Revenge of the Well Mannered


(This post is dedicated to Pink Flamingo friend and confident Sally Vee.)

Every once in awhile The Pink Flamingo sorta loses it, and takes a  huge leap from reality.  This is one of those times.

The Pink Flamingo (and at least one regular reader of this blog, and you know who you are) is a fan of the “Regency” period in England.  In many ways it was a time of great simplicity that followed the over-blown extravagances of the previous era.

There are ‘moments’ in history where life is almost “golden”:  The middle years of the Roman Republic, Roman Britain, the Wild West, the Gilded Age, and Regency England.  This is not to say life was easy, it was not.  It was a period following the murder of the king and queen of France by the populist uprising.  Napoleon attempted to conquer Europe, costing the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the war.  The first throes of the mechanized era were horrendous in England, with thousands upon thousands displaced to work in factories.  The Year without a Summer brought death to millions in Europe and spurred one of the great Irish migrations to America. There were food riots in England and elsewhere.  People starved because of the weather, the enclosure laws, the corn laws, and the displacement towards the factories.

The first stirrings for rights for women and universal suffrage had their roots during this time.  Ada Gordon, sister of Lord Byron invented a mathematical language that is known as “Ada“.  The arts exploded with music, art, opera, poetry, and literature.  Beethoven composed some of the most extraordinary music ever created.  It was the golden age of poetry with Byron becoming the rock star of the era.

Frankenstein was born, and with him came science fiction and horror.

Gothic romances and trashy romances read by women were published by the dozens.

Reading became a national pass-time.

“…Through the whole Eighteenth century about 150,000 titles were published in the English language. During the last two decades of the century book publishing increased around 400% and continued to grow in the Regency era. Some of this effect is attributed to the introduction of works of fiction into school curriculums…In Regency times books were still quite expensive, the average price for a novel in three volumes would be as much as 31s. 6d. (today close on £90!), so only the upper classes bought their own copies….”

And – the daughter of a minister was not allowed to publish her remarkable novels in her own name.  It was simply not “good Ton” and would bring far too much attention to both she and her aristocratic family. During her lifetime Jane Austen was never allowed to sign a book, reveal her identity, or be recognized for her masterpieces.

The Pink Flamingo has, for years, lamented the death of manners in this country.  It is so bad I keep the usual Jane Austen film archive on my iTunes so I can slip into the past while I deal with the nastiness of modern society.

“...Before the 20th century, the feminine ideal was a woman whose curves were bounteous and whose figures were pleasingly plumb. Rich husbands and fathers were proud to show off their well-fed women. Only the poor, who toiled all day and never had enough to eat, or the sick, or those who were metabolically overchallenged, were thin and scrawny….”

Once upon a time (200 years ago) people were no different.  They simply dressed better and had better manners.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Those lovely Regency fashions are my favorite, and I’m writing a book on American fashion in the Wild West.

Their morals may have worse than ours.  Women wore gowns that were of gauze, and often quite transparent, and often just slightly topless, revealing everything there was to reveal.  A man was expected to be able to support his mistress in far better style than his family, and every gentleman was expected to have one (mistress that is).  Even the finest ladies of the time wore very revealing garments.

“…Observers of the period frequently deplored the absence of modesty conveyed by a style that was predicated on the prominence and exposure of the breasts and on the barely veiled body….Sheer, narrow dresses … caused a sensation at the beginning of the nineteenth century, more because of their contrast with the elaborate hooped costumes of previous decades than for any real immodesty. – Source: Two dresses [French] (1983.6.1,07.146.5) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art…”

It was a time of cleanliness.  During the Georgian era (for those tea partiers, that is the time of the Founding Fathers) life was filthy.  People rarely bathed.  Even those of the upper class had heads infested with lice.  Their bodies reeked.  Food was nasty.  Their close stank, their teeth were rotting, and their breath was vile.  And – those were the people with money such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, etc.  The lower classes never bathed in their lives save for birth and death.

Beau Brummel changed all of this.

The mark of a gentleman and a lady was a daily bath.  There was to be no body odor, hair must be clean.  Clothes must be simple and clean.  Nails must be clean.

