Rolla by Henri de Gervex (1852-1929) in the Musee Beaux-Arts, BordeauxUninhibited sexual pleasure in the city of love during the 19th century could cause a 21st-century woman’s cheeks to blush.  Prostitution and brothels were at their heyday, and they served a purpose to meet the needs of men both rich and poor. After all, marriage was an institution for producing children; prostitutes and mistresses were for pleasure. The brothel was a place of relaxation for men and accepted as normal practice in society.

How many prostitutes were there during this time period? Brothels or mansions of tolerance, as they were called, housed 15,000 prostitutes in 1883. Between 1871 through 1903, approximately 155,000 women were registered card-carrying ladies of pleasure. Women were required to register at the Bureau of Morals if they wished to work in the profession.  Afterward, they received a huge laundry list of regulated behavior for their conduct indoors and outdoors. During that time period, 725,000 were arrested by the police for suspected prostitution because they failed to register with the Bureau.

Jobs were scarce for women and the survival of the poor difficult. Even married women participated in prostitution. There were roughly 125 Paris brothels in business during the 1870s.  Brothels were considered a cleaner and more regulated system of pleasure, keeping individuals from sexual perversion by giving them an alternative to the women on the streets. Women willing to give satisfaction to the male population were rampant on every corner, and like any other morally questionable practice, it carried consequences.

We tend to romanticize all this into lovemaking in historical romance novels without penalty, except perhaps a baby or two out of wedlock. Unfortunately, all those pleasures carried risks, especially contracting syphilis.  How many had the disease? You might wish to sit down. Fourteen to fifteen percent of deaths were attributed to sexually transmitted diseases. Some reports carry it as high as 17%. One-tenth of the population contracted syphilis. You may think that’s not many, but one-tenth of the population equated to four million people. Syphilis was attributed to 40,000 stillbirths yearly, when gone untreated, progressed into a dastardly end. Half of the cases were contracted between the age of 14 and 21. As one report put it, young people could not wait to dispel their chastity.

Treatment for syphilis was inadequate and understanding by the medical community of the disease somewhat lacking. There were hospitals and clinics set up to specifically treat the disease, but many found it embarrassing to seek treatment. Effective treatment really didn’t arrive until approximately 1910 with the onset of better antibiotics. Earlier, Mercury and Potassium iodide were used.

Nowadays, we’re probably a bit more sophisticated when it comes to sex and STDs. After all, we’ve evolved, right? We can insist on blood tests before we hop in bed with a man or use methods of birth control and protection. I guess social progression does have its trade-offs, but I have a sneaking suspicion with the number of historical romances sold each year women would rather fantasize in another century with handsome aristocrats and take their chances. After all, it’s just fiction and not reality.

While writing my award-winning novel, Dark Persuasion, I spent a fair amount of time researching Victorian courting, wedding preparations, weddings, and honeymoons.  The entire process felt so romantic to me that I focused quite a bit on the wedding between my heroine and hero. Below are a few excerpts from previous blogs that I’ve written regarding that research.  I hope you enjoy!

The Wedding Trousseau

The French word trousseau refers, of course, to a bride’s bundle of personal possessions amassed prior to the wedding that include undergarments and clothing. Late in the 19th and early 20th century, a collection of household wares (tablecloths, towels, linens, etc.) were also included.

Below is an excerpt from a website entitled the Vintage Connection describing a typical trousseau around 1884. It would include the following: “… a dozen chemises trimmed with embroidery or insertions, a dozen nightdresses, six well-trimmed combinations, a dozen drawers, nine trimmed petticoats, one French petticoat, nine camisoles, six vests, five flannel petticoats, two dressing gowns, three-bed jackets, a dozen pairs of fine-quality Lisle stockings, three pairs of silk stockings, two dozen handkerchiefs, a pair of French corsets, a bustle, a satin nightdress and a lace-trimmed sachet.”

The Wedding

Everything in the Victorian era seemed to be dictated by proper etiquette. Weddings were no different. There were rules about fashion, the time to wed, and the reception. Here are a few short, but interesting facts.

If the bride married in a church, a gown with a long train and a veil of the same length was the style of the era. The veil remained over the bride’s face until after the wedding ceremony. I’ve read conflicting statements regarding kissing at the altar, but I allowed a smooch anyway for my characters.

