As you might imagine, everyone had horses in the Regency, especially the rich. And there was a whole group of people who wanted to race Thoroughbreds for fame and fortune (as Gabe wants to do). There were also people like Virginia Waverly and her grandfather, who ran stud farms to provide racing enthusiasts with new Thoroughbreds. It’s not much different from today—you could pay someone like the Waverly’s to have your mare “covered” by a famous race horse, and voila, you were on your way to success!
A love of boxing was pretty standard for young lords in the Regency. Since it was illegal to have pugilist matches, organizers had to resort to a great deal of subterfuge to arrange “mills,” as the events were called then, so he would have found that an enticing profession, since he’d been disinherited. A hundred years earlier, there were even matches for ladies, who fought bare-breasted. Though it sounds like the Georgian equivalent of the wet T-shirt contest, women boxers had supporters like any of the men and fought in major arenas. A woman named Elizabeth Wilkinson-Stokes even became quite famous for her abilities.
Most people who are Regency era lovers know about the usual gentlemen’s clubs—White’s and Brooks. But there were far more than that, including some odd ones. Gentlemen’s clubs were for more than just gaming. Plenty of men also liked to hang out with other gentlemen who enjoyed similar interests. For example, the Beefsteak Club and Watier’s were founded for men who enjoyed a really good meal away from home. There was the Oriental Club for those who had traveled or resided in Asia. The Royal Society brimmed with scientists, philosophers, physicians, and other intellectual types. The Yacht Club served men who were interested in salt-water yachting. So St. George’s, a club for men concerned about protecting their women, isn’t too farfetched, I should think.
Peep show boxes, otherwise known as Raree Shows, were a Regency form of entertainment typically meant for children. So I cheated a bit in Married to the Viscount by creating naughty ones. Or did I? I figured that since erotic material and images have been around since humans began recording such things, surely someone had created a naughty one. But in general, they were meant as amusements for people at fairs and such. A showman would use patter to describe the scenes as the viewers of all ages watched a progression of images go past on the “screen,” usually a painted backdrop that was moved or otherwise manipulated. I came up with the idea for including peep show boxes in my book when I saw two examples at a New York Public Library exhibit while I was on vacation. Yes, I am always looking out for stuff to use in my fiction.
The Regency folks loved to party, too. And play party games. There was Bullet Pudding, which was essentially the same as Bobbing for Apples, except that players bobbed in a bowl of flour for a bullet. Yes, a real bullet. Those crazy kids! The fun was in seeing people end up covered in flour. And let’s not forget Blind Man’s Buff, in one version of which the blindfolded person tried to guess the identity of another by “feeling” their face. THAT one almost sounds scandalous!
They also played snapdragon, a crazy game where partygoers fished raisins out of a bowl of burning brandy. It actually dates back to Shakespeare’s time. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds, though. They used shallow bowls to make it easy to snatch the raisins and although the low blue flame seemed to put off lots of heat, the fire wasn’t deep and the brandy wasn’t that hot (I know because I’ve tried it). Our ancestors found it so entertaining that they even had a song to go with it.
Masquerade balls were every bit as popular in the Regency as our romances lead us to believe. Just take a look at R. Ackermann’s Repository of Fashions for 1829. He includes several different costumes for “masquerade or fancy ball dress,” most of which are demure historical costumes for various centuries and one for a lavishly gowned “Sultana” (but sadly, no scantily clad houris). Although there are no masks in his pictures, there are plenty of mentions of masks in other period literature, so clearly they were sometimes worn. That’s a good thing, because it makes for great fun to have a hero unmask a heroine in our books.
The “season” in London generally began officially after Easter, although some people were already in town for when Parliament opened in January. Imagine starting your day somewhere between mid-morning and noon, then going to pay calls, then riding on Rotten Row, then home to change and off to dinner somewhere, then perhaps to the theater, and then to a ball around ten p.m., where you danced until 3 a.m. or so. While that is exactly the kind of schedule I’m used to at conference, I can’t imagine doing it every day for a couple of months.
Jane Austen had some lofty fans in her day, once word got around who she was. Prinny actually put her between a rock and hard place by having his librarian, J.S. Clarke, suggest that she dedicate her next book (Emma) to the Prince of Wales. Why was that so difficult? Because she couldn’t stand Prinny! Unfortunately, ignoring a royal dictate was unwise, so she did as he wished. But she put her foot down when Clarke then suggested that she write a historical romance about the ancestors of Prinny’s son-in-law. She explained that historical romance was not her cup of tea. Thank goodness, because I much prefer her stories of love in English villages.
But I’m happy I don’t have to revise books the way she did in the Regency. Authors did have pencils, erasers, paper, ink, and quill pens, but I hated revising when I had to retype things (before the advent of personal computers—yes, I was alive then), so imagine what it would be like to have to rewrite everything whenever you wanted to make a major revision. Handwriting was a crucial skill for clerks—there were even books on how to improve your business handwriting. All I can say is, thank heaven for computers.
Many female writers in the 19th century took pseudonyms or wrote anonymously, because it was considered bad form for a lady or gentlewoman to write books. That’s why Jane Austen’s books were published anonymously as “By a Lady” or “By the Author of Pride and Prejudice,” etc. Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Bronte wrote as Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell. Lady Caroline Lamb wrote Glenarvon about London society (and Lord Byron, her former lover) anonymously. Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot. But there were several women who did use their own names: Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, and Elizabeth Inchbald. It depended on how radical they were and what their place was in society.
By the Regency, children’s books were starting to be more than educational or religious. This is when the first fairy tales appear in book form (Grimm’s Fairy Tales were first published in 1812 in Germany) and you start getting entertaining works like the ones I quote in Dance of Seduction. Of course, “entertaining” didn’t quite have the same meaning it does now. After all, even though the poem “Cock Robin” that Gabe reads in To Wed a Wild Lord is subtitled, “a pretty painted toy for either girl or boy: suited for all ages,” it’s about how Robin Redbreast dies and everyone mourns him.