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Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Mary Lydon Simonsen: Fun in Regency England

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Mary Lydon Simonsen, whose latest book is the Pride and Prejudice retelling, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy. Here she talks about what Regency ladies did for fun.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win one of the two copies of The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Mary will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winners Mary selected are Judy and Dee! Judy, I've already sent you an email. Dee, please contact me at by February 3 or the book goes to an alternate.

Welcome Mary!

Thank you for inviting me to join you on your blog today. I was so pleased when my publicist told me that you wanted me to write about Regency Era books and what women did for fun—two nice, juicy subjects. Since The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy is a Jane Austen re-imagining, I thought I would try to give you a feel for Austen’s world (1775-1817), give or take a decade.

So what books did Austen read? We know that she read Henry Fielding’s rather risqué Tom Jones, Samuel Richard’s Pamela, and the writings of Dr. Johnson. She was also familiar with Ann Radcliff’s gothic novels, and not being a fan of that genre, she parodied the author’s The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey. By the way, Northanger Abbey was published posthumously in 1817. But by that time, the gothic novel craze had run its course, and Austen’s first written and last published novel was already dated by the time it was released.

Austen was an admirer of the novelist, Fanny Burney, who penned Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla. Evelina is a witty epistolary novel about the unacknowledged daughter of a spendthrift English aristocrat. It is likely that Austen borrowed the title to her most famous novel from Miss Burney as the final chapter of Cecilia is titled “Pride and Prejudice.”

Sir Walter Scott’s novels were just appearing in print at the time of Austen’s death in 1817. She may have had an opportunity to read Waverly, but not his later novel, Ivanhoe. Scott was a giant of the later Regency Era, but two American authors were having their impact as well. James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, including The Last of the Mohicans, were bestsellers in Britain as was Washington Irving’s Sketchbook that included his two most famous stories, The Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle.

Your second question was what did Regency Era ladies do for fun. Like our famous couple, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, let us assume that we are speaking of the middle and upper classes. Although ladies did not run, they did walk and walk and walk. They might choose to visit the seaside and go sea bathing, changing into appropriate bathing attire before being pushed into the sea in a bathing machine. On a sunny day, two friends might engage in a battledore, the precursor of badminton, or play lawn bowls. In the winter, they could strap on their ice skates and go out on a frozen pond, most likely on the arm of a male relation or suitor. Riding was a year-round pursuit, but because horses were expensive to keep, this tended to be a sport for the upper class.

On a visit to London, a lady may choose to attend one of Sheridan’s plays at the Royal Theater on Drury Lane, purchase a ticket to the opera, enjoy an afternoon stroll in one of London’s pleasure gardens, or witness a balloon launch.

In a world lit only by fire, at home, Elizabeth and Darcy would have played cards, and there were so many games to choose from, including whist, casino, faro, just to name three. Charades, staging plays, and guessing at riddles were popular entertainments as was reading out loud. Furniture could be pushed to the perimeter of the room to permit a game of blind man’s bluff. But the preferred activity of most people of this era was dancing. This was one of the few opportunities where unmarried ladies and gents had the opportunity to actually touch, if only a gloved hand, as well as to engage in a conversation without their chaperones overhearing them. But even for those not looking for a marriage partner, it was a favorite pastime and the reason why an assembly hall could be found in any town of a goodly size throughout the kingdom.

Thank you so much for inviting me. This was a pleasure.


If the two of them weren’t so stubborn…

It’s obvious to Georgiana Darcy that the lovely Elizabeth Bennet is her brother’s perfect match, but Darcy’s pigheadedness and Elizabeth’s wounded pride are going to keep them both from the loves of their lives.

Georgiana can’t let that happen, so she readily agrees to help her accommodating cousin, Anne de Bourgh, do everything within their power to assure her beloved brother’s happiness.
But the path of matchmaking never runs smoothly…

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s first book, Searching for Pemberley, was acclaimed by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and RT Book Reviews. She is well loved and widely followed on all the Jane Austen fanfic sites, with tens of thousands of hits and hundreds of reviews whenever she posts. She lives in Peoria, Arizona where she is working on her next Jane Austen novel. For more information, please visit and, where she regularly contributes.


Linda Banche said...

Looks like we do a lot of the same things today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

susied said...

I think we sometimes have TOO many things to choose from. Back during Jane Austen's time it seemed to have been a much more organic living experience. Sometimes the simple things are the best :)

Anonymous said...

