Thursday, August 28, 2008


Serendipity was a word invented by Horace Walpole, inveterate letter-writer and gossip of the Georgian age. The man knew everybody, chatted to everybody, and thank the fates, most of his letters are available for us to read today. We probably know a huge amount more than we would have done, just about everyday living to an upper-class man of the era, a man about town.
Primary data, is the dry title given to this kind of research. Sounds boring, doesn't it? Anything but. Immersing yourself in a letter of the period is as good as reading a racy novel. Better, sometimes. Ephemera is the name given to the stuff people often throw away, but has sometimes survived. Letters, newspapers, journals, diaries, gossip-sheets, of which there were plenty in the Georgian era.
We tend to think of gossip as something that is particular to our own age, but that is far from the truth. As long as man has been alive, there has been gossip. The caveman probably kept an eye on his neighbour, just to see what he was up to, and passed the information along in idle chat while he and his colleague were crouched by a rock, waiting for the next mammoth to come along. And in the Georgian era, with characters like Horace Walpole and Hervey (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu said there were three species - men, women and Herveys) the age didn't lack for talented and witty gossip-mongers.
I suppose I'm thinking about it now because my work-in-progress, a modern-set paranormal, features, as its heroine, a gossip columnist. One that is paid for the dirt she can dig up. But even there, these people have their standards. Why do we worry about the antics of Paris Hilton and her friends, and why do some people turn up their noses and say they're not interested?
I don't really know, but it's interesting. And as long as people chat, there'll be gossip.

1 comment:

Dennis, Viscount of Stokington said...


I was once honoured to be ushered into the presence of the Earl of Orford--of course, he was quite aged at that time--but I found him to be the most delightful raconteur, and his continued writings were in turn an inspiration for my own memoirs, which can be found here, in the scandalous "weblogue" format. Lord Orford clearly has influenced the fine ladies who compose your literary society, as many of them are concerned with precisely the same issues of rank and romance that consumed the Right Honourable Earl of Orford. May your days of writing continue indefinitely!

*Post-script: I recommend The Castle of Otranto.