Pure white had not yet become the standard of choice in wedding dresses even though Queen Victoria started the rage. Colors varied. Bridesmaids often wore the same color of dress as the bride.

Superstitions abounded. There were rhymes about what day of the week was best to wed, the color of a bride’s dress, and, of course, the famous saying: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence in your shoe.”  Each item had a meaning and purpose like the sixpence, which was meant to bless the wedding with wealth and prosperity.  No one married on Sunday, but the other days all had meaning:

Marry on Monday for health
 Tuesday for wealth
 Wednesday the best day of all
 Thursday for crosses
 Friday for losses
Saturday for no luck at all.

(Obtained from the website The Victorian Wedding)

After the service, the tossing of rice, grain, or birdseed was used for good luck when it came to fertility. If it were a wealthy couple, a carriage drawn by four white horses waited for the bride and groom after the service to take them to the reception. The reception was usually held at the bride’s home. Weddings took place in the morning around 11 o’clock, and the reception consisted of a wedding breakfast.

An area for a receiving line would have been set up for the bride and groom at the reception. Brides were addressed first, unless the guest only knew the groom. In that instance, the groom would introduce the bride. I must laugh when I discovered that the bride was never congratulated, as the honor of marriage was conferred upon her already for agreeing to marry the groom. (Lucky spinster finally finds a husband, I guess.)

Guests enjoyed their breakfast, but there was no entertainment at the reception. Evening receptions, with dancing, only occurred at lavish wedding affairs. After the reception, the bride changed into another dress for her honeymoon journey. Only the groom and the best man knew the location, which by tradition was a well-kept secret.

There are many websites regarding Victorian-era weddings. The link in this post has quite a bit of detail. However, the Victorian era spanned many years, as you know, so traditions changed somewhat as the years progressed.

Such is the romance of the Victorian ages.

Contributed by Vicki Hopkins, Author

Duels can provide high drama in a romance novel!

By the Regency Era, Englishman switched from swords to pistols, with wealthy noblemen purchasing specially created dueling pistols. In addition, the second became common, where disgruntled parties (known as principals) would select a friend to deliver a challenge in writing, which stated the grievances and demand satisfaction. Once received, the challenged party could refuse the challenge—which would insult the challenger and stir rumors of cowardice)—or accept it.

If accepted, the seconds made the arrangements for the upcoming duel, which involved many rules. Duelers were to adhere to these rules and behave as gentlemen at all times.

Traditionally, duelers met at dawn and the field of honor would be isolated to prevent legal intervention. Seconds determined the dress code, how many shots would be fired, and the distance between duelers. A physician was on hand to attend the wounded. Seconds collected the names of witnesses to the duel—and even determined whether or not to serve refreshments!

Some of the more interesting rules from the Royal Code of Honor included:

  • Duels will not be fought on a Sunday or near a place of worship.
  • No spectacles could be worn unless a Principal usually wore them in public.
  • A Principal could not “wear light colored clothing, ruffles, or military decorations upon which the eye of his antagonist could rest,” as it could affect the outcome of the duel.

Seconds handed cocked pistols to the Principals and each fired a single shot. If no bullets struck either man and the challenger was satisfied, the duel concluded. If a challenger wished, Principals would aim and fire again. No more than three shots were permitted, however, since more than that would be deemed uncivilized behavior.

Occasionally, one (and sometimes both!) Principals would deliberately miss or fire into the air—known as deloping—and both men would retain their lives and honor.

The time leading up to a duel, the duel itself, and the aftermath can lend excitement and conflict in a Regency romance.

Alexa Aston

Where History & Romance Collide
Regency & Medieval Historical Romance
Fun, Flirty Romance
Contemporary Romance

Recently while researching for my next novel, I did a little searching about the use of handkerchiefs.  Apparently, they had a language of their own just like fans.  This is definitely another interesting tidbit to add to your reality shelves while reading historical romance.  Have you found any books referencing the handkerchief flirt?  Enjoy.

Flirting or coquetry remained an art form throughout the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian Eras, and handkerchiefs and flirting language became all the rage.

