Thursday, August 25, 2016

Costume Evidence and the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen

The first part of this post is taken from Ellie Bennett's blog on Jane Austen Portraits.
Ellie has done a lot of recent research on the background to the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen, which is fascinating! I hope you'll have a look.

'The earliest instance I can find of a puffed sleeve is in the portrait of Princess Augusta by Sir W Beechey 1802. Until 1800 sleeves are straight and tight.'
Madeleine Ginsberg, Senior Research Assistance (Costume) Department of Textiles, Victoria and Albert Museum, in a letter to John Kerslake at the National Portrait Museum dated 14 January 1975.

Madeleine Ginsberg presumably was unaware of this well known portrait by George Romney of Anna Maria Hunt. As I've said before, we now have the benefit of the internet, which was not available to experts in years gone by.
Anna Maria Hunt sat seven times for Romney at his studio during 1791 and he completed the portrait over the next two years. The portrait is owned by the National Trust and is at Lanhydrock House, near Lostwithiel in Cornwall.

Mistakes happen of course, but how much more evidence needs to be provided before the V&A, the Courtauld Institute of Art and/or the National Portrait Gallery concede that the experts were mistaken to date the dress in the Rice Portrait to c1805? Are any of them prepared to announce that the dress could date to the late eighteenth century? If not then this begs the question - why are they so resistant? There is no doubt whatsoever about the dating of this portrait as Romney himself records the dates he painted it. The portrait was commissioned by Anna Maria Hunt's uncle and delivered to his home at Seymour Place, London on 20 June 1793.

Ellie Bennett

Below is a blog I wrote some years ago on costume evidence for the Rice Portrait.

When examining the ‘Rice Portrait’ and costume evidence it must be noted that Jane Austen was a young adolescent in 1788, not yet thirteen, and therefore was still wearing children’s dress as she was not yet 'out'. The lower waisted dresses of adult fashion would not yet have been assumed. In a household where reading formed such a large part of the Austen family’s leisure time, it is highly probable that philosophers like Rousseau and Locke, not to mention family connections like Jane’s cousin Eliza de Feuillide who lived in France for a while, might influence the dress of their children.
John Russell, A Young Girl, 1780

Up until the 1750s the dress of children largely echoed that of their parents, but in the second half of the eighteenth century a new idea of ‘childhood’ was emerging, which influenced dress styles for children. The change has been said to have been brought about by the writings of Rousseau published in 1762, but he himself had been influenced by John Locke, the philosopher, who writing in 1688, condemned the then widespread practice of swaddling children, which robbed infants of their physical freedom. The theory was put forward that children should be allowed more freedom from constraint, which once established in infancy started to extend into the period of childhood, and was one taken up by the aristocracy, the gentry, and the middle classes in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Anne Buck (Dress in Eighteenth Century England) writes: The period between the age of three or four until the age of thirteen or fourteen acquired an identity of its own and its own style of dress…From 1760s the frock and sash began to take over completely. The age for continuing to wear it, in best dress as well as everyday dress, gradually rose, until by the 1780s it was being worn by girls in their early teens in all dress.

The Corbet Family, Ben Marshall, 1792
She further states: The significance of these new forms of dress for children is not only that they changed children’s dress, but that adult changes were foreshadowed in them and were apparent here before clearly emerging in adult dress.

The teen Jane Austen in the ‘Rice Portrait’ is clearly wearing the simple muslin dress that children and young adolescent girls had been wearing since the 1760s. It is virtually impossible in portraiture to find any two dresses that were exactly alike, as they were individual, hand-made garments, but dresses tended to be fuller before 1800, and usually showed the characteristic ‘banding’ that can be seen in Jane’s dress.

Lillian and Ted Williams who are experts in eighteenth century costume wrote about Jane’s dress in the ‘Rice Portrait’. Some of Lillian’s collection has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Musée de la Mode and the Louvre in Paris.

Jane Austen, Ozias Humphry, 1788
Having carefully examined the actual portrait, as opposed to its reproduction, we find several elements that clearly suggest an eighteenth century dating starting in the late 1780s. We ourselves have owned several eighteenth century gowns similar to the one pictured in the Rice Portrait. In the Rice Portrait, we note the fullness of the cut of the dress with substantial distribution of its fabric around the bodice rather than trained in the rear in the later Empire style. Furthermore, the gauze gathered around the neckline – which is not discernible in many photographic reproductions – is consistent with late eighteenth century garniture. Finally, the shoes and certainly the parasol with its fringe of cut green silk are consistent with the same period. As far as dating is concerned, the width of the ribbon at the bodice is of no consequence one way or the other in our view.

