Gentlemen Club’s were social gathering places for many men in Regency England. Unlike the clubs in the U.S. today, there were no exotic dancers. Women were not allowed. Men in Regency England often belonged to one or more of these establishments. Nevertheless, these clubs were more than just places to escape female society and partake in gaming and gossip. These clubs served as meeting places for business, political strife, or social climbing. Party leaders, artists, poets, publishers, barristers, and people with many common interests met in these places to speak “off the record” and to network with like-minded individuals of influence.
In my time travel, Destiny Series, the three lords purchased an old coffee house and refurbished it into The Back Room Gentlemen’s Club. Inside one of the club’s rooms, there lies a time portal. This portal brings travelers from the past and future and drops them in the center of the men’s club in the early 19th century.
These establishments were luxurious with rich upholsteries, marble fireplaces, and thick carpets. The club was a place filled with gambling, gossip, and indulgent behavior. Where the food is top quality and the membership is exclusive.
The three most famous clubs of Regency England were White’s, Brook’s, and Boodle’s. The common denominator between these three clubs is the fact that they were the clubs that allowed gambling. All clubs had their own bylaws and rules on conduct and behavior, which had to be followed or you could lose membership and be permanently blackballed.
But like all establishments, these top three clubs were each known for certain clientele.
White’s is the oldest and most exclusive gentlemen’s club in London. The Italian immigrant, Francesco Bianco, originally established the club off of Curzon Street in Mayfair in 1693. It was called Mrs. White’s Chocolate House and they sold hot chocolate. The club began to sell tickets to events in town for the King’s Theatre and the Royal Theatre on Drury Lane. This selling of tickets led to the transformation of White’s to an exclusive club by 1736. In 1753, White’s relocated across the street after the original club burned down. White’s was moved to 37-38 St. James Street, and from 1783 it was known as the unofficial headquarters for the Tory party. Due to its growing popularity, a second club was formed called the Young Club, the two clubs merged in 1781.
The structure is built of Portland stone with a slate roof. Consisting of three stories, it is the Victorian version of the Palladian style, with French elements.
White’s was perceived as the intellectual leader and the most exclusive of the three. Although White’s was also considered by some to be the bane of the aristocracy, for many men lost more than they could afford to lose, bringing shame and poverty to their families. While, White’s catered to the Tory party, Brook’s catered to the Whig party. There were, however, some men that belonged to both clubs. Members were elected and voted upon by using a system of white and black balls secretly deposited into a special box at each election. A single black ball denied you membership, hence the term to be blackballed. The Prince of Wales once favored White’s until his friend Jack Payne was blackballed.
In many romance novels, I have read of White’s infamous bow window and the table that sits there. This window was added to the structure in 1811, and this privilege seat is mentioned in one of my novels. It was a table that could be seen by passer-byers and used by the club’s most socially influential. Beau Brummell was known to be a constant ornament to this special table until he moved to the continent to avoid debtor’s prison. Lord Alvanley took the honor after Brummell’s departure. I should also mention the infamous White’s betting book, where men bet on sports, political developments, and who’d beget the first heir between friends. Brook’s also had a betting book, and I’m sure other clubs recorded similar wagers.
The members of White’s deemed whist a dull game and gambled deeply in hazard, faro, and other games of chance.
Brook’s Gentlemen’s Club was founded in March 1764, by twenty-seven prominent Whig nobles. The clubhouse was built in yellow brick and Portland Stone in a Palladian style. The interior is neoclassical in design. It is located on St James Street, London, England and is one of the oldest gentlemen clubs in London.
Brook’s was known to have a political atmosphere, due to the young, founding members whose fathers’ were deeply entrenched in the Whig party. Through fatherly influence, these twenty-something year olds were indoctrinated in politics and the concept of liberalism from an early age. As you can imagine, hopeful Whig politicians began to flock to Brook’s, and within a few years it was an unofficial headquarters for the Whig party.
Due to the vastness of the founders’ wealth and influence, Brook’s gained a reputation for wild behavior and excessive gambling.
The Prince of Wales joined Brook’s so that he could talk to Charles James Fox and enlist his support in Parliament, which speaks of the clubs political influence.
Boodle’s was founded by Lord Shelburne, the future Marquis of Lansdowne and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in 1762 and located at 49-51 Pall Mall, London. The club was moved in 1782 to the clubhouse at 28 St. James Street, London, England. The club’s namesake is taken from the headwaiter that worked there named Edward Boodle.
