I am excited to welcome author Maria Grace to my blog today. If you have always wished to continue the story of Pride and Prejudice, Maria's books are perfect for you. In her latest release, The Trouble to Check Her, we are treated to a deeper look into Austen's Lydia Bennett. I have asked Maria to share some of her in-depth research on Regency era courtships that went into the making of this novel. Welcome, Maria!
Thanks so much for having me, Samantha! The business of courtship and marriage plays such a role in so many of our stories, it has been a fascinating study for me and I’m thrilled to be able to share some of that with you and your readers.
In the Tudor era, courtship was more a seducer’s art. But at the dawn of the 19th century, it became the road leading to matrimony. Since young people now enjoyed a degree of choice over their marriage partner, they needed advice on how to judge character, how to behave in public toward the opposite sex, how to attract the opposite sex, even the proper way to make or refuse an offer of marriage.
Conduct literature exploded in response to the new anxieties and uncertainties of finding a proper mate. They happily provided rules for courtship behavior that they asserted were necessary to safeguard both sexes. Gentlemen required protection from being trapped into matrimony, and ladies needed to be guarded from becoming attached to men who were not sincere in their intentions toward them.
Since courtship and marriage were serious steps for middle class men and women, they were usually not embarked upon until their middle to late twenties. In the process, young men were counseled not to embark upon it lightly, and young women not to give affections too easily.
A woman is often placed in a very delicate situation. She may be distinguished by a kind of attention which is calculated to gain her affections, while it is impossible to know whether the addresses of her pretended lover will end in a serious declaration. (Gener, 1812)
As in most things in society in that era, men played the active role in the prescribed procedure for proper courtship. Women had to wait for pursuit by a suitor. Siblings and friends could be recruited as messengers to alert a potential suitor of a young lady’s inclinations, but she could take no further initiative. Even if a suitor made the first move, she was expected to behave with considerable reserve and not openly encourage a man’s suit.
ONE of the chief beauties in a female character is that modest reserve, that retiring delicacy, which avoids the public eye, and is disconcerted even at the gaze of admiration. (Gregory, 1774)
Ironically, the one area in courtship where the lady might have an active role was in refusing unwanted attentions. This restricted her choices from among those who made advances toward her. It was not uncommon for a woman to feel pressured to accept the first reasonable offer they received, since another might never come their way again.
Discretion in all things
(The Young Husband's Book 1839.)
Unmarried men had to exercise caution around unmarried young ladies. Attentions or worse, particular friendliness, might be interpreted as romantic interest by the lady herself or her friends and family. Since men were not to express interest unless they were serious about a woman, misunderstood actions could lead to accusations of intentionally leading a woman on. Pressure to offer marriage might follow.
The Advantages of being reserved are too many to be set down; we will only say, that it is a Guard to a good Woman, and a Disguise to an ill One. It is of so much Use to both, that those ought to use it as an Artifice who refuse to practice it as a Virtue. (The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737)
Female conduct manuals universally cautioned women not to be forward in their dealings with men or to encourage their advances. A woman must never confess her feelings until absolutely convinced of his intentions. Some went so far as to insist a woman must never look at a man unless he made the first advance. Not surprisingly, it was difficult for either party to truly discern the feelings and intentions of the other. Only at the moment an offer of marriage was made could a man declare his feelings and a woman her own in return.
If a couple was observed violating any of the myriad of courtship rules, onlookers would immediately assume a proposal had been offered and accepted. Even mild displays of friendliness could inspire speculations about a possible offer of marriage. Forbidden behaviors included using Christian names, paying compliments, driving in carriages alone together, correspondence, and any kind of intimate touching.
All forms of touching were kept to a minimum. Putting a lady's shawl about her shoulders, or assisting her to mount a horse, enter a carriage or climb stairs were acceptable. A gentleman might take a lady's arm through his, to support her while out walking. But he must never try to take her hand. If he did, she must immediately withdraw it with a strong air of disapproval, whether she felt it or not. Even shaking hands was frowned upon.
Since the courting couple could never be truly alone, conversations had to be extremely discreet leaving much to be interpreted from facial expressions alone. Even those were proscribed by many advice writers.
There is another Character not quite so criminal, yet not less ridiculous; which is, that of a good humour'd Woman, one who thinketh me must always be in a Laugh, or a broad Smile, because Good-Humour is an obliging Quality; thinks it less ill Manners to talk impertinently than to be silent in Company. (The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737)
Once engaged, couples were expected to proclaim that fact clearly, in part ensuring that neither could back out without serious social repercussions. These consequences were important because, although society had moved away from marriages as arranged affairs, their natures as business transactions had not yet changed.
Gener, S., and John Muckersy. M. Gener, Or, A Selection of Letters on Life and Manners. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Printed for Peter Hill ..., A. Constable & and A. MacKay ;, 1812.
Gregory, John. A Father's Legacy to His Daughters By the Late Dr. Gregory, of Edinburgh. The 2nd ed. London: Printed for W. Strahan ;, 1774.
Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen and Marriage. London: Continuum, 2009.
The Whole Duty of a Woman, Or, an Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex. Containing, Rules, Directions, and Observations, for Their Conduct and Behaviour through All Ages and Circumstances of Life, as Virgins, Wives, or Widows. With Directions, How to Obtain All Use. The 2nd ed. London: Printed for T. Read, in Dogwell-Court, White-Fryers, Fleet-Street, 1737.
The Young Husband's Book a Manual of the Duties, Moral, Religious, and Domestic, Imposed by the Relations of Married Life. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1839.
The Trouble to Check Her
Lydia Bennet faces the music…
Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey. That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.
It would improve her character, he said.
Ridiculous, she said.
Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond's cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.
Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.
Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?
About the Author
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.
You can connect with Maria through:
Her Blog: RandomBits of Fascination
And on Pinterest!