 The parasol Jane holds offers us another clue when dating the picture. Until around 1800, green was the main colour for the cover, perhaps a reddish complexion would appear paler in its shade, and surely would have been significant for Jane who is said to have disliked her pink complexion. After 1800, parasols seem generally to have become much smaller, the size and shape of a handkerchief, and a shorter shaft.

The print on the left, Beauty in Search of Knowledge, 1782, shows a lady carrying a green parasol, which looks very similar to the one that Jane is holding.
By 1809, the parasol on the right is more decorative and smaller.
Professor Marilyn Butler, a leading expert on Austen studies said in an article for the Times newspaper in 2003 that, 'There was a big fad for green umbrellas around 1788, at the time the portrait was painted. This reference does seem to be an emphatic memory.'

The 'emphatic memory' she is referring to is a reference to Sanditon, her final, unfinished work.
In the mean while we have the canvas awning, which gives us the most complete comfort within doors — & you can get a Parasol at Whitby's for little Mary at any time, or a large Bonnet at Jebb's — And as for the Boys, I must say I would rather them run about in the sunshine than not. I am sure we agree my dear, in wishing our Boys to be as hardy as possible." –"Yes indeed, I am sure we do -  And I will get Mary a little parasol, which will make her as proud as can be. How grave she will walk about with it and fancy herself quite a little woman..." For more information on the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen please visit the website.Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

If you go to Derbyshire...

If you go to Derbyshire and have time to spare, there is so much to see!
There are the well-known treasures of course – Chatsworth in all its glory, the wonders of the Peak, Dovedale and its romantic associations. But there are also little hidden corners I never knew much about until June this year, when I came across this delightful book, ‘Romantic Haunts of Derbyshire’  by Jill Armitage (still available at Amazon apparently).

This is where I first heard of the ‘Gretna of the Peak’, a little chapel in the Derbyshire White Peak, that came to be beyond the jurisdiction of English bishops and thus became a beacon to couples eager to be married without waiting for the banns to be read (you can read more about it here). Sadly, the original chapel is no longer there. It was demolished in 1876 and replaced with the present church.

The book is full of stories of thwarted love, wedding customs, jousting for a lady’s hand, crimes of passion and elopements. Some of the latter are quite famous, such as that of Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall and John Manners, the younger son of the Earl of Rutland. While a fairly good match in terms of wealth and status, the young lovers were kept apart by religious conflict. John Manners, from a Protestant family richly rewarded with monastic land for their part in the dissolution of abbeys and monasteries, was considered wholly unsuitable for the daughter of a staunch Catholic. Yet they eloped (Dorothy allegedly escaped through the back entrance and down the steps still named after her), got married and in true fairytale style, lived happily ever after.

Others were not so lucky. In a reversal of the traditional plot of Regency romances with couples eloping to Gretna Green, there is the story of Alan and Clara who, in April 1758, decided to elope from their native Scotland to the ‘Gretna of the Peak’ because her well-off father would not countenance Clara marrying a penniless labourer. They undertook the perilous journey, only to come to a grisly end in Winnats Pass, a limestone gorge outside of Castleton. Clara’s attire was sufficient proof of her wealth to attract notice at the last inn where they stopped to ask for directions, and they were set upon and murdered as they tried to make their way through the gorge.

There are places known as the ‘Lovers Leap’ in many parts of Derbyshire. There is a famous one in Dovedale and lesser known ones in the village of Stoney Middleton and in the charming market town of Winster. Exquisitely unspoilt, Winster has not lost any of its Georgian beauty. One of its most attractive buildings is Winster Hall, a period property of understated elegance, halfway down the main street. We can still admire its fine lines and graceful features, but few know of the tragic lovers’ leap connected to it. Apparently one of the daughters of the house had formed a very unsuitable attachment to none other than the family coachman. The parents would not condone it, needless to say, and she was compelled to engage herself to a man more suited to her position. But it is said that on the night before her wedding the star-crossed lovers climbed to the top of the house and jumped over the balustrade together. And life often surpasses fiction.

