Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bad Girls

This month I got an email from a fan who basically asked me: Did people in the Regency period really behave that way? (That is, have mad rampant sex out of wedlock.)

"Hell, yes" was the short answer.

The longer answer goes something like this.... if Jane Austen could allude to it in her books, then not only did it happen, but it must have been known to unmarried women in order for them to write about it.

Yes, the venerable Jane Austen knew about sex out of wedlock -- and the associated consequences -- which, not to spoil, I address in SHOW ME. I can think of a number examples of her work right off the top of my head:

Lydia Bennett in Pride and Prejudice: runs off with Wickham and is found living in sin. Wickham is bribed to marry her, and Lydia is as happy as larry. As the saying goes. Completely oblivious that she'd just run her family's name through the mud.

Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park: gets married and then has a torrid affair and is packed off to somewhere in the country. Although I don't remember if there was an annulment or a divorce because of it. Maria behaved very badly.

Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park: a very badly behaved character. You practically get to witness her attempted seduction of the virtuous Edmund. A very bad sort -- and yet moving around in polite society. Which I think means, she's suspected of being a very bad sort -- but has yet to be caught out at it.

Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility: a foolish girl who causes scandal with the "Wickham" of the book and should have been banished from society, but of course does the right thing and becomes terribly ill and then Alan Rickman marries her. (Lucky girl.)

And I am not entirely unconvinced that Lucy Steele from Sense and Sensibility was the innocent she makes herself out to be. Why on earth else would you propose to someone if you didn't want to sleep with them? And, as I understand it, it was not uncommon for the bed to be shared prior to the wedding night -- although I think this may have been restricted to the lower classes.

OK, so Jane Austen is rampant with "bad girls" left and right. "Bad girls" in that they aren't the virtuous innocents we have been used to reading about in most modern day Regency romances. And now's our chance to write about them.

And from history, we have the ultimate bad girl -- Caroline Lamb, mad bad and dangerous to know. (OK, so she said it about Byron, but really, it applies to herself.) She ran about dressed in men's clothing, caused all sorts of scenes before Byron, not to mention being his lover, and yes, I think she was married when all this happened, but she certainly didn't behave like she was. Poor thing ended up "mad" and locked away at a family estate, I believe. Quite the Victorian moral ending to a wild life, non?

So, please, don't give me this guff about how unmarried women in the Regency were innocents. That's a load of romantic codswallop. If they haven't experienced it for themselves, they've certainly heard about it. Because there were plenty of bad girls out there then. We didn't invent this illicit sex stuff you know.


Eva Gale said...

I *heart* you. I really, really *heart* you.

I hae been saying this sooo long, and no one listened. (I have to read non fict historical).

Kalen Hughes said...

I'm right there with ya, look at the ménage taking place in the Devonshire household, or the crazy love lives of Shelley and Byron. Or the behavior of Caroline, Princess of Wales (traipsing all over Italy with her gigolo). Hello? Yes, that's the sound of reality knocking.

From what I’ve read, anticipating the wedding night (once betrothed) was far more common among the upper class before the Hardwick Marriage Act of 1754. Before that act, a betrothal was looked upon as binding. After it there were very specific rules that had to be followed for a marriage to be “legal”.

In my fiction, I do still want historically accurate consequences for my characters. And I want them to understand the repercussions of their actions. I don’t get a young Regency miss having sex just for the sake of doing it, or out of curiosity. The consequences are too dire. I need real motivation. Believable motivation. And because I’m talking about romance, I need the hero to be more than some asshat who’s out there sewing his wild oats.

Kate Pearce said...

I think the problem is that most people lump the Regency period in with the Victorian, when Queen Victoria turned morality into a personal crusade.

Of course, the Regency folk were living in a time of great uncertainty during warfare and civil strife, not a time of settled industrial growth. Life was short and should be lived to the full. They had more in common with the previous century than the 19th.

I suspect that the reason Queen Victoria was such a prude was exactly because she grew up in a Royal family with several fornicating Uncles who flaunted their lovers and bastards for all to see. No wonder she wanted to cover everything up.

So yes, I agree. The Regency was much naughtier than we think.

Jacquie said...

What a fun post! And yes, it seems like every generation thinks they're the ones who invented sex.

I'm no Regency expert, but one thing I do know--sex happens.

Celia May Hart said...

Thanks, Eva!

Kalen, the counter argument to the upper class (and royal family) running around the place and having sex (and still being accepted) is that to the middle classes and lower, it simply was "not done".

Which is rubbish, of course. The consequences for someone without power or influence or money were far greater (and for a woman of the period they pretty much had none of the above, and Caroline's indiscretions didn't really come out until afterward). But when youth and sex get together and going, consequences aren't thought of until afterward...

Selah March said...

Hell and damnation, this anti-sex propaganda that rewrites history is just EVIL. And it extends well out of the Regency era. I read a survey a couple of months ago that showed that over 80% of American women born between 1935 and 1945 indulged in premarital sex.

That's my mother's generation, but to hear her tell it, everybody was a "nice" girl who didn't go all the way until the wedding night. Only a very few "bad" girls let a boy get to second base, and their reps were stained forever, and nobody wanted them.

What a load of crap. Apparently, everybody was doing it and lying about it.

Except my mother, who -- bless her heart -- has never been the sharpest crayon in the box.

Eva Gale said...

Ha, what I was flying through and trying to convey is that I read alot of non fict historical and never ever has there been a stoically moral age. Even despite Queen Victoria the erotic underground was rampant, and so prolific as far as documenting it! Oh the photos! And books!

I'll have to unpack it to find the book, but in one of the ones I have there is a quote from Lady Montagu? in the 17th century? about the promiscutiy of adolescents, even then. Very telling.