Sophie has come here today to set some atmosphere and take us on a walk through Regency London. And if you read on, you will see there is a chance to win an ebook of 'A Constant Love' too!
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“Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on,” Jane Austen wrote to advise her niece, aspiring writer Anna Austen Lefroy.
It’s probably advice I should have taken myself, rather than attempting to set much of my first Austenesque novel in London. I survived the experience, obviously, or A Constant Love would never have been completed, but I encountered challenges as I was trying to shape the story. And unfortunately I couldn’t look to Austen’s novels, which never linger for too long in London, if they go there at all, for my inspiration on how to handle these challenges.
Austen’s work, in its more rural setting, stays neatly limited to a reasonable cast of characters, and a reasonable set of social outings. There are very few eligible gentlemen in the neighborhoods, if any, and so new arrivals like Mr. Bingley are regarded with great curiosity and excitement. Romances hinge on a few balls, and a larger quantity of dinners and social calls, and so the plot can unfold at a reasonable pace, without being overwhelming to the reader.
My challenge was to try to recreate this sort of scale and pace, in a location where there would have been a vast number of male suitors and social engagements. In this, I found Georgette Heyer’s work a helpful inspiration in finding the right sense of proportion for a story set in town. I sometimes hinted at the great numbers of engagements the Darcys were participating in, but did not describe them in any detail. I included a greater number of balls than are to be found in an Austen novel, but most do advance the plot, and it is likely a far smaller number than the characters would actually have attended, particularly with Georgiana Darcy in her debut season. Perhaps the exception when it comes to advancing the plot is Georgiana’s reluctant trip to Almack’s with Lady Catherine, but I thought it important to show a glimpse of this institution, the closest thing there was to Regency speed dating.
At Almack’s and elsewhere, Georgiana and Kitty dance with quite a few faceless and sometimes nameless men who get only a brief mention, so that we can focus on those suitors that matter. But the presence of those numerous men is the very thing the London season promised. In an era when marriages were shifting from political alliances to unions of affection, the London marriage mart allowed young women and men to meet and make matches for affection, but with those of similar social standing to themselves. It is in the country where Austen’s young gentlemen meet and fall in love with ladies of unequal fortune (although presumably these men of fortune have been making their share of young female acquaintances in town, and found those they might have courted wanting).
That Georgiana, Kitty, and Mary form a friendship, and the Miss Bennets stay with the Darcys for the season, presents a challenge for their chaperones. The three young ladies have vastly different fortunes to bring to a potential match, and a wider acquaintance of suitors will be needed as a result. Of the three, Kitty and Georgiana are most seriously considering whether they might make a match during the season, but the challenges faced by these two young ladies are quite different. Kitty, like her sisters, lacks sufficient dowry for many men to consider her. Georgiana, meanwhile, is still wary from her experience with George Wickham, and feels the need to guard her heart so as not to be taken in by another fortune hunter.
|The George in Southwark, a 17th Century Public House|
|Terraced House in Mayfair|
It’s the fashionable hour for taking a promenade in the park, and the ladies in our party are wearing fine muslin day dresses, with spencers or pelisses to guard against the chill, and parasols to protect their complexions. The gentlemen, in Mr. Brummell’s fashion, all wear trousers. As we exit the house, you will unfortunately find the noxious London air reaching your nose, the result of the early industry in other parts of town, the coal fires burned by all, and the refuse created by a large number of horses.
Any gentlemen in our group will take up their places on the street side of the party, leaving the ladies to the safer house side, as we set off down a neat, trim street lined with terrace houses. The mews behind these houses, where Mr. Darcy spends a great deal of money in order to keep his horses and carriages, are not visible, but perhaps we see the barouche of one of our neighbors coming out from around the corner, to pick up master and mistress from the front of their house. Certainly, our ears will be filled with the clipping and clopping of hooves, and the rumbling of passing carriages.
|A Carriage in Hyde Park|
The air grows the slightest bit better as we enter the park. There are many people out walking, as we are, and we will keep our eyes out for any acquaintances, particularly any eligible gentlemen the ladies of our party would like to meet again. Hopefully, we will not encounter any of those young gentlemen we had no desire to further our acquaintance with!
In addition to the walkers, there will be some in open carriages left over from earlier in the morning – a few curricles, perhaps, but the most fashionable will be in high-perch phaetons, pulled by two or more horses. If we see one in the daring unicorn formation, a lead horse hitched in front of two following horses, we might comment on the driver’s skill in handling them, and whether the lady seated beside him seems confident of said skill, or nervous that he might tip the whole shooting match over. We are, alas, too far from the infamous Rotten Row to see any lingering horses and riders cantering up and down – cantering only, for galloping must be reserved for the larger, and farther, Richmond Park.
The weather is fine, so we will stroll for quite awhile before we return to the house to change our clothes for the evening. Perhaps it is a ball, tonight, or the theatre, or a concert – hopefully not one of the detested at-homes. Or perhaps it is just a pleasant family dinner, with the Bingleys or the Gardiners, that we have to look forward to. Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed our little walk in Regency London.
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Thank you Sophie, for setting the scene of a fashionable promenade in London. I can just picture it! I am pleased to see that you have referenced Georgette Heyer, as she is one of my favourite authors.
As Britain settles into a short-lived peace, the characters of Pride and Prejudice pick up very nearly where the novel left off, in a new series of stories focused on love and family:
Elizabeth Bennet finds the joy of her marriage and honeymoon are followed by the demands of becoming Mrs. Darcy, all while helping her shy new younger sister come out into society.
Georgiana Darcy must deal with more suitors than she expected, when she fears nothing more than once again being persuaded to think she is in love with the wrong man.
Sophie Turner has very kindly offered to give away an ebook of 'A Constant Love' to a commenter here at Babblings of a Bookworm. To enter, just comment on this post telling Sophie what you thought of this walk in London or what you think may have happened after Jane Austen closed the curtain on the characters of 'Pride & Prejudice'. Closing date for the giveaway has been changed; it is the end of the day on 28 July and entries are welcomed from international entrants. Please note this giveaway is now closed. Please leave a way for me to contact you just in case you're the winner! Good luck :)