But enough of grim stories of unhappy lovers. The ‘Romantic Haunts of Derbyshire’ tells of fortunate lovers’ leaps too, such as the tale of another couple heading to the ‘Gretna of the Peak’ in defiance of their parents who would not let them marry. Just as their angry pursuers were gaining on them, after a dramatic chase where the lady’s horse lost a shoe, she and her groom-to-be rode hell for leather together on his mount and, as they reached the spot where a wide gap stretched before them, they leapt and landed safely on the other side, while the pursuers did not have the nerve to follow. Again, stranger than fiction. If we read that in a novel or saw that in a film, we might think it was far-fetched.

I’m looking forward to going to Derbyshire again (to be honest, any excuse would do!). If you visit, I hope you’ll make many romantic discoveries of your own. I hope you enjoyed the post (despite the couple of grim tales in the middle). I certainly enjoyed researching for it and writing it.

It will be my last post at Historical and Regency Romance UK for a while, I have reached a point where unfortunately I’ll have to take a break from contributing, but I am extremely grateful for the warm welcome from the wonderful people here (much, much appreciated!) and also extremely grateful to all of you who have stopped by to read my posts. Many thanks, everyone, and I hope we’ll meet again online or who knows in what weird and wonderful places. All the best and wishing you happy trails!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Duelling Pistols

I’ve been writing a duel in my latest book, so I wanted to brush up on my research. My duel takes place in the mid 1750’s and it’s an affair of honour over a lady. The poor lady is like to be ruined by having two men fighting over her, but they’ll sort that out later!
In the mid 1770’s the “duelling code” was introduced, but this was after the time I’m writing. Nevertheless I used it as a general guide, since they were doing many of these things before.
First, duels were illegal. If a duellist killed his man, he could be prosecuted for murder. That rarely happened, partly because most duels weren’t to the death, and partly because duellists were rich and influential men.
What we see in a lot of films seems to be largely correct. The person challenged would choose the weapons, usually swords or pistols, but they could in theory choose anything. They would meet early in the day, somewhere quiet, but often word would get around and men would turn up to watch the duel and to bet on the outcome.
The combatants had seconds, and it was up to them to arrange matters like the meeting place, and getting their man there on time, and providing neutral weapons. They would examine the weapons to see if they were tampered with, and load the pistols, or sometimes provide them preloaded.
Although duelling was outlawed, and punishable by death if a member of the armed forces took part in one (if he wasn’t dead already!) that didn’t seem to stop determined participants. However, there were some trials, and they became public sensations. In 1736: Henry St Lawrence and Hamilton Gorges fought to the death, and Mr. Gorges stood trial for murder. He was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. The cause of the scandal involved the deaths of two of his family in a carriage accident.
And of course, Byron was involved in a duel, which led to his conviction for manslaughter. But the man was a walking scandal.
Some duels were over legal disputes – an argument over an inheritance which could have dragged on for years was settled in 1712 when the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Bohun met. Unfortunately, both were killed and their seconds found guilty of manslaughter.
If the participants were wounded, nobody came to court, but there was always that chance.
And the duelling pistols! They were the epitome of the gunsmith’s art. Although most people didn’t indulge in duelling, most men owned a pair of duelling pistols, because they were so beautiful. Not to mention costly! But looking at them today, all I can feel is a chill.

Lynne Connolly

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Benefits of a back list - Miss Peterson and the Colonel

US  UK  Pre-order. Out 25th August.
Miss Peterson and the Colonel will be the last book from my back list to be published on Amazon. I wrote nine books for Robert Hale, the first more than ten years ago, and then sixteen for DC Thomson – all these were Regency. I'd also written four World War II romantic sagas and one very long Victorian family saga. The agent I was with at the time failed to place any of them so they were hiding, unloved, in the recesses of my computer.
With the advent of indie publishing on Amazon I was able to recycle them. The secret of success as an independent author is to either be able to write at least six books a year or have, like me, a huge back list. It's taken four years to publish them all as I write five or six new titles every year as well.
Obviously writing a good book is important. However, finding your market, and having sufficient titles to satisfy that, is even more crucial. The advice I give to anyone starting out on the indie journey is to wait until you have at least three books edited, proofread and professionally covered before releasing the first.
I know a lot of writers complain bitterly about Kindle Unlimited (the subscription system for books in Kindle Select) having slashed their sales.Writing is a business like any other and if you want to be successful you need to find as many customers/readers as you can. Amazon provides the window for your books. If a reader likes the first one then they can download your entire back list – and frequently do.
I buy physical books for research and the hardback copies of Bernard Cornwall/Lee Child/Michael Connelly. It's actually cheaper to buy the hardback than the e-book because of the way five price their e-books. I love the fact that I can see the book I want to read and be able to read it minutes later.