Source: Handkerchiefs and Flirting Language – Geri Walton

Years ago, I stumbled across the book Victorian Women by Joan Perkin and realized that it was a treasure chest of information about the Victorian era and the challenges Victorian women faced.
Studying the contents has been an eye-opening experience. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in moving beyond the romance of the era and into reality. What is unique about the book, is that it contains text from women who lived during that time period, expressing what it was like to be a woman in a man’s world. Joan Perkins includes the lives of all women, in the upper class, middle class, and working-class, to give the reader a complete picture. To be a woman in the Victorian era was frankly unromantic. Here are a few of the many items that I found informative:
  • The importance of class and gender in the Victorian era played a large role in a woman’s life. A quotation from Alexander Walker, a physiologist, in the mid-1800s had this to say about women. “It is evident that the man, possessing reasoning faculties, muscular power, and courage to employ it, is qualified for being a protector: the woman, being little capable of reasoning, feeble, and timid, requires protection. Under such circumstances, the man naturally governs; the woman as naturally obeys.” The general male opinion regarding the female sex was void of respect. Women, however, as general, didn’t buy into the fact that they were inferior to the male species. Wives who only gave birth to girls were considered failures in their marriages. A male child was considered far better not only to produce an heir for the upper class but to produce workers for the family of the working-class.
  • No formal schooling existed for children until the eighteen-eighties. Upper-class women were taught at home by governesses and tutors. The middle-upper class taught their children at home or paid for private schooling or boarding school. The lower-class women were self-taught or remained illiterate. I am astonished from my own ancestry research on my family in the Manchester, UK area in the nineteenth century how many of my ancestors put an “X” as their mark on documents such as marriage certificates.
  • On one spectrum, the Victorian era was one of prudish ideals. Sex, menstruation, and masturbation were never discussed in the upper and middle classes. Most women entered marriage completely ignorant regarding sexual relations or the female reproduction system. Sex was considered a marital duty in order to produce children and should never be a pleasurable experience for a woman. Ignorance was a means used to keep daughters pure until marriage.
  • Up until the age of 21, men and women needed parental consent to marry. Marriage for the upper classes, of course, was arranged for wealth and power. Charlotte Bronte thought that romantic awakening was romantic folly. Women shouldn’t fall in love till the offer of marriage had been given, the wedding ceremony over, and the first half-year of marriage had passed. Middle-class women married men that received their parents’ approval. Finding a husband could be difficult. In eighteen fifty-one, there were 500,000 more women than men in England, and by nineteen-eleven, the number rose to 1.5 million.
  • The lower-class women lived entirely different lives. In the 19th century over a third of women were pregnant when they got married. The farming community “indulged freely in fornication and adultery.”
  • A double standard existed in all three classes. Men were not criticized for fornication or illicit sex before or during a marriage, but women were held to different rules.
  • The mortality rates were astounding in childbirth. One in two hundred women died giving birth. Most women had an average of nine children. There were crude and ineffective means of birth control, and abortion was a crime. Many poor women, however, attempted to abort babies and died in the process.
  • Once married, a woman’s property belonged to a man. Any wages a woman earned during the marriage belonged to her husband. It wasn’t until eighteen-eighty-two that an Act of Parliament finally gave a married woman the right to her property at the time of marriage or earned during the marriage.
  • Underpants were not worn before the eighteen-forties. Now you know.
  • There are interesting chapters regarding what women did during the Victorian era regarding entertainment and domestic life for all classes.
  • We romanticize the Victorian era far too much. A wife was the property of the husband. Once again, the double standard held where he could be unfaithful, but the wife could not. Divorce came by Private Acts of Parliament before eighteen-fifty-seven and was very costly and difficult to obtain. Men could divorce their wives for adultery; women could not divorce only on the grounds of adultery, but it had to be accompanied by either physical cruelty, bigamy, or incest. Custody of children went to the fathers, and the rights to see the children after a divorce could be curtailed or forbidden for the mother.
  • The husband had the right “to give moderate correction” if she did not obey. Wife abuse occurred in all classes of society. Women had very little recourse against husbands who beat them and leaving was often not an option. Not until eighteen-seventy-eight were women able to separate from abusive husbands and receive some type of maintenance from their spouses. Because divorce was difficult to obtain, married partners would often separate and go their way. Alternatives would be living with another lover out of wedlock or committing bigamy.
  • Most women outlived their husbands by many years, and widowhood for women in all classes could be a devastating and difficult time. One in four individuals over sixty-five were considered paupers and ended up their lives in workhouses or asylums. Unless they had family members who could afford to care for them, widows needed to turn to other means in order to support themselves. If they were savvy enough, they may take in boarders, clean houses, or find other menial jobs in order to survive.
  • There were a growing number of women who preferred spinsterhood rather than marriage because they were free to handle their money, make their decisions, and keep their illegitimate children. Middle-class women had more opportunities to pursue skilled jobs, but they were paid a pittance in comparison to their male counterparts. Lower-class women often worked long hours in factories and other jobs, and sometimes resorted to prostitution.
The book is filled with many details from women of the past that will shock you regarding the hardships and inequality they faced. However, there are truly inspirational stories, too, about those women who worked to bring about equality and change for women.
As an author, I realize that I am guilty of writing about an era and purposely ignoring the hardships that Victorian women endured. Perhaps as modern ladies, we are merely enamored by men in ascots who look dashing, rich, and handsome. We love our dukes and titled men, the fancy houses, and the lavish lifestyles and fashions. These are the fantasy men we have chosen to fall in love with between the pages, and the lovers we have given our heroines.
However, the aristocracy of England during the Victorian era only accounted for two percent of the population. Another small percentage included the upper-middle-class, which consisted of fifteen percent of the population. These were families such as businessmen and tradesmen, who could adequately support their families.
To write about the other eighty-three percent of the population would be depressing to most readers. Frankly, I do not think that women care to read about suffering women in romance books. I know when I wrote about the hardships of one poor French woman in eighteen-seventy in my first book, The Price of Innocence, I was severely criticized in reviews for writing a “miserable story.” However, let’s be honest with ourselves. Lives for women during that time period were for the most part miserable, which thankfully gave rise to changes in law and attitudes.