“…Beau Brummell is one of the best known figures of the Regency period. He shows up in many novels set during the time and his name has become a figure of speech. The phrase, “He’s a regular Beau Brummell,” brings to mind a very dapper, well dressed man.

Beau Brummell’s reign in Regency Society was brief, but while it lasted, he was one of the best-known and most gossiped about men of his time. Brummell was said to be obsessed with his clothing and it took him five hours to dress. He polished his boots with champagne, had three hairdressers to groom him, one for the sideburns, one for the forelock and one for the back of the head. It took two glovers to make a pair for the Beau – one for the thumb and one for the fingers. He sent his laundry to the country claiming that they were the only ones who knew how to bleach correctly….

Brummell’s father had died and left him an inheritance of roughly 30,000 pounds. Brummell set up household and furnished his rooms in exquisite taste, and he soon became the social lion of London. Beau Brummell was a trend setter in men’s fashion. Before him, men were peacocks. They wore powdered wigs and coats of silk and satin in bright colors with fancy embroidery. Men wore knee breeches and silk stockings and their shoes had high and often colored heels. Men wore makeup and beauty patches on their faces and doused themselves in perfume to cover their own bad smell – bathing was not something they did frequently.

Beau Brummell was very different from these gaudy, but dirty gentlemen. First of all, he was clean. Brummell bathed every day and did not use fragrances. He insisted that a gentleman should smell like clean linen and country air. He popularized pantaloons instead of knee breeches. Brummell’s pantaloons had straps in the instep to keep them tight under his highly polished Hessian or Wellington boots. Because of Beau Brummell’s influence, men’s jackets were no longer made of brightly colored satin, but instead were made of wool in dark colors. Brummell ousted peacock colors and put men into sober black for formal wear, and they are still in it today. Men’s jackets, since they were no longer able to hide bad construction under lots of embroidery, had to be perfect in fit and cut and English tailoring became the standard of perfection. Brummell is credited by some as being the first to starch his cravat which he never wore so high and starched that he could not turn his head. One of Brummell’s friends left a description of how he put on his cravat:…”

It did not matter what you did (sort of) as long as you did it properly.

Jane Austen Magazine

Do you know what a Regency fan considers true pornography?

As any fan of the Regency why this is considered Jane Austen pornography and all you will get is a sigh.

Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy

There is a bitter sociological irony here:

“…1815-1822: The Era of Conservative Reaction by Jean Mason:

The end of the Napoleonic Wars brought Britain a great victory, but it also left the country with serious economic and social problem. Britain had won the war largely because of her economic resources, but the country was left with a huge debt and a shaky economy. The country had to adjust to peacetime economic conditions, and especially to the end of economic isolation which had kept the price of grain unnaturally high. The response of the ruling class (whose wealth was still based primarily on agriculture) was to pass the Corn Laws, which placed prohibitive duties on imported grain. The result was to keep grain and bread prices high at a time when many in the lower classes were finding it hard to make ends meet.

The economic problems Britain faced were not solely the result of postwar adjustment. Equally problematic were the vast social and economic changes that accompanied industrialization. The Industrial Revolution had begun in England around 1760. By 1815, it was well underway in some of the most important industries in Britain – the textile industries. The introduction of machinery caused all kinds of dislocation among the working classes. Before the invention of power looms, weavers had been among the elite of the English working class. The looms and other machinery threatened their position and their livelihoods. The Luddites as early as 1813 had attacked the hated machines, and Luddism and other working class movements lurked always below the surface, and were perceived as a threat to the existing order.

The British government in the years after Waterloo was one of the most reactionary and class biased governments that the country had ever had. The above-mentioned Corn Laws are just one example of class based legislation. Headed by Lord Liverpool and filled with members of the most reactionary elements of the Tory Party, the government lived in fear of revolution. But rather than acting to deal with the problems that created discontent, the government turned to repression.

The high point of reaction occured in 1819. In that year, a peaceful gathering, which was being addressed by one of the radical journalists and was asking for reform, was attacked by mounted yoeman sent in by the local magistrates. There were numerous casualties. This became known as the Peterloo Massacre. The Manchester magistrates were congratulated by the government, which proceeded to pass a series of laws. These acts prohibited peaceful meetings, limited the freedom of the press, and increased the punishments for “seditious libel,” a catch-all term that could encompass any written or spoken complaint against the government.