Boodle’s is second to White’s as London’s oldest gentlemen’s club. This club was said to have been frequented by country squires and the fox hunting set. Heavy gambling took place at Boodle’s, but the club was not associated with a political party.
Other Regency Clubs
The Royal Society was known as a meeting place for scientists, engineers, explorers, botanists, and astronomers of their day. It was also frequented by soldiers, poets, bishops, musicians, and writers.
Alfred Club was said to attract men of letters and writers. Lord Byron was a member of this club to which he found it, “Literary, pleasant, and sober.” In 1811, the Alfred Club had 354 men on their waiting list.
Four Horse Club was known to cater to the younger set who knew how to handle the ribbons of horses with expert skill and they tended to race around recklessly at high speeds. At its peak, the club only held 30-40 members.
Watier’s was founded by the Prince of Wales chef in 1807. The club was known for its fare and deep gambling, but closed in 1819. From what I’ve surmised, the closing was due to the high level of gambling.
A special thanks to Venetia Murray, An Elegant Madness
I’m researching book one in my Wintergale Orchard series, titled When Love Wins. In this story, the hero is addicted to laudanum. Laudanum is an opium tincture made with 10% opium and 90% alcohol and then flavored with cinnamon or saffron. The tincture is reddish-brown in color and has a bitter taste. Laudanum is known as a “whole opium” since it historically contained all the opium alkaloids, this includes morphine and codeine. (A Swiss-German alchemist found that alkaloids are more soluble in alcohol than water.) Obviously this was a potent medicine.
Opium was known in ancient Mesopotamia five thousand years ago and its medicinal properties were recorded on cuneiform tablets. So opium has been here a while. (I shall keep this article focused on England’s usage of laudanum and save the East India Company, China, and the Opium Wars for other articles).
During the Regency Period, opium was used to aid mild pain. According to The Writer’s Guide to Everyday in the 1800’s by Marc McCutcheon, “In 1868, it is estimated that 100,000 people from all stations of life were addicted to the drug, which was sold openly in drugstores in pill form or as laudanum.”
Since laudanum was cheaper than beer or wine, it was affordable for even the lowest paid workers. Nevertheless, it was purchased by all classes in society. Laudanum was prescribed for many diseases as well as being used as a sleeping aid. Although the addictive qualities of opium were known at the time, it was still the ingredient added to most medicines of the day. This meant laudanum was prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac disease, in adults and children.
Due to laudanum’s potency, accidental or deliberate overdose could occur in a single dose (2-3 teaspoons). Suicide by laudanum was not uncommon in the mid-19th century. Side effects with laudanum are similar to those of morphine and include euphoria, dysphoria, sedation, respiratory depression, as well a psychological dependency, and the list goes on… People who became addicted to the tincture were often referred to as “Opium Eaters”. This was to differentiate themselves from the opium smokers. Thomas De Quincey wrote an autobiographical account of his laudanum addiction and its effect on his life in his book, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which was published in 1822.
In 1919 England, the production and export of opium was prohibited and a law in 1928 banned its use. Some notable laudanum users were John Keats, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Edgar Allen Poe, William Taylor Coleridge, and many more. The drug was seemingly popular as it was readily available. During the Victorian Period laudanum was even recommended for women to relieve menstrual cramps.
When looking at the old bottles of laudanum, I cannot help but wonder why anyone would wish to drink from a bottle that is clearly labeled poison with a skull and crossbones. But throughout history, human beings seem to have a compulsion to enhance their perceptions and alter their moods. Unfortunately, addictions can also ruin and cost lives.
Currently, laudanum is considered a Schedule II drug and recognized as an addictive substance. Its use is strictly regulated and controlled throughout most of the world. Laudanum is still prescribed in the US and the U.K. and is used to alleviate pain, treat diarrhea, and ease withdrawal symptoms from people addicted to heroin or other opiates. It should be mentioned that the laudanum of today differs from the laudanum of the 1800’s. Due to current drug processing, laudanum today is not a tincture of opium, but rather a tincture of morphine.
