regency fashion

Regency Romance NovelAll this talk of leather riding boots got me thinking about the Regency era. This brief period of English history, sandwiched between the Georgian and Victorian eras, was a time rather ‘out of time’, where everyone seemed to play dress up, or more accurately, dress down, perhaps as a result of the French Revolution and a need to make the classes less distinct.

Women ditched the ridiculously high powdered wigs and massive dresses for simpler Greek and Roman style gowns, hair and accessories. Men stopped wearing high heeled shoes, wigs and face powder and favoured Beau Brummel style tailcoats, linen shirts and full length pantaloons that were more, well, manly. The enormous skirts would return with Queen Victoria but for a time everyone appeared more natural and darned attractive.

The Prince Regent, the overweight, booze and laudanum supping future King George IV and namesake of the Regency was the ultimate example of the extravagance of the time, his spendthrift ways culminating in the building of the huge Taj-Mahalesque Royal Pavilion, a rather over the top seaside get-away for himself and his secret wife Maria Fitzherbert.

The Regency gentleman did not work. He gambled, hunted and danced.  Regency Romance NovelA women rarely inherited money or title and was not encouraged to make her own living. Her future status and happiness depended on who she married. This was the situation for Jane Austen. Luckily for us, she wrote about the persuit of happiness in the first Regency Romances (under the pseudonym ‘A Lady’, of course). Miss Austen had it easy though – she wrote about the era she lived in for an audience who already understood what Morning Calls and Assemblies were all about.

English writer Georgette Heyer had a harder job. Her prolific works were painstakingly researched – she herself was a collector of history and reference books and owned over 1,000, as well as costumes and effects of the time. Heyer also kept illustrations and articles from magazines, and noted any historical information she heard or read, meticulously filing it in categories such as Dress, Prices, Hats and Food. Her novels are so historically accurate that she rarely bothered with dates, relying instead on the events of the period to establish a timeline. Miss Heyer has been a top 10 bestseller on Abebooks, outselling the likes of Rowling, Dickens and Austen herself. This is possibly because most of her work is now out of print and not available in paperback form at the local bookshop.

My book today is The Reluctant Widow, an amusing and witty romp around Sussex full of rogues and romance with French spies and murder thrown in. This is Heyer’s 33rd book and the only novel to be filmed. It is one of 3 to be printed with a plain war standard dust jacket, made of poor quality paper. For this reason, not many of these jackets survived. I am very happy to have found a copy of the first printing of The Reluctant Widow complete with wrapper. You can buy this book by clicking on the pictures below. Huzzah! NOW SOLD.

William Heinemann 1946 First Edition William Heinemann 1946 First EditionWilliam Heinemann 1946 First Edition