijven ook nieuwe perspectieven ontdekken op het scherpe commentaar van Austen betreffende de klasse van jonge, ongehuwde, aristocratische Engelse vrouwen in de vroege 19e eeuw.


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