A special thank you to All About Heaven, http://www.allaboutheaven.org and The Heroin of the 19th Century, Frank Sanello
Swallow’s Nest is a decorative castle located on the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. The castle was built between 1911-1912 by a German noble and is perched on top of Aurora Cliff. Swallow’s Nest was constructed in a Neo-Gothic style, designed by Russian architect Leonid Sherwood. The castle overlooks the Cape of Ai-Todor of the Black Sea. An observation deck rings the building, providing a view of the sea and Yalta’s shoreline. The building is compact in size and is one of the most popular destinations for people visiting Crimea.
Duart Castle is located on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland. The castle dates back to the 13th century and is the seat of clan MacLean. The fortress sits on a crag at the end of a peninsula on Mull. It has fortified walls and stands guard over what was once one of the most important water crossways in western Scotland. A ship couldn’t pass without the occupants of Castle Duart being aware. Sir Fitroy Maclean, the 26th Chief of clan MacLean, restored the castle in 1911. The home currently serves as the home of the 28th Chief of clan MacLean, but it is open to the public.
Chateau De Pierrefonds is a castle located in the commune of Pierrefonds in the Oise department of France. The castle carries the characteristics of a defensive military structure from the Middle Ages, although major restoration occurred on the castle in the 19th century. The castle was built in the 12th century and two centuries later King Charles VI turned the County of Valois, which includes Pierrefonds, into a Duchy and gave the fortress and surrounding land to his brother Louis, Duke of Orleans. The chateau was rebuilt during 1393-1407. The castle was later besieged and torn down by Louis XIII at the beginning of the 17th century, but due to the enormity of the task, much of the castle remained with the exception of the roofs and the holes made in the towers and curtain walls. For nearly two centuries the castle laid in ruins, until Napoleon I bought it in 1810 for less than 3,000 francs. The fortress was restored and declared a national historic interest in 1848. The BBC used the castle for their filming of the series, Merlin. The castle was also used in the filming of Highlander series and a cut scene of the castle was used for Disney’s, Wizards of Waverly Place.
Egekov Castle is located in Southern Funen, Denmark. The castle is Europe’s best-preserved Renaissance water castle. Egekov Castle was constructed by Frands Brockenhuus in 1554. The castle is located in a small lake, which was originally only accessible by a drawbridge. The structure consists of two long houses that connect by a double wall. This allowed defenders to abandon one section of the castle and continue fighting from the other building. The double wall is over a meter thick and has secret stairwells and a water well to supply the needed sustenance during a siege. The outer walls have machicolations for dropping solids or liquids on enemies below. According to legend, it took an entire forest of oak trees to build the defensive fortress, hence the name Egekov, which means oak forest.
At the moment, I’m rereading A Vengeful Earl before sending it to my editor. AVE is book two in the Bewildering Love series. This story focuses upon The Earl of Sinclair and his plan to ruin Lady Lydia Witley and her family. Of course the earl realizes he has erred in his plan for vengeance and falls hopelessly in love with Lydia. The third book in this series is called The Lady Charmer and it is finished. TLC is a story about the abused heroine Kate Bancroft and the arrogant, but ever so charming Marquis of Geary who comes to her rescue. TLC begins in America, but detours to the pirate island of Watling’s, before ending in England.
I’m a quarter of a way through a rough draft for book two in the Wintergale Orchards series, titled Love With Purpose, which is yet to be released. I shall continue work on this novel as soon as I finish proofreading my next releases.
I’m tweaking book three in my time travel Destiny series. I may release this time travel before my next historical, but I’ve yet to decide. This is the story about Phoebe Bennett, the Tudor lady who finds herself in Regency England. I’ve titled it, A Tudor Displaced. Phoebe is a feisty heroine who is bound to drive the Earl of Insley crazy. I have also started book four in this series, but the time traveler is a surprise and I don’t want to give any spoilers. Because these books overlap, I need to make sure everything flows well from one book to the next. This is the reason these stories can take longer to publish.
I’ve written my own Cinderella story called The Wallflower’s Godmother. I absolutely love it, but it is still a work in progress. This story has more of a spiritual aspect to it that I will likely turn into a series. After all, the heroine does have a younger brother.
I started working on book two of The Courtesan series. For some reason, I’m not yet sure where I wish to take this story and so I’ve stepped away from it for a while. It will come to me.
Lately, I’ve blogged articles about Falconry, Regency Dances, and St James’s Palace. Aside from that, I’m enjoying the summer with my family and I recently returned from a fun trip to Nashville. And now I should likely get back to work.