Here is an extract from the first chapter of Miss Peterson and the Colonel:

Lydia grabbed at the strap as the carriage tilted but failed to stop her undignified slide into the well. Her maid landed heavily on top of her. For a moment she lay winded, unable to move.
'I beg your pardon, miss, I couldn't stop myself from falling.'
'It's not your fault, Martha. I think we must have broken an axle. I sincerely hope the horses are unharmed.' With some difficulty she extricated herself and stood up. 'At least we are both in one piece. If I balance on the edge of the seat I believe I might manage to open the door.' She attempted the manoeuvre and the coach rocked alarmingly.
'Please don't do that, Miss Peterson. You'll likely have us right over.'
'Why doesn't Jim come to our aid? Do you think he's taken a tumble from the box. As Billy has gone ahead to order our refreshments he cannot assist. I must get out.'
This time her struggles sent the coach crashing right over. Her world turned upside down, her legs and arms became entangled with Martha's and it was several minutes before she was able to get both of them upright. The doors were now the floor and ceiling, the squabs pointing into the air. The sound of her precious horses panicking meant she had no option. If she did not get out and release them from the harness one would likely break a leg.
Martha screamed and pointed down. Lydia saw water seeping in through the door that now acted as the floor. They must have turned over into the ditch that ran alongside the road. 'Hold onto something, Martha. I think if I could step on your knee I might reach the door handle somehow.'
Her smart travelling ensemble was ruined, the hem already saturated with muddy water and her spencer in no better case. Her lovely new bonnet was hanging in disarray around her neck. Her sister had been most insistent she dressed in her best to meet the colonel, as the much longed for visitor was to arrive today as well. She was not going to impress anyone now.
The whinnying and stamping from the team had stopped. Was this a good or bad sign? Before she had time to consider, the door above her head was slammed back and a gentleman appeared in the space. His features were indistinct, but from his voice he was obviously well-to-do.
'Why couldn't you stay still, ladies? You have turned a minor accident into a major disaster. I have released your horses and attended to your coachman, however, now that you've managed to tip the carriage over there is nothing I can do to get you out without assistance. You must stay inside.'
The incredibly rude gentleman vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared, leaving Lydia up to her boot tops in freezing water. 'Come back here this instant, sir. You cannot abandon us in here.'
He slammed his fist against the carriage and shouted back. 'I cannot right the vehicle unaided, and can't pull you out through the door. You will come to no harm, the ditch is shallow, I shall be back as soon as I can.'
Then he was gone, only the sound of hoofbeats echoing in the cold winter air to keep her company. This was no gentleman. He had callously left her and Martha without making a serious attempt to rescue them. He could be gone hours. What about poor Jim possibly unconscious on the side of the road?
She would not remain incarcerated a moment longer.
'Martha, let me stand on your knee. If you brace yourself against the seat I'm certain I can scramble out.'
'It's a good thing you're not as short as me, miss. I'd not reach if I tried.'
With her maid as a stool, she grasped the edges of the open door. 'Martha, give me a push.'
Her feet were grasped firmly and she rose steadily. Throwing herself forward, she tipped headlong through the door and slithered, skirts and petticoats flying, down the side to land with a thud in the road. 'I'm out, Martha. I shall come back to you in a moment. I must check on Jim and the horses first.'
Three of the team were standing dejectedly in the shelter of the hedge that bordered the lane. There was no sign of Jim and the fourth horse. Good grief! The wretched man had used the lead horse to convey her coachman. Surely it would have been better to wait until a cart could be brought round?
Too late to repine. She must get Martha out and her precious chestnuts to shelter. The White Queen could be no more than two miles away; that must be where her would-be rescuer had gone for help. The thought of him returning and castigating her a second time prompted her to take matters into her own hands.
'Martha, if I lower the reins to you, you must take hold of them. I shall attach the other end to one of the horses. I think it will be possible to pull you out.'
'I shall do my best, miss, but I'm a fair weight. I reckon they might not hold.'
With ingenuity and the help of Rufus, the most amenable of the remaining three horses, Martha emerged through the door a short while later. Lydia held her maid's boots and guided her to the ground. 'We are only a brief ride from the hostelry. If I lead you, do you think you could stay on board Rufus for that short distance?'