Love this kind of informative post! Research makes our reading come alive. Great job.
Liz Arnold
Message to Love
The Wild Rose Press

Mary Simonsen said...

Thank you for having me on your blog today.

Linda, Yes, we do do a lot of the same things, but at least today we do so in appropriate attire.

Susied, A university asked students to abandon social networking for a weekend, and a lot of them found they preferred it as it gave them time to do other things.

Liz, Thank you. I appreciate your comments.

Judy said...

I really enjoyed your post. I have always been fascinated by the Regency period and Jane Austen. It seemed so laid back, not like today, when I can't seem to find the time to do half of what I need to do. Your book is on my TBR already, I have been seeing it all over the internet!!


catslady said...

The regency is such a fascinating time. I enjoyed learning what books were popular at the time and happy to know that I read some of the same books.
In many ways (at least for the upper classes) it seems like they enjoyed more interaction with each other than we do today. The disadvantage part of all this technology (although I could not give any of them up now lol).
Because of this blog I've have learned that there were variations written on P&P and have been enjoying them very much. A Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy sounds like a wonderful read.

Unknown said...

I like the idea of having such a relaxing life as you describe, I have often wished that my own was a little quieter. The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy sounds like a really fun book

Jenny Allworthy said...

Hi Mary! Walking, reading, playing cards, riding horses and dancing? Oh and redecorating Pemberley! Sounds good to me. I don't think I would miss my day job.
Although, of course, my ancestors were the charwomen and the scullery maids, and only became literate as of the mid 1800s, so perhaps only walking as a pastime? I'm probably happier today with my laptop and my DVD player (as well as my books of course!)

Mary Simonsen said...

Judy, Yes, I am all over the internet. I'm just like a bad penny. I keep coming back. Hope you enjoy my novel.

Catslady, In theory, it sounds great, but I imagine that spending every evening with the same people can get tiresome, which explained why people visited so much.

Lieder, I know what you mean, and I'm someone who doesn't overbook. Yet, I feel pretty hassled at times.

Jenny, Your ancestors were literate in the mid 1800s? Your family beatd my Irish ancestors out by about 60 years. My paternal grandmother was a "domestic" as well. My maternal grandmother worked in the silk mills when she was 11. I'm thankful I was born when I was.

Chelsea B. said...

Hi, Mary, thanks for posting! I'm looking forward to reading your book! :-)

Anonymous said...

I loved the Pride and Prejudice.I will definently have to read The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy! I wish things in life were more simple,like they were back then.

J. Waters

Nancy Kelley said...

The more "connected" the world becomes, the more disconnected we are as individuals. Social networking makes it easy to reach out to friends on the other side of the world while ignoring the family members sitting on the other side of the room.

The activities of the Regency world united people. Cards, charades, dancing: these are all activities shared with others. As much as I love social media, I miss connecting with the people next door.

Kate Dana said...

Life was so simple back then and it does not seem as rushed. Must have been nice, but boring at times.

Mary, your book sounds delightful.

Mary Simonsen said...

Kaydee, J. Waters, and Chelsea, Thank you for commenting.

Nancy, I agree. In the last couple of weeks, I have withdrawn from several on-line sites. I'm going to concentrate on the few where I feel I have made a real connection to the others on the site. Thanks for commenting.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Mary, I could walk for days! I enjoy walking very much. Your book looks really interesting. I liked the movie with Kiera Knightly, but it's been hard for me to get through the Austen novel. May you have many sales. I enjoyed the excerpt very much.


Dee said...

Congrats on your new book. I enjoyed the Searching for Pemberly. Nice historical detail and feel. :) I will definitely flag this book for future reading.

Mary Simonsen said...

Stepha, You are not alone, but many people enjoy the adaptations without reading austen.

Dee, Thank you for your compliment on Searching for Pemberley. The Perfect Bride is very different. Light touch--no heavy lifting required. :)

Amanda said...

I already like the sound of this book! I really would love to read it! I have a huge collection of Pride and Prejudice-related books, and ones about the Regency period. I'm actually hoping to study the Regency period and become a Historian for that period.

Plush Possum Studio said...

I found your site whilst investigating the Regency era. It is a wonderment of fact with fiction!
Also, it's such a pleasure to find a few added tidbits when searching for the best offered online.
We appreciate your help, and invite you to join us for Jane Austen's natal anniversary, when we will hold a special Linky party in our illustrious heroine's honour.
Thank You again! So fun to be here!
Rose & Co.