St James’s Palace is located in the City of Westminster in London, England. The palace was commissioned by King Henry VIII on the site of a former leper hospital for women. The hospital was dedicated to Saint James the Less, who was one of the twelve Apostles of Christ. When the inhabitants of the hospital died from the Black Death, the buildings were leased to various occupiers until 1439, when King Henry VI granted the hospital along with the surrounding land to Eton College. In 1531 King Henry VIII took the hospital and lands from the college in trade for royal lands elsewhere. The hospital was eliminated in 1531 and construction for King Henry VIII’s secondary palace took place from 1531-1536. The palace was commissioned as a hunting lodge, close to the official royal residence of Whitehall Palace as well as the Royal Deer Park. King Henry VIII enclosed 300 acres of land for his hunting preserve, this enclosure survived as St James’s Park. St James’s Palace is one of London’s oldest palaces and is steeped in history. It was the residence for many kings and queens over the centuries.
The palace was constructed in the Tudor style with red brick, and in time, the structure spread to include four courtyards. These courtyards are currently known as Ambassadors’ Court, Engine Court, Friary Court, and Colour Court. The palace’s gatehouse is one of the surviving elements from the Tudor Period and is located on the north side, flanked by polygonal turrets with mock battlements. The Chapel Royal, the gatehouse, and two Tudor rooms in the State Department still survive. In one of these rooms there is a fireplace that still bears the love-knot initials of Henry and Anne Boleyn. The palace was one of the grandest buildings of its time and Henry VIII’s insignia, the letters HR surmounted by a crown, can still be seen upon the gatehouse.
King Charles I took up residence at the palace upon his marriage. After being defeated for a second time in the English Civil War in 1649, the doomed king decided to spend his last night at St James’s Palace so he would not have to listen to the noise of his scaffold being built. He took his last Holy Communion in the palace’s Royal Chapel the morning of his execution.
In 1689 the palace became the principal residence for King William III and Queen Mary II after Whitehall Palace (the former principal royal residence) was destroyed in a fire. From then on, St James’s Palace became the administrative center for the monarchy.
In 1809, St James’s Palace suffered through a fire causing the destruction of the monarch’s private apartments. These apartments were not replaced, in turn leaving the Queen’s Chapel in isolation. Marlborough Road now runs between the two buildings.
The State rooms were restored in 1813. The Prince Regent was living at Carlton House at this time, but four of his brothers were provided houses within St James’s Palace walls. The Prince Regent became King George IV and later married Caroline of Brunswick at the palace. Queen Victoria also married Prince Albert in the Chapel Royal in 1840.
George IV’s third son, King William IV was the last sovereign to use St James’s Palace as a residence. The palace remains the official residence of the sovereign, since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, although the sovereign currently lives at Buckingham Palace. St James’s Palace is used for official functions and for ceremonial purposes, and is not accessible to the public. The Queen’s Guard, consisting of regiments of the British Army, are responsible for guarding the palace. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place in the Friary Court everyday in the summer at 11:00 am, and on alternate days in the winter.
A special thank you to British History Online and The British Monarchy.
My favorite animal happens to be the hawk, although the falcon is a close second. Birds of prey fascinate me. I find myself stopping my car often to take pictures of hawks that I see in the wild. Hunting with raptors is believed to have been initiated in Mesopotamia as early as 2000 BC. Falconry is believed to have been introduced to Europe around 400 AD.
Falconry is an art that requires long hours, devotion, and skill. Training a bird to fly free, hunt for quarry, and return to captivity isn’t easy and there are texts dating back as far as the 12th century that cover the subject. Birds of prey were one of the most sophisticated and sought after means of hunting for food. (A European Goshawk can catch up to 20 game birds a day. Hares and pheasants are the game often taken by raptors.)
Falconry became a popular sport and a symbol of status among the nobles of Medieval Europe, the Middle East, and the Mongolian Empire. The reason falconry became a noble pursuit was due to the time commitment, money, and space needed to house the raptors. Falconry became a status symbol long after the practice fell out of favor. The richest nobles were expected to keep a full falconry, with different birds meant to hunt different kinds of prey.