 

 

“Suppose then that this first and vital standing order for the toilet be stringent, and that refreshed, and therefore energetic, buoyant, and conscious of one duty being at least performed, the lady leaves her bed and prepares to dress.”  The Habits of Good Society

What duty? A good night’s sleep, of course. I suppose you could call it the need for beauty sleep in a rested young lady.

I am continuing to read through “The Habits of Good Society,” yawning here in there but also dropping my mouth open at some of the recommendations. Hang onto your Victorian hat, because here comes the next installment of life in 1872 England.

The second order of business, after getting out of bed, is the bath, which once again is reiterated regarding the healthy type to take to balance circulation and maintain the skin. After the bath, a lady moved onto the necessity of personal grooming of the skin, face, and hair.

Her great-grandmother, however, wore powder and only dressed her hair three times a week. She rarely washed her face because it was bad for her complexion, but merely dabbed it with a cloth. Apparently, they were afraid of cold water. Filtered rainwater is suggested in 1872 to be the best moisture for the complexion.

After the bath, the woman sits at her “toilet table,” which contains everything neatly arranged for her use. (Once again, in the Victorian mind, everything has a place and is the order of the day!) The author notes that having a pale complexion was at one time the mark of beauty and somewhat continues to be the preference of some women. “Pearly whiteness” of skin in this time period was enhanced by “pearl powder.” The use thereof is stated to be unhealthy because it clogged the pores, and if not applied correctly, was noticeable. Let’s face it, we still see a bit of clumpy powder on our faces now and then. Of course, the more one aged, the deeper the lines upon the face became, necessitating the additional application of powder. Eventually, it would turn into a clumpy and undesirable state of affairs.

The thought of the day is that the extravagant use of cosmetics was evil, according to the author, who doesn’t think it’s a moral question but a physical one. Good skin should be attained by rest, exercise, and a healthy diet. If you were prone to occasional “eruptions” (which are pimples), it could be very stressful. The author states, however, to avoid such frequent occurrences that you should not rub or touch your skin unnecessarily, get fresh air, stay out of the intense heat, use pure water, and sparingly use cosmetics. Not bad advice for 1872, considering it closely adheres to twenty-first-century practices for the control of eruptions (a much kinder word, I think, than pimple).

