“Newspapers were plentiful during the Regency Era, with most of the stories published centering on politics, crime, fashion, infidelity, or royal doings,” says Geri Walton, author of Marie Antoinette’s Confidante and regular writer on 18th and 19th-century Europe.
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.
Here’s an interesting trope for a Historical Romance novel. I wondered if anyone has tried weaving this historical tidbit into a tantalizing book, and apparently, they have (see below). Read all about it. Men who sold their wives.
‘The options available were to grin and bear it, try and get an annulment (tricky), desertion, bigamy, or to tie a rope around their neck and sell them at market to the highest bidder’ Read more at iNews/UK.
To read more about divorce laws, here’s a refresh on a previous post I wrote some time ago: AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER
- 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 1880’s. 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 from the 1800s to 1890s 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 a 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 1851, there were 500,000 more women than men in England, and by 1911, the number rose to a 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 200 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 1882 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 1840s. 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 1857 and was very costly and difficult to obtain. Men could divorce their wife 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 “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 1878 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 65 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.
“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 upon 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 is 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.
(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 à discretion.” (The Habits of Good Society 1872)
“The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen,” continues on the subject of particular interest mostly because of the stories I’ve read about the 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 was 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 be 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 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. Stay tuned for the next installment of cleanliness in 1872.
“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…” (The Habits of Good Society: By Unknown Author, originally published 1872. Copyright 2012 Forgotten Books).
Recently on my author Facebook page, I’ve been posting videos of period dramas with romantic scenes of waltzes. Some of my favorites are from The Young Victoria, War & Peace (2016), Cinderella, and Crimson Peak. They look so romantic with women in gorgeous gowns being swung around the room 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, and bowing should still be in style.
“To squeeze it, on the other hand, is a gross familiarity, for which you would deserve to be kicked out of the room.”
I’m sorry, but it’s difficult not to laugh over at 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.
Ah, the waltz. Let’s watch one from my favorites.