In the 14th century, falconry was so widespread that inns provided perches for the birds of prey to sit, since some falconers did not wish to part from their raptors. A good falconer was hard to find and noble households likely partook in bidding wars to gain the best services. Henri VIII was known as an avid falconer and his falconry mews were claimed to be larger than his stables. Mary Queen of Scots had loved to fly merlins. Shakespeare also tended to like fitting falconry into his plays. Raptors were often given as gifts to kings. This gift was usually the Gyrfalcons, for they were the most costly.
Perhaps an everlasting gifting custom.
According to The Boke of St. Albans’ in the 15th century, different raptors were assigned to people of different ranks in society. A person could not fly a bird of higher rank than them. The hierarchy seems to have evolved around the price of the raptors and it is not known if this list was strictly followed.
Emperor - Eagle or Vulture (FYI, vultures were not used in falconry and yet they are on this list, I assume this is because they are considered a bird of prey)
Prince - Peregrine Falcon
Duke - Falcon of the Rock (another name for Peregrine)
Knight - Saker or Sakeret
Squire - Lanner or Lanneret
Lady - Merlin
Youngman - Hobby
Yeoman - Goshawk
Priest - Sparrowhawk
Holywater Clerk - Musket
Knave/ Servant - Kestrel
In England, falconry reached its peak in the 17th century, but loss favor in 18th and 19th centuries due to firearms becoming the weapon of choice. It was much easier to look after a gun than a raptor and the gun provided more food. Although the UK did see a rise of interest in falconry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this was believed to be the result of a large number of falconry books published at the time.
In 1801, Joseph Strutt of England wrote, “the ladies not only accompanied the gentlemen in pursuit of the diversion (falconry), but often practiced it by themselves; and even excelled the men in knowledge and exercise of the art.” Seems the ladies of the Regency Period may have been bird whisperers. A lady’s bird of choice was usually the merlin, a small falcon.
Although, I’d love to own a hawk or a falcon, I’m happiest when I see them flying high above. Currently, there are an estimated 4,000 falconers in the US, with roughly 5,000 birds. Falconry, nowadays, refers to anyone who flies a bird of prey. The Harris Hawk is used often today, since this species flies in groups, allowing falconers to fly several at a time. Falconry is also known as hawking.
A special thank you to Joseph Strutt, Sports and Pastimes of the People of England.
Eilean Donan Castle is located on a small island in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland. The castle is situated on the island at the point where three great sea lochs meet. This picturesque castle was built in the mid-13th century, although people inhabited the island around the 6th century. During the 13th century, the castle walls enclosed much of the island. Eilean Donan provided a strong defense against Norse expeditions. At a later date, the castle became a stronghold for the Mackenzie clan. The castle has undergone four different versions of itself, having been built and re-built. It was partially destroyed in a Jacobite rising in 1719 and laid in ruins for 200 years. Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and restored the castle. He had an arched bridge constructed to allow easier access to the castle. Eilean Donan Castle is reputed to be the most photographed castle in Scotland and is open to the public.
St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island (meaning its connected to the mainland by a causeway) off the Mount’s Bay coast of Cornwall, England. The island is united with the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway created of granite setts, which are passable at mid and low tide, and by boat at high tide. A medieval church and castle are the oldest buildings on this rocky island and they date back to the 14th century. These monastic buildings were built after an earthquake in 1275 destroyed the original priory church. St Michael’s Mount is one of 43 tidal islands that can be walked to from mainland Britain without a bridge.
Gravenstein Castle in located in Ghent, Belgium. Count Philip of Alsace built the current castle in the Middle Ages in 1180. The structure was modeled after a castle Philip encountered while on his second crusade in Syria. The castle is situated in the heart of Ghent, where the battlements overlook the city. A 9th century fortress built by Count Boudewijn had originally sat upon the site. The name Gravenstein stands for “castle of the count” in Dutch. The Gravenstein Castle has been a coin manufacturer, a prison, and a textile factory. It is now open for the touring public.
Saint Vitus Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Prague. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. Coronations of Czech kings and queens also took place here. The cathedral displays Gothic architecture and is the largest and most important church in the country. Located within Prague Castle complex, the cathedral contains many tombs of Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors. The cathedral was built upon the site of a rotunda from the early 10th century. The present day Gothic Cathedral was founded in 1344. The cathedral is the third church built on this site, all dedicated to St. Vitus. Saint Vitus Cathedral is owned by the Czech government.