Brace yourself for hair care. The practice of some with thick hair was only brushed and not wash, which led to smelly heads. It was not the author’s preference, who focuses on the puritanical view of Victorian cleanliness. Brushing alone was not recommended. To cleanse hair, the best possible solutions are noted below. In addition, a lady’s hair should be dressed twice a day (meaning styled), but taken down during the middle of the day for a thorough brushing.

“Wash the roots of the hair from time to time with weak vinegar and water, or with a solution of ammonia, cleanses it effectually, whilst a yolk of an egg beaten up and mixed with warm water is excellent for the skin and hair; bit it is troublesome to wash out, and must be done by a careful maid.”

Whether this concoction was used by all, I have no idea. However, the thought of ammonia and its smell had to leave a residue behind. I suppose the yolk of a beaten egg might eliminate the odor. The author seems to think that any scents applied to the hair itself are injurious.

I am finally gathering that the anonymous author must be male, which I think lends to a few of his slanted views. Where he gets his information regarding best practices for the feminine toilet routine is unknown. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll be searching my kitchen stash of cleaners, along with vinegar, to wash my hair any time soon. Thank goodness for Pantene.

Contributed by Vicki Hopkins, Author

“In the beginning of the present century (19th), it was thought proper for a gentleman to change his undergarment three times a day, and the washing bill of a beau comprised seventy shirts, thirty cravats, and pocket-handkerchiefs at discretion.” (Quote from The Habits of Good Society 1872)

The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen,” continues on the subject Pears'Soap02of particular interest mostly because of the stories I’ve read about poor hygiene in centuries past. However, when it came to the Regency and Victorian era, the upper class deemed it important as a sign of good character. Not only cleanliness was a duty for the sake of health and being agreeable to one’s neighbor, but it also went hand-in-hand with obeying the scriptures as a means of exemplifying purity. Poor personal habits by an individual who neglected his body were a sure sign of weak character.

The Victorians in 1872, however, thought Beau Brummell’s idea of taking two hours to dress was a bit ludicrous. However, if you dressed in ten minutes’ time, surely you’ve neglected the important matters of the toilet through your speedy actions.

The bath, recommended after waking in the morning, focused on the type one took. There were a variety of baths at varying temperatures. The most cleansing bath came from warm water of 96° to 100°. If you were filthy, 108° was better, as it expanded the pores, increased circulation, and did a better job.  Then there was the cold bath of 60° to 70° that should be avoided by persons who cannot tolerate it and is extremely dangerous after eating. A tepid bath of 85° to 95° is the safest. Shower baths were frowned upon because they did not focus on the health of the individual. Then there is the sponge bath as the last means of cleansing that could adequately do the job if a regular bath was unavailable.

The next duty of the Victorian is to clean the teeth, as there is nothing so terrible as being near an individual with poor breath and black teeth – especially a woman. The usual recommendation of avoiding sweets and smoking were taught by dentists. The writer recommends hard bristle toothbrushes with tooth powder. A little water, with a good lather, will do the job. (I guess by this time, we’ve progressed beyond the twigs and chalk of the Regency era.) The mouth should be rinsed seven times with cold water, and one should brush several times a day. After all, a woman can tell when a man has been drinking and smoking, which was deemed offensive in the opposite sex. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how attractive the man appears — if he has foul breath it is unforgiving. At least now when you read a historical romance in the Victorian era, you can be assured that the hero’s kiss upon the lips of the heroine didn’t include a mouthful of bad breath.

The advice continues with grooming for the nails, hair, beards, makeup, and other matters regarding the lady’s toilet.  Since I don’t have a beard, I’ll probably skim those paragraphs.

530px-George_Goodwin_Kilburne_A_young_woman_at_a_piano_1880I will begin with another quote from The Habits of Good Society, as penned by an unknown author in 1872.

An English lady without her piano, or her pencil, or her fancy work, or her favorite French authors and German poets, is an object of wonder, and perhaps of pity.”

Chapter Six is another fascinating look into life in 1872 as penned by someone who lived during the time period. In order to be a member of good society, young ladies should possess other skills besides dancing. Women are discouraged from talking too much.  The book says, “We are not, we English, a nation of talkers; naturally, our talent is for silence.” (Perhaps that is where the stiff upper lip mentality comes in because one never talks of their misfortunes or petty irritations.) Since the female population should not be prone to excessive conversation, they must compensate through some form of talent to be shared with others.