Martha viewed the animal with disfavour but nodded. 'I reckon even riding that beast is better than standing around here getting frozen to the marrow.'

Fenella J Miller

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Inside the Dolls House

When I was a child I had the most enormous dolls house. If it had been scaled up it would have been about 3 times the size of the house I actually lived in and maybe that was one of the reasons I liked it; because it felt so grand and spacious, and there was room for all of us to have our own space and move about without falling over each other. Also I could furnish and decorate it as I wanted rather than having someone else deciding that my room would be painted violet and pink, whether I liked it or not. Then I could people it with the brothers and sisters that I didn’t have, and make up their stories and adventures. It was a fantasy world that encourages story telling.

The earliest miniature houses have been found inside Egyptian tombs dating from the 3rd millennium BC. These came complete with models of people – including servants – furniture, pets and other animals and were thought to have a religious purpose. The first European “baby houses” as they were called, date from the seventeenth century. In those days, though, they were not intended for children. In fact children were kept well away from them and forbidden to touch them for fear of breakage. They consisted of cabinet display cases made up of individual rooms and contained detailed fixtures and fitting to reflect the fashions and designs of the time. They were status symbols, created by master craftsmen and built for the rich. When they were completed and furnished they were worth the same amount as an actual house! No wonder people wouldn’t let their children touch them!

The Tate Baby House, made in 1760, is one of the most famous dollhouses. It is designed as a stone built Palladian mansion with a pedimented front door and a steps sweeping up to it. Behind the façade is a very luxurious world with rooms adorned with plaster and panelling, tiny candelabra, miniature china, silk embroidered chairs and portraits in golden frames. Once again there is a detailed peek in the world of downstairs as well as upstairs with kitchens groaning with pots and pans and servants’ quarters with less lavish furniture.

This upstairs downstairs division was important as a way of teaching children the way that the social divisions in a house should work. Whilst the lady of the house sat at her embroidery, the servants scuttled around making the beds.

Some people wanted their dolls house to be the fantasy world they would have liked to live in. Inth century castellated dolls house for £5 and set about refurbishing it. She employed local carpenters to make peg dolls to live in it, issuing them with instructions that the butler should have a paunch and the footman nicely-turned calves. She made a tiny feather duster for the maid using pheasant feathers.
1962 a lady called Betty Pinney bought a 19

The boom in dolls house production came in the 1930s when they were mass produced. The company Lines Brothers made a “mock-Tudor” dolls house complete with plumbed in bath, flushing lavatory and vacuum cleaner. In contrast, Whiteladies House, created at the same time, was a modernist- style villa with dolls made from pipe-cleaners who frolicked by the swimming pool and lounged in the art deco sitting room.

A very famous dolls house is the one created in the early 1920s for Queen Mary who was an avid collector of miniatures. It was built by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens who said of it: "Let us devise and design for all time, something which will enable future generations to see how a King and Queen lived in the twentieth century, and what authors, artists and craftsmen of note there were, during their reign",

Queen Mary’s dolls house is still on display at Windsor Castle and I saw it last time I went there. It’s huge, built to 1/12th scale, and measuring 102 inches by 58 inches, and is 60 inches tall. Great care went into sourcing the items for the house. The list of famous names contributors is endless - sewing machine from Singer; real Champagne from Veuve Clicquot and Mumm; clocks by Cartier; china by Doulton and even cars from Rolls Royce and Daimler. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even wrote a short story (500 words) in a miniature book for the library. Exquisite furniture made from exotic woods fills the house - such as the large Victorian wardrobe veneered in amboyna wood, which can be seen in the Queens Suite. A bathroom floor laid in mother of pearl reflects the opulence the dolls house portrays. The house was finally completed in early 1924 and exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition, to great popular acclaim.