Dancing is a way to let go and to move your body in a manner that may seem silly to some, but it’s a wonderful form of exercise and self-expression. Whenever I’m at a function where there’s dancing, I find myself completely entertained by watching the dance moves of others. Dancing, of course, has evolved through the years, but people have been using different forms of dance since prehistoric times. Dancing is depicted on tomb walls in India and Egypt from as earlier as 3300 BC.
Dancing in Regency England was a large part of the courting process. Gentlemen would often ask young ladies to dance so they could speak without being overheard by the lady’s chaperone, which was not easily accomplished otherwise. This courting process made dancing an important skill to learn and it was considered a necessary accomplishment.
The great country homes held lavish balls and many gentile towns had an assembly room for dancing. One of the most well known assembly rooms in London was Almack’s.
See blog on Almack’s. http://www.lahilden.com/index.php?categoryid=6&p2_articleid=72
At Almack’s people had to purchase a subscription and obtain a voucher to be admitted, and only the influential were permitted. So if you were to make a good match for marriage, it was important that you learned how to dance. To achieve this end, dancing masters were hired and dance studios opened. From the waltz to the cotillion, the dance floor is where flirting and lively conversation thrived and where two young people could find love.
In the early part of the Regency era, up until 1810, the country-dance, the cotillion, and the scotch reel dominated the ballroom.
The country-dance was a dance performed with a line of couples facing each other. These dances often began with each paired couple dancing from the top of the line to the bottom and then returning to their place back in line. Depending on the number of people dancing, this could take an hour to complete. The leading lady, who was considered to be in a position of honor, would decide the steps and music to be danced to.
The cotillion was a patterned dance imported from France, which was performed with four couples in a square formation and used elaborate dance steps. The changing of partners within the square occurs during this dance, which allowed for introductions, and of course, more flirting. The cotillion was introduced to England around 1766. It reached America by 1772.
The scotch reel was popular in folk music. All reels have the same structure, but reels are distinguished from a hornpipe by having primarily even beats. The scotch reel is a lively dance. There were many reels, such as the Foursome reel or the Axum reel. Reels usually have two parts and in most reels each part is repeated, but in some they are not. The dancers alternate from solo dancing by facing each other with intertwining progressive movement. The threesome reel is said to date back to the late 16th century and it looks much like the traditional Irish step dancing of today.
In the 1810’s things began to heat up on the dance floor as English dance began a transition with the arrival of the quadrille and the wicked waltz.
The Waltz was introduced around 1810, but it was in no way considered an acceptable form of dance. A person embracing another on the dance floor was a scandalous concept. The waltz was not readily accepted in England until continental visitors, in celebration after the Napoleonic wars, took to the dance floor to perform the waltz. Although I should point out that anti-waltz diatribes continued in the form of jokes and caricatures.
The quadrille was first imported from France by Lady Jersey (one of the leading patronesses of Almack’s) and it was a shorter version of the earlier cotillions. Dancers were assembled into five or six figures. The changing of partners was left out, producing shorter dances. These dances became quite popular and a lady could find herself dancing many quadrilles before the night was through.
There were many dances that came into being during the Regency period as dancing masters began to invent new forms of the country-dance, while borrowing forms from the quadrille. Some of these dances had exotic names, but most of these new dances held minor variations from the classic form.
Regency dancing did not die out with the era for there are many groups around the world who partake in English period dances. One place Regency dance has gained in popularity is at science fiction conventions. Is anyone else as surprised by this as I am? John Hertz, a SF fan, lawyer, and fanzine author, has made Regency dance a tradition at the SF conventions in the US since the 1980’s and it continues to this day. This allows the SF community, who often wear costumes to the convention, to enjoy the period clothing and costume of the Regency Era. In these reconstructed ballroom settings, one can dance the night away to Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn. All three of these men wrote dance music, but that’s a topic for another blog.
Books are believed to have the power to change us and influence how we see the world and others. We know that pictures, music, and even simple words can evoke feeling and memories, and so it makes sense that stories would influence us as well. Novels have the ability to make us laugh and make us cry, but do they really have the ability to change how we behave?