Music, of course, is the number one choice because it soothes the soul. The piano keeps its preeminence as the instrument acceptable for society, because the harp, by 1872, is no longer fashionable. A guitar is more compatible for a man to play rather than a woman. The writer of this book, however, thinks it to be a monotonous instrument. A zither is another acceptable musical form, which is Bavarian in origin. It is considered soft, romantic, and unsophisticated. The violin is unsuitable for young ladies, even though there have been women who have cultivated the playing of the stringed instrument.

Possessing the skill to play an instrument is imperative but also choosing the right piece of music to perform. Loud thumping scores should be avoided, as well as mournful pieces, or music that is too rapid. A young lady, when sitting down and using a piano, should never complain that the instrument is out of tune because it is considered rude and an insult to the owner. A single piece is sufficient rather than dominating the instrument for long periods of time thereby preventing other ladies the opportunity to play.

Singing is a form of accomplishment. One must not be too young or inexperienced before singing in public. The voice must be trained and have tone. You should choose a song that suits the audience. A simple one for a homely group. On the other hand, if your audience is more sophisticated and you possess the talent to impress, a more complicated piece is suitable for the occasion.

Accomplishments give a lady something to do. Beyond music, “Sketching and archery stand first among outdoor amusements. They are healthy, elegant, and appropriate.”  The writer seems to think that if more young ladies were accomplished, they would not appear so bored at public parties.

All this talk about accomplishments reminds me of the conversation between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth:

It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have the patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”

“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?” Miss Bingley asked.

“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”

“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”

“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.

“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”

“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it,” Darcy replied.

“Oh! certainly,” cried Miss Bingley, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address, and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this, she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

The conversation is ended with Jane Austen’s wit.

I must admit that I have none of the accomplishments listed as a pre-requisite in 1872, although I do play the piano rather poorly.

Do you feel as accomplished as a female in 2021 compared to one in 1872?  Of course, the definition of what is considered an accomplished woman today has no doubt changed considerably.

 

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“A lady – beautiful word! — is a delicate creature, one who should be reverenced and delicately treated. It is therefore unpardonable to rush about in a quadrille, to catch hold of the lady’s hand as if she were a door-handle, or to drag her furiously across the room as if you were Bluebeard…”  (A quote from The Habits of Good Society: By Unknown Author, originally published eighteen seventy-two. Copyright twenty-twelve by Forgotten Books).

I enjoy watching period dramas with romantic scenes of waltzes. Some of my favorites are from The Young Victoria, War & Peace, Cinderella the movie, and Crimson Peak. They look so romantic with women in gorgeous gowns being swung around the ballroom by handsome men.

According to The Habits of Good Society, there were rules to be followed if you were considered to be an “accomplished” individual on the dance floor. The introduction above focuses on how men should gently treat the lady. Apparently, if a man is too brusque with a woman while dancing, it may be an indication of how he is in his personal life.

A man should always smile when taking a lady’s hand. The book states, and I quote, “To squeeze it, on the other hand, is a gross familiarity, for which you would deserve to be kicked out of the room.” Also, bowing at the waist is still in style.

I’m sorry, but it’s difficult not to laugh over that rule. Even though the quadrille is a bit outdated in 1872, it is still danced albeit a bit slowly. Too slowly it becomes ridiculous.

The waltz, of course, is the preferred dance of this time period. In fact, the writer of this book wishes he could rave about it for days. He begins by explaining that position is the first importance, as well as the placement of the man’s hand where it should be – at the center of the lady’s waist. The lady should turn her head a little to the left. Oh, and it’s considered atrocious for a lady to lay her head upon a man’s shoulder! Position, therefore, is of utmost importance.

These points are fascinating:

  • In Germany the waltz is rapid but it slackens the pace every now and then.
  • The Russian waltz men perform like the Austrians and will dance around the room with a glass of champagne in the left hand without spilling a drop. This reminded me of the scene in Crimson Peak where the waltz was done with a candle in the man’s hand that remained burning throughout.
  • To be graceful in England, one must waltz with the sliding step. It’s up to the gentleman to steer, keep his eyes open, and watch where they are going to avoid collisions in a crowded ballroom.
  • Violent dancing (too fast and reckless) can cause injury. The author apparently had seen an occasion where the gentleman broke his ankle and the lady gashed her head.