I’ve always wanted to see a dolls house designed to look like Ashdown House. It seems the perfect style for one, and as we can’t show visitors the rooms, how cute would it be to have a miniature version of them on display!

Friday, August 05, 2016

Where the Mistress Lived

This post is inspired by Elizabeth Bailey’s fascinating overall view of the Oldest Profession in Georgian Times. I thought it would be interesting, by way of contrast, to fast forward about a hundred years and zoom in for a close look at a ‘women of easy virtue’ scene in the 1850s. Fortunately, there is exactly the right picture to illuminate this: the pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854.
The Awakening Conscience by W. Holman Hunt, 1853

The picture shows an actual room in a ‘maison de convenance’ – the traditional place for Victorian gentlemen to house a mistress. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see exactly what such a room looked like, this is the real thing: Woodbine Villa, 7 Alpha Place, St John’s Wood, so be specific. I looked it up in the London Topographical Society’s A to Z of Victorian London and, whilst it’s not a fashionable address, it must have been a pleasant place to live. Woodbine Villa was a detached house, within five minutes’ walk of the Royal Botanic Society’s Gardens in Regent’s Park, near Baker Street and Marylebone railway stations and the Oxford Street shops were not too far away. Perfect for a mistress with a generous allowance from her lover, and easily accessible for him.  
The garish carpet, loose threads and fallen glove

The room shrieks ‘nouveau-riche vulgarity’ – at least it did to the original viewers, who were shocked to see a picture so in-your-face modern. The garish patterned carpet is new (though a bit of the carpet is significantly unravelling in the bottom right-hand corner). The heavily-ornamented rosewood piano is too shiny. Everything in it speaks of a room which is newly-furnished for a mistress; it is not, and never could be, a family home. There is no vase of flowers picked from the garden by the lady of the house. No child plays with his toy soldiers on the floor.

Hunt wants you to notice the symbols of a guilty relationship. The heavily-gilded clock on the piano top is under a glass dome, perhaps emphasizing the relationship of the young woman to the man; she, too, is kept under glass, as it were. She is not part of the man’s ordinary life. His parents (or, perhaps, even his wife) do not even know she exists. We note his tall top hat on the table – one might call it phallic; and a glove dropped carelessly on the floor is evidence of a fleeting visit. We can tell that he is a fashionable young man by his curly hair and full side-whiskers. 
The cat playing with a bird

A cat hides under the table to the left. He (it is surely a tom) has caught a pretty bird alive and is playing with it, just as the man plays with the girl.
The girl: note earrings and ringless left hand

The girl herself is wearing a night-dress with a brightly-coloured shawl wrapped round her waist. My Handbook of English Costume in the 19th Century tells me that: Shawls with centres of a brilliant colour contrasting with the borders were much worn. She is also wearing large hoop earrings, also very fashionable. The gentleman has obviously spared no expense either with her clothes, or the accommodation. Her hair is loose which indicates the familiarity of their relationship. Furthermore, just in case we have missed the point, she is not wearing a wedding ring.
The music and the clock

What Holman Hunt’s painting shows the very moment of the girl’s spiritual awakening to her moral degradation. Her lover has been playing the piano – one hand still rests on the keyboard. He plays Thomas Moore’s Oft in the Stilly Night, a plaintive song which recalls lost opportunities and happiness in the past.

 Oft in the Stilly Night,

Ere Slumber’s chain has bound me

Fond Memory brings the light

Of other days around me…


Proverbs: 25.20 on the picture frame

But there is more. The bottom of the picture frame has a quote from the Bible, Proverbs 25.20: As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, so is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart. This didn’t make much sense, so I found a modern translation. It said: Like one who dresses a wound with vinegar, so is the sweetest of singers to the heavy-hearted. This made more sense; the man thinks he’s simply playing a sentimental song but the girl herself is reacting to the poignant and painful memories the song evokes. Suddenly, we can see, she wants out. She makes to stand up, but he can very easily pull her back down onto his lap. We are left not knowing what happens.

As Elizabeth Bailey’s post made clear, it was all too common for a young girl fresh from the country, to find herself cozened by a procuress and ending up either in a brothel or as some man’s mistress. A life of disease, poverty and the dreaded workhouse awaited her.

