Written by Kathleen Baldwin
You brave soul—after all my warnings you still want to time travel back to the Regency era. You must really like guys with high starched collars. Okay then, we’ve covered dress, keeping your brains under wraps, linguistic pitfalls, and the danger of fans. Now, it’s time for the all-important lesson on manners.
Pretend you are a super rich teenage girl. Well, maybe you really are super rich, I don’t know. But supposing you were mega-wealthy and lived in the biggest house in town, how would your family expect you to behave?
Would you carry a little dog like Paris Hilton and make the rounds at all the trendiest clubs? Would your parents want you to go to college and major in something classy, like renaissance art? Or maybe you would be required to play the violin and study medicine.
Things were different for young ladies during the Regency era.
As we discussed in A Time Traveler’s Guide to Regency England Part 1 and Part 2 keeping your intelligence under wraps was a must. It would be okay to play the pianoforte, but not study medicine. You can have a little dog like Hilton, but you can’t go anywhere unescorted. No late night balls, soirees, or opera houses without your mother or your grumpy Aunt Agatha tagging along to keep you out of mischief.
Do’s and Don’ts, or Else…
If you follow the herd and do what everyone else is doing you’ll probably be fine.
First: Mind your posture. Posture was extremely important to Regency high society. So keep that spine straight or else you may find yourself strapped to a torturous device called a backboard.
Backboards consisted of a slab of wood with leather straps tying the young lady into proper position. Such boards were used extensively until the 20th century.
Second: Whatever you do, don’t get cheeky. Corporal punishment was still the mode. Women and children were legally allowed to be whipped so long as the rod used to beat them was not any larger than a man’s thumb. That’s a pretty hefty stick if anyone were to ask me. So, mind your guardians and chaperones, and don’t talk back.
Another common method of reforming a smart-alecky daughter was to lock her in a closet for several days with only bread and water to eat. If that didn’t get results there was always a reform school like the one in A School for Unusual Girls.
Third: Table manners. It was the custom to put a little bit of each kind of food on your fork, a sliver of parsnip, a penny carrot, a bite of ham, a tuft of asparagus, a small slice of roast beef. This all goes down your gullet together. Good luck. It isn’t easy. Try stabbing one pea. You may want to practice this task before you pop into your time machine.
Fourth: When a lull arises in the conversation a well-bred young lady may be expected to strike an attitude. How does one strike an attitude, you ask? Are those awful thumb-width whipping sticks involved?
No. An attitude is a pose based on classical Greek art, or historical figures such as Rebecca or Cleopatra. As in charades, guests at the gathering would then guess which historical figure the young lady was impersonating. Some of the attitudes were fairly provocative, for instance Venus or Aphrodite. Young ladies practiced their poses, and even hired tutors to instruct them, all in the hope of performing and impressing gentlemen.
You see, there were fun and games to be had after all. Just stay away from backboards and whipping sticks. Bon Voyage!