Regency time travel

Regency woman

Study Abroad

If I were asked to spend a year living elsewhere, I’d choose to live in Regency England. A thorough indoctrination as an adolescent in the Regency world of the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer has left me with a yearning to circulate at a gala affair in the Brighton Pavilion, where guests take pinches of snuff from dainty boxes, to take a turn about the Pump Room and taste the revivifying waters in Bath, or to spectate as young men race their curicles down the London road. There would definitely be no shortage of cultural experiences to be had from such a trip!

I’m not sure how I’d fare, diet-wise, as a vegetarian, if faced with a pheasant dish or some equally meaty treat. I suspect the food would not be a highlight of my visit. A nice glass of claret to wash it all down might be the best I could hope for.

If I was studying in Regency England, I would have to hope to be a young man, taught at home by a private tutor, and then able to go on to University. I don’t think I’d relish being a street urchin, an illiterate servant or even a woman, who may be tutored only in literature, languages and the ‘accomplishments proper for a young lady’, such as drawing and playing the pianoforte.

I’ve always liked Regency women’s fashion – the empire line has a certain allure, and I do love a velvet pelisse or spencer jacket (à la the ones shown in BBC costume dramas). However some women at the time just about froze to death for the sake of fashion, in their thin muslin gowns, and the thought of life before the bra was invented is a bit hard to stomach. Luckily I can sew, although not particularly well, so I’d hope to be staying with a family who could afford their own dressmaker or I might have a severely limited wardrobe. You were always fortunate in those novels to have been left a handsome sum of money by a deceased relation.

London or Bath I’d be happy to reside in, hopefully with not too many holidays to depressingly grey english seaside resorts like Lyme Regis, with their stony beaches and seaside promenades. Too much rainy weather would drive me batty, I’d certainly hope to be cooped up in a stately home, rather than a modest household establishment. Heyer’s heroines usually attended many balls and outings to the theatre, and these sound like part of an enjoyable social life. Where I grew up, debutante balls were not the fashion, so I’m not sure how I’d go if I had to be trained in order to ‘come out into society’ and it would be rather restrictive on my travels to have to go everywhere with a servant or relative in order to avoid being seen as ‘fast’ or as guilty of improper behaviour.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to capture my tourist photos with a digital camera, so I guess I’d have to keep an old school journal and sketchbook. And as I couldn’t email to back home while I was gone, it would be rather isolating when I needed to debrief my weird cultural experiences or faux pas and have a laugh with someone who understood my own culture.

In order to seep myself in the way they used language at the time I’d have to have a back-to-back Austen-reading marathon before I left for my travels, so that I could sound just right and start my sentences with ‘Far be it from me, my dear friend…’.

Many people go traveling hoping to find love. If I came with the right financial (and family) background, I might even find myself a well-to-do husband on my trip, and never return home – if I were prepared to give birth to heirs for the estate and spend my days discussing meals and linen with the housekeeper. After all “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

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