However, one has to say that, so far, the girl in the picture has done rather well for herself. Her lover is rich and fond; he might be persuaded to secure an annuity on her. She could be sensible and avoid alcoholism (common among prostitutes) and save for a rainy day. (Unfortunately, the Post Office Savings Bank did not open until 1861 but that date is not too far away.) And, if she’s a country girl, she might well doubt her welcome back home. And what other options are open to a reformed lady of easy virtue? Does she really want to live in poverty on a pittance doing sewing, and end up in the workhouse? The price of virtue might just be too heavy.

She might even have noticed that this picture is not aimed at the man who tempted her into vice. Hunt is concerned only about female sexual virtue. Maybe she will opt for a different solution from the one Hunt is urging her to take.

If you want to see the picture and decide for yourself, The Awakening Conscience by William Holman Hunt is in Tate Britain.

Photos by Elizabeth Hawksley and the Tate Collection

Elizabeth Hawksley


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The Oldest Profession in Georgian Times

When a leading magistrate called Patrick Colquhoun wrote an analysis of crime in the metropolis in 1797, of 115,000 citizens listed as being engaged in various crimes, there were allegedly 50,000 “Unfortunate Females of all descriptions, who support themselves chiefly or wholly by prostitution.”

This is a staggering statistic, and to my mind demonstrates two things: how limited were opportunities of employment for women, and the heavy price women paid for giving way to what we now regard as a natural inclination. In other words, sex.

There’s nothing new about men paying for sex. They always have, they still do and they probably always will. What’s new - and the change has been visible in my lifetime - is that women are no longer pilloried for having indulged their sexual appetites.

For our 18th century sisters, this was certainly not the case. Prostitutes could be committed to Bridewell, a “house of correction” where they would be set to beating hemp as a job - after being stripped to the waist, tied to a whipping post and publicly flogged. However, it wasn’t a popular punishment, because everyone shouted to the president of the Court of Governors to “knock, knock” with his gavel, which signalled the end of the whipping.

It seems harsh to us, until we remember how brutal the 18th Century was. Punishments worse than this were commonplace, and I expect your average prostitute would sooner be flogged than hanged.

What is particularly mean about it is that many women only became ladies of the night after they had been seduced by an unscrupulous man, and had no choice. Without marriage, they were disgraced and their families either had to chuck them out or be tarred with the same brush.

Innocent girls were often also seduced into prostitution not by men, but by members of their own sex. Youthful virgins were highly valuable to a brothel bawd, and these women would pick up country girls coming to London to find work. Ladies genuinely in search of maidservants would meet the arriving wagonload of girls, but among them were the procuresses, cajoling the prettiest with flattering promises of employment and riches.

Hogarth’s series of prints “A Harlot’s Progress” were designed to point up the tragedy, taking Moll Hackabout from innocence to procurement, through a career as a successful and fashionable courtesan, until her keeper gets bored and throws her out. At this point she is reduced to common prostitution, followed inevitably by imprisonment in Bridewell, then penury, disease and death at 23. Apparently this was not an uncommon path for a young girl to tread.

There was one route out of the mire and that was marriage. Get a ring on your finger and respectability could wipe out the past. A surprising number of harlots made it into the aristocracy, and a couple of generations down the line, it no longer mattered and was likely a talking point of pride. Any girl might get away with a fall from grace, provided she didn’t get pregnant and both she and the guilty male in the case kept their mouths shut.

Contraception was so unreliable, however, that unwanted pregnancies were rife. The first task was to try and get the seducer to marry the girl. Failing that, concealment was not impossible, if relatives had the sense to get her abroad for the duration. It would be given out that she needed to go away for her health, and travel took so long that several months out of the country would cause no remark. The child would be put out for adoption into God knows what kind of life, and the girl would return with reputation intact.

Naturally, her nearest and dearest would be at pains to get her married as soon as possible, and any husband discovering he’d been sold a pig in a poke was unlikely to make a song and dance about it because of the potential scandal. Separation and divorce were so difficult to achieve that he was likely better off keeping quiet about it. And he was probably well paid too!

One other way was to give the disgraced woman a married name and settle her in an unsuspecting village somewhere as a widow. She might live poorly, but at least she would live respectably and be saved from a life of prostitution.