High Society in the Regency Period 1788-1830

By Venetia Murray

My interest in this entertaining history stems from my love for Georgette Heyer and some of her followers’ novels. It really illuminates that the Regency world of Georgette Heyer was indeed her version of that period of history: a much gentler, sanitized, and proper version. So many things in her portrayal of that time were very accurate, but it was the aspects of those times that she skirted around, ignored, or romanticized that interested me much more.

The most surprising thing I learned was how the ton wore their emotions on their sleeve. Apparently, it was not uncommon for men to publicly burst into tears and weep and wail when they were frustrated or angry. Venetia Murray supports this with numerous references in letters and other contemporary accounts. It is pretty obvious that Georgette imbued the Regency period with the “stiff upper lip” values of her generation.

Gluttony is another thing that GH did touch on in passing, but is explored in detail here. 2 or 3 or more enormous steaks at one sitting, conservatively, for example. The obsession with sauces and gastronomy and gourmet meals was amazing. Menus with literally over a hundred dishes. The extravagance and the waste in all areas of daily life. The over-indulgence in drink. Murray writes that it was common, indeed, fashionable for certain segments of male high society to be drunk, or tipsy all day long. High society as a whole were bored or idle all of the time. Meals were often the highlight of their day and would last for hours and hours.

And the immorality, of course. Discreet or not, married lovers and mistresses were not shunned and neither were courtesans. They were known and accepted in the highest levels of society.
It is much easier to understand and be sympathetic to the Victorian mindset as being a reaction and rejection of the ways of Regency England after reading this book.

The choices of illustration are curious. All of the plates are caricatures, cartoons, and drawings. I wish she had chosen more realistic portraits of some of the interesting people she discussed.

Yes, Georgette Heyer did romanticize and ignore some certain truths about high society while being very historically true in most things. Frankly, I’m glad she did!**4 out of 5 stars**

June 20, 2017

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