Saturday, November 27, 2010

Genteel Occupations for the Regency Lady

With two books out in December, both of which have heroines who start out as well-behaved young ladies (even if that doesn't last long!) I was interested to see how they could pass their time when they were not being romanced by dashing cavalry officers (The Officer & the Proper Lady) or mysterious adventurers (Innocent Courtesan to Adventurer's Bride).

Writing letters was a major occupation every day and with numerous postal deliveries in London messages could be exchanged with almost modern speed. This charming lady (Ackermann 1813) is wearing morning dress and a pretty cap while she catches up with her correspondence.

Reading was another unexceptional pastime - provided the book wasn't one of those shocking Minerva press novels - and so much the better if it could be combined with a healthy walk in the countryside. The lady engrossed in her book is from Journal des Dames et des Modes (1811). Perhaps she's reading sermons, but somehow I doubt it.

Every young lady was supposed to be proficient at sketching and to record charming scenes with pencil or watercolours. This rather rakish young lady is another from the Journal, this time 1801. Her expression suggests something more interesting than a stll life - I wonder if she is drawing a gentleman?

The scene below from a memorandum book of 1805 is certainly more proper. Two very smartly dressed ladies have called to see their friend engaged in painting another friend's portrait.

Memorandum books often showed charming groups of ladies engaged in fashionable pursuits. Proficiency at music was considered even more important than drawing and here there is both a harp and a pianoforte (1805). I think the friends are planning their music for an evening reception - perhaps the one leaning on the piano is agreeing what she will sing with the pianist while the lady with the harp - a more elegant and expensive instrument to learn - looks on. No doubt they are hoping that eligible young gentlemen will join in duets or turn the music for them.

Craft work was also considered a suitable occupation for a lady. One might make a reticule, create a scrap-covered screen, grow ferns on the windowsill or net a snood for your hair.

An interest in natural history was unexceptional - shells and coral were collected and seaweed pressed to make pictures.

Very adventurous ladies might create a shell grotto in the garden or turn a summerhouse into an "Alpine" cabin with pine cones. These friends from another memorandum book of 1805 are admiring a collection of shells and corals which look very exotic and probably, expensive. Or did a relative in the navy or the East India Company collect them and send them back to be marvelled over?

Louise Allen


sarah mallory said...

What a wonderful collection of pictures, Louise. No reason at all why any young lady should be bored!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I really enjoyed this post, Louise.

It was lovely to have illustrations to the various pastimes you find in Jane Austen. Elinor Dashwood sketches, if I remember rightly. Mary Crawford, of course, has her harp. Mary Bennet sings - after a fashion - and Mr Bennet has to stop her. Maria and Julia Bertram 'waste gold paper' obviously doing some sort of craft work.

Sarah's right. There's no reason why any young lady should be bored. It's just a different sort of busyness.

Lynne Connolly said...

I really enjoyed this, thank you!