I fell in love with the Georgians when I was nine years old. The longest love affair of my life, it persists to this day. We were doing a project on coffee and tea at school. All about how they are grown, harvested and manufactured, and then we came to the history. They showed us a picture of a coffee-house, and I was hooked. I loved the woman presiding over the scene, and the men sitting at the long table and I started to look up stuff for myself. They had booths as well as the long central table, and a lot of business went on there. Lloyds coffee-house, for instance, was the centre of the insurance industry and the start of the London Stock Exchange.
Then I started investigating the era. Shortly after that I discovered the novels of Georgette Heyer and I was well and truly hooked.
The Georgian era strictly encompasses the years 1714-1830, when the four Georges ruled Britain. That includes the Regency (1811-1820) when George III went mad (actually afflicted with porphyria, but unable to rule) and his son took over as Regent. George’s brother William was king from 1830-1837, and Queen Anne was on the throne from 1702-1714. My heart is with the 1750’s.
Why? To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I saw the clothes, read some of the antics of the people, looked at the houses, and bam, I was in love.
Let’s start with the men of the era. In Regency times, they wore mainly drab clothing, apart from a few dandies, who were derided for their flamboyance. Heavily influenced by Beau Brummell and the new austerity of the Napoleonic era, men cropped their hair and wore good quality, but drab clothes. They seemed afraid to touch the feminine side of their personalities. Sixty years earlier, men wore what the hell they wanted to, and they weren’t afraid to contact their feminine side, because at that time, they also wore swords as part of their everyday costume. Short swords were thin and rapier-like, but in the right hands they could be lethal. They wore pink, velvet, silk, brocade, exquisitely embroidered items, but that didn’t mean they didn’t also wear plain cloth and dark colours when the occasion demanded it, or if that was their preference. Most men wore wigs covering their short hair or shaved heads, and there’s some evidence that in the country or informal occasions, they might leave it off. They wore cocked hats (“Tricorne” is a word invented by the Victorians).
The costume reflects their behaviour. They would cry in public, they’d get into fights, sometimes to the death, if they disagreed. They drank and gambled, in fact, gambling became the obsession of the age. One of them, anyway.
The women were no less flamboyant in their dress. The (to my mind) ugly oblong hoops of the 1740’s gave way to a softer, smaller shape in the 1750’s, except for court, which always lagged behind the times. Court stuck to the frankly old fashioned mantua, a different cut to the gowns that most fashionable women preferred to wear in every day life. The robe anglaise, the immensely lovely sacque and even the caraco jacket were flattering and beautiful. Again, women didn’t always dress to the nines, and had a selection of more casual wear, but they were rarely depicted in that, so you have to go to the engravings and sketches to see them. Early in the century Watteau did a series of ravishing sketches of women in such clothes.
Women also had more power in the mid-eighteenth century. Victorian women were hidebound, encouraged to make the home the centre of their existence. Georgian women refused to be bound by that. Although the law was heavily against them, denying married women their own property and the vote, there were ways around at least the former, and they employed men to work for them in places where they couldn’t go.
Women had their own businesses, and were heavily influential in many political and literary movements of the day. The literary salon, held by women such as Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, not only fostered literary talent, but discussed radical reforms. The movement to abolish slavery started in the salons held by women, and the earliest ephemera are feminine items, scarves and fans.
There are just so many possibilities for an author in this era, and no need to make anything up. Remarkable people lived then, adventuresses like the Gunning sisters and Elizabeth Chudleigh, and politicians like Hervey who had a long-term male lover and a wife who bore him a number of children. “There are three sexes,” a friend said of him – “men, women and Herveys.” That friend was Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the toast of the Kit-Kat club as a child, who eloped with a man who became the ambassador to Constantinople, and after she left him, introduced inoculation for smallpox into Britain, the precursor of vaccination.
Education was haphazard, especially for women, but that didn’t stop them learning if they wanted to. And people did. They learned and they kept learning, bringing new ideas to society. I’ve heard comments about hygiene, because they didn’t have baths, but that’s to put the expectations of the modern person with plumbing at her disposal to a prior age when water had to be heated and carried to where it was needed. However, there were washstands in every bedroom, and many people had all-over washed every day. Helped by a servant, naturally! The evidence is negative, that is, people noticed when other people stank. Would they have noticed if they were equally as filthy? Probably not. Fuller’s Earth provided a natural dry cleaning agent for fine fabric that couldn’t be washed, and every respectable house did the laundry once a week.
People were not afraid to live in the Georgian era, and take everything life offered them. That’s why I love writing books set in this era and why I’m still in love with it after so many years. When I came to write the Richard and Rose books, the choice of era was a no-brainer, in fact, the era and the characters grew alongside each other. I’ve written a few Regencies, but my heart remains set firmly in the earlier era, when people lived life to the full.
Lynne Connolly writes for a number of online publishers. She writes paranormal romance, contemporary romance and historical romance. She is the winner of two Eppies (now retitled the EPIC ebook awards) and a goodly number of Recommended Reads etc from review sites.
While these are very gratifying, that isn't why she writes. She wants to bring the stories in her head to life and share them with others, in the hope that they might give her some peace.
She lives in the UK with her family, cat and doll's houses. Creating worlds on paper or in miniature seems to be her specialty!
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - http://lynneconnolly.com/
Richard and Rose have been with me for all my publishing career so it was a wrench to say goodbye, but every story has to come to an end. However, it’s possible they might pop up when they’re least expected!
In June, 2012, the last Richard and Rose book, “Lisbon” came out. They met in “Yorkshire,” and the eight book series has been the story of their loves, their developing relationship, and their battle against enemies who wanted to destroy them, either jealous of their happiness or with more sinister motives. A companion book to the series, with three short stories and the story of how the series came into being is available on Kindle.