According to a recent study of 500 people in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology done by Geoff Kaufman, Tiltfactor Laboratories at Dartmouth College and Lisa Libby of Ohio State, “the act of identifying with a fictional character also means we subconsciously adopt their behavior.” Kaufman and Libby claim this happens most often in first person narratives. So in essence, we become more like the characters we read. Have you ever been reading a book and thought, yep, I’d have behaved in the same way as this character if that were to happen to me. Or perhaps you are in a real-life situation and you ask, what would (insert latest kick-butt heroine you read) do? I certainly believe learning can be gained from reading novels of all sorts and I believe some of the knowledge can be used in daily life.
Brain scans have also been conducted in this research. The research showed that as we read fictional stories our brain is stimulated, in turn this stimulation could change the way we act. Experts suggest that reading becomes a way to exercise our real-life social skills. Scientists, Dr. Oatley (University of Toronto) and Dr. Mar (York University-Canada), along with several other scientists, reported that “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”
When we look at the New York Times or USA Today’s Best-Seller List it becomes easier to see what people are reading, but are they connecting with these characters in a phenomenon called “experience-taking?”
Since 50 Shades of Gray is an erotica that captured worldwide attention and sat on the N.Y.T. Best Seller List for many weeks, this had me thinking. Books are a type of escapism, where voyeurism plays a part in creating fantasy, but do we really believe we can make fantasy a reality? In many ways I’d have to say yes, if you believe in something or wish to participate in quilt making after reading about it, then I’m sure you can make that happen. Manifestation of anything is a huge part of getting what we want in life. Hence, you can in part, live in the shoes of the character you love. We had some good laughs on Goodreads over what this research means for murder, thriller readers. Although books may influence, we should never allow them to lead us into trouble or negative behavior.
Another positive in the study was the influence novels have on changing readers’ views in regards to minorities and gays. In the study, those who read the gay narrative had a more favorable attitude toward homosexuality after their reading, leading the researchers to believe that environment also plays a role. This type of attitude shift can be seen in television as well with shows like Modern Family, which aid to move public view in a nonjudgmental direction. Of course there are films, movies, and books that do the complete opposite by instilling and resurrecting racism and intolerance.
The Journal’s study suggests that having a deep connection to fictional characters can have an impact, but their research does not claim these changes in the reader are long lasting. Kaufman claims the reason this doesn’t hold true with television is because “you are a spectator, and so it is harder to imagine yourself as the character.” I find myself disagreeing with this conclusion for I can often imagine myself in the shoes of the characters I watch on television, and the previous example of Modern Family, tends to prove that even if we can’t imagine ourselves as an on screen character, that does not mean we don’t empathize with the drama unfolding.
But what about non-fiction? According to the studies, we read non-fiction with a shield of skepticism, but we drop our guard when reading fictional stories and become more moved emotionally. They conclude that changes of thought occur more often in people who read fiction when compared to non-fiction.
My opinion is that books do have the ability to shape the way we think and treat others, but for the majority of books we read, their influence is short lived. I remember being fascinated by Dante’s Inferno in my English Literature class at U of M. When I read The Divine Comedy and we discussed the many possible meaning for Dante’s words, I likely did view things differently, but many years have passed since then and all I can recall of the story is the different rings of hell. Yes, I should reread it, but it is very unlikely. I have far too many books waiting to be read. My point is that our memory becomes faulty and we don’t remember the stories and characters as clearly as we once did, which lessens their influence. Plus our thoughts evolve through our real-life experiences, thus changing our views. I do believe books like The Divine Alignment by Squire Rushnell have the ability to change views and encourage spirituality, which is a positive and I recommend you read it, even if its influence is short lived. The stories Rushnell shared in the novel often moved me to tears and I found myself logging onto the Internet for more research on all manner of things when I finished the book. To me a sign of a good book is one that not only moves me emotionally, but one that makes me think. Research consistently shows that fiction molds us, and the deeper involved we become in the story, the more potential the story has to influence.
A special thank you to: Anne Murphy, Your Brain on Fiction. Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The Regency happens to be one of my favorite times in history, which is likely the reason the majority of my books take place during this time. The Regency era in the United Kingdom is the period between 1811-1820. This is the period when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled in his father’s proxy as Prince Regent. The prince became King George IV upon his father’s death.
I should also note that the term Regency Period sometimes refers to a larger time frame in history from 1793-1837, which includes the beginning of the war with France and William IV’s reign. Regardless of the time frame, the Regency Period is noted for its elegance and achievements.