There are quite a few more references to various dances, including the Polka. Instructions are detailed. The overall sense, of course, is skill, ability, and following the social norms of treating the female with respect.

The waltz can be such a romantic scene in a historical romance novel.  Have you read any lately? 

 

vladimir-pervunensky-a-ball-20051-e1269940274323“The advantage of the ball in the upper classes is, that it brings young people together for a sensible and innocent recreation, and takes them away from the silly, if not bad ones; that it gives them exercise, and that the general effect of the beauty, elegance, and brilliance of a ball is to elevate rather than deprave the mind.”

The quote above comes from my favorite discovery, which is a book entitled, “The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen” by an unknown author, originally published in 1872. Frankly, it’s a hoot to read, filled with, “thoughts, hints, and anecdotes concerning social observances, nice points of taste and good manners, and the art of making one’s self agreeable.

Because of the information about life in Victorian times, I thought that I would occasionally write a post about the tidbits found between its pages. It’s a tedious read of over 319 pages in print. Subjects covered are good breeding, education, cultivation of taste, reason, the art of speech, knowledge of English literature, moral character, temper, hospitality, good manners, birth, wealth, rank, and distinction. If you’re interested in purchasing the book, it is available on Amazon, but I’ll warn you that it’s a bit of a task to read. For authors, it’s a wealth of information.

The chapter on balls humorously begins with the following quote.  “Balls are the paradise of daughters, the purgatory of chaperons, and the pandemonium of paterfamilias.”  It goes on to say it’s a father’s nightmare because daughters need new dresses and the brougham won’t be available the night of the affair. Of course, there is always the hope one’s daughter might return engaged. Balls are apparently better entertainment for young men rather than drinking and gambling and a form of good exercise. There are differences between attending a ball and giving a ball.

In order to give a ball during the season, one must be sure to have a big enough room. Overcrowding is not good for comfortable dancing. One hundred or more attendees constitute a large ball, and below that number, it is simply a ball. Under fifty, and you’re only attending a dance. Numbers must be proportionate to the size of the rooms, as one must be able to move around in order to meet new acquaintances. The standards for an agreeable ball are good ventilation, good arrangement, a good floor to dance upon, good music, a good supper, and good company. Remember that the beauty of the dresses worn by the young ladies is only enhanced with good lighting.

As far as music, here are the recommendations. Four musicians are enough for a private ball. A piano and violin are the mainstays. Dances should be arranged beforehand, as well as pre-printed dance cards for the ladies. A small pencil should be attached to the end of each card. Out of twenty-one dances, seven should be quadrilles, three of which may be lancers, along with seven waltzes, four galops, a polka, and some sort of other dance.

Of course, every ball has its wallflower. A young lady, even a plain one, maybe a good dancer and should always have some partners. The right of introduction rests on the lady and gentleman of the house, but a chaperon may introduce a gentleman to her charge. How a lady refuses a dance must be done carefully. One should not lie that she has a headache to get out of dancing with a partner. A man should never press her to dance after one refusal. A man should ask by saying, “May I have the pleasure of dancing this waltz with you?” Just because she dances with you at a ball, it does not mean that she cares to have a relationship. On the Continent, a man should never dance twice with the same lady if she is unmarried. In England, men may choose one or two partners and dance with them through the evening without expecting to commit to marriage. And this part, I really love, and I quote. “The well-bred and amiable man will sacrifice himself to those plain, ill-dressed, dull-looking beings who cling to the wall, unsought and despairing. After all, he will not regret his good nature.”

Wallflowers receiving an invitation to dance usually give the best conversation, dance the best, and show great gratitude for the attention. At the end of every dance, a man offers his right arm to his partner, walks the room with her, and asks if she will take refreshment.

There is quite a bit more about holding a ball, attending a ball, eating at a ball, and the proper manners desired.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into 1872. Now close your eyes and imagine that handsome man in the cravat coming your way. Will you accept his invitation to dance or politely turn him down? Since I’m the wallflower type, no doubt I’ll do my best to make an impression. However, I don’t know how to do the quadrille or galop.  Do you have any idea?