There were those in the ruling class and in parliament who opposed the repressive actions of the government and advocated reform to deal with the problems. The Whig Party, although much diminished, continued to espouse the principles of reform. The Whigs were especially associated with the call to end the religious disabilities which kept all non-Anglicans from serving in Parliament and in the government. (This was especially a problem in Ireland.) The so-called Radicals in parliament like Brougham called for legal reform and parliamentary reform. And occasionally a determined MP could get a piece of reform legislation through parliament. Sir Robert Peel the Elder did succeed in convincing parliament to pass a Factory Act to prevent the exploitation of children in textile factories, although the act suffered from a lack of an effective means of enforcement.

But for the most part, the years 1815-1822 were characterized by economic hard times made more difficult by a government which tended to see any call for any change in the existing order as a wedge opening the door to its overthrow. It was against this background of suffering and repression that the ton danced and played at the lavish balls and entertainments that are so lovingly portrayed in the romances that we all so enjoy….”

Men were expected to be men.  In order to be a gentleman a man had to ride like John Wayne, box like Mohammad Ali, fence like the Three Musketeers, shoot like Wyatt Earp, have the courtly manners of Jean Luc Picard, womanize like James T. Kirk and James Bond (c0mbined), dance like Fred Astaire, drink like Doc Holiday, dress like a fashion plate, the charm of Cary Grant, business ability of the Donald, and gamble like Wild Bill.  He had to keep books, run a massive farm, know how to milk cows, deliver animals, manage his crops, care for his mistress, wife, children, and be a leader in Parliament.  He should also speak French – fluently, have a smattering of German, know a little bit of Italian, and translate Latin.  It was preferable that he could also translate ancient Greek.

The Pink Flamingo brings this up because there is now a trend going on among some to attempt to bring back those days of grace and beauty.  I’m all for it.

From the WSJ


It’s all about Mr. Darcy (sigh) – the Colin Firth version:

“…Among the Jane Austen Twitter feeds, blogs and chat rooms that have cropped up is “Jane Austen’s Fight Club,” a faux movie trailer that juxtaposes women in Austen-era frocks with the bruises and blood of the cult classic “Fight Club.” There’s also, a hub of fan fiction overseen by Crystal Shih, 29. Ms. Shih and her college roommate discovered Ms. Austen a decade ago and began writing Austenesque prose in their Massachusetts Institute of Technology dorm room. Now her site boasts about 1,000 registered users. Everything from “Clueless” to Colin Firth is fair game for debate.

“The movie adaptations created a lot of fanatics,” says Ms. Shih, now doing postdoctoral work in biochemistry at MIT. “In some of the forums, there are throw-downs about who is their favorite Darcy…At one conference an 80-year-old said Laurence Olivier was the only one for her, but Colin Firth definitely propagates that Darcy image today.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Firth declined to comment…”


4 thoughts on “Revenge of the Well Mannered

  1. Thank you for the dedication, I am very pleased.

    It’s so interesting about the hygiene (or lack thereof) of the times. Just yesterday I was listening to a program about the founding fathers in which it was explained that the reason Ben Franklin walked around naked quite often was because he believed in taking an “air bath” once a week. This actually makes sense to me — especially if you could get some sun along with the air, to kill bacteria. Given the implausibility of taking regular water baths, a good airing would certainly be better than nothing.

    One movie not mentioned is Bridget Jones’ Diary — a loose, modern adaptation of P&P in which Colin Firth also stars as “Mr. Darcy.” The movie is hilarious, especially Mr. Darcy’s reindeer “jumper” — a silly Christmas sweater he wears to please his mother. Also the fight scene with Firth and Hugh Grant set to the music of “It’s Raining Men.”

  2. So many people today are lacking in manners. For instance it is doubtful that the tea partiers would know the difference between a tea cup and a demitasse, so I am sure they wouldn’t know an absinthe glass if they saw one. I am also an incurable romantic. It is sad that the younger generation knows everything there is to know about sex, but absolutely nothing about romance. Of course romance is a fine art, which Jane Austen perfected.

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