Although an era of excess and decadence for the aristocracy, the time was also one of uncertainty caused by the Napoleonic wars, periodic riots, Catholic emancipation, rapid industrialization, and fear of England falling in the way of the French Revolution. Despite the social, political, and economical changes occurring at the time, the Regency was a period of great refinement and accomplishment, shaping the future of Britain’s society.
The Prince Regent was a great patron of the arts and the upper class flourished in a type of mini-Renaissance under his rule. With the help of architect, John Nash, the Regent commissioned the Brighton Pavilion and the refurbishing of Carlton house with a lavishness that his people found extravagant. He ordered the building of numerous public works and architecture, but unfortunately he used the treasury for his exuberant projects, in turn passing the costs onto his people.
The affluent continued to flourish, but the downtrodden continued to struggle to rise above their plight. There was a wide gap between rich and poor, while simultaneously England saw a rise of the middle class in the form of merchants, bankers, and shipping companies. In the seedy areas of London, thievery, womanizing, gambling, alcoholism, and rookeries were a part of the everyday. From 1801 to 1820 the population boom increased from under one million, to one and a quarter million. The squalor that existed in these areas bared a striking difference from high Society and the Regent’s social circles. Poverty was rarely addressed and with the retirement of King George III, the more pious and reserved society had given way to a more frivolous one, in part due to the Regent’s influence. The Regent was kept away from military and political strife by his ministers and he allowed them full charge over government matters. This led to the prince seeking his own pleasures and entertainments. He accomplished this by overindulgence, be it wine, women, gambling, spending, and revelry, the Regent seemed to care little for the debt he accrued and many of his people were distressed by his over-the-top expenditures. It is believed the Regent’s hatred for his father is what drove him to ally himself with the Whig opposition in Parliament. The Regent also involved himself in a secret marriage with Maria Fitzherbert in 1785, which was deemed invalid. In 1795 he married Princess Caroline of Brunswick, though he loathed her on sight.
Taxes were rife during this era. People were not only expected to pay taxes to the Government and King, but also to the Church. The wide-ranging extent of taxes was extreme, for example, a window tax expected from anyone with a window. These taxes rose in proportion to the number and size of your windows. As a result, those who could not afford the tax were forced to brick up their windows.
Due to the industrial revolution, people began to leave the farms and countryside to find work in the cities factories. This shift from rural to urban life, led to the growth of slums and pollution.
Technological advances at this time included the steam printer. In 1814, The Times adopted steam technology and increased production capabilities. In turn this sparked the production of popular novels, in which many rumors of the aristocracy were often hinted between the pages. Authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens began social commentaries on the people and classes of their time through fictional novels that were based on truths. Due to the large gap in the hierarchy of society, the upper classes were often viewed with wonder and awe, and novels sold well, in part due to this interest. The invention of steam engines, railroads, gas lighting, and even stethoscopes, altered the landscape of everyday Regency life.
The Regency is often described as a time of British decadence, an era of lavish parties, mistresses, and lecherous behavior. And yet at the same time it encompassed a society of strict rules and proper decorum. It was a time when men copied the dress of Beau Brummell (see previous article on Brummell http://www.lahilden.com/index.php?categoryid=6&p2_articleid=91) and ladies followed the latest fashions of La Belle Assemblée.
London was the epic center of the Regency universe. The aristocracy flocked to the city during the Season, which was from March until June, when Parliament was in session. The aristocracy held themselves to a stringent moral code of conduct and expected it to be followed. A young lady could easily find her voucher to Almack’s revoked if she failed to curtsey at the appropriate depth to the leading patronesses. And although young hopeful ladies entered Society in search for a husband, marriages were seldom based upon love. Marriages were often arranged, and a good match was usually based upon a person’s title, income, and placement in society. Young ladies did not have careers, their goal was to wed and anything less portrayed them as a failure.
So why do I love a period so bogged down by rules and moral structure? I would have to say it is because of the excitement that can occur when one breaks the rules. When there are so many rules, are they not then often broken? And when they are broken, what are the consequences? Can the results from breaking the rules be overcome by our natural inclination of love for another, regardless of circumstance? For me, bringing a hero and heroine together amidst these obstacles can be very dynamic and the history that I find fascinating serves to further demonstrate the power of a great passion and unstoppable love.
Thank you to the University of Southern Queensland and An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England.