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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Regency Man and Marriage: Fact and Fiction

Consider these images:

#1 A half naked male sex machine with a beautiful woman draped over him.

#2 A soberly dressed man with his wife on his arm and following them, five or six healthy, well-dressed children.

Which image was the ideal of the Georgian and Regency male?

If you picked #2, you are correct.

#1 is an anachronism, today's popular image of the marriage-phobic male who dreads relinquishing his life of hedonistic pleasure for the strangling bonds of matrimony.

#2 is the Georgian and Regency ideal of manhood--a man with proven fertility and who is also a good provider.

In Georgian and Regency England, everyone had a place, and that place was marriage.

Bachelorhood was the undesirable limbo a man must endure before he wed. Life for a bachelor consisted of work and a social life mainly with other bachelors. They worked together, lived together, and filled the coffee houses and chop houses.

At first, the bachelor might enjoy the freedom from parental control. But a single man had a lower status than his married brethren, and in time, the exclusive company of men palled. Men longed for adult feminine company. How did bachelors find marriageable women? With great difficulty. If they were lucky, their families and married friends offered access to single women, since the women stayed at home.

Besides enhanced status, a secure place in society, and most importantly, the ultimate proof of his manhood, marriage conferred practical benefits on a bachelor, and I'm not just talking about available sex.

Marriage has always had an economic component. All men, even wealthy men, worked, leaving them less time for the day-to-day necessities of life. They needed to eat, live somewhere and have their living quarters and clothes cleaned. In the 18th and 19th centuries, food preparation, laundry and cleaning were expensive and time-consuming. Since most men couldn't afford servants, they had to pay for these services. In the division of labor of the time, a wife would perform these tasks while she also warmed her husband's bed and cared for his children.

Yes, there were unhappy marriages as well as happy ones, but the promise of happiness plus the other benefits outweighed the possibility of misery in the minds of most men.

A good book with a whole chapter on this subject is Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery. This book also includes the Regency.

So, the next time you encounter one of those high-born Regency rakes who disdain marriage, remember his realistic counterpart--the man who yearned to wed.

Thank you all,

Book cover: The Seduction by Nicole Jordan
Painting: The Baillie Family (c. 1784) by Thomas Gainesborough


Joanna Waugh said...

Thumbs up, Linda! We often impose our modern sensibilities on historical characters, judging them through the prism of our own experience. It's good to be reminded of the way things really were.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Excellent post, thank you. My first historical romance set in Regency England (I live in Scotland) is being published next week and I'm so glad it doesn't have the first type of cover on it. It doesn't have the second either!

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Awesome post, but I have to admit, I'm a sucker for image #1!


Of course #2 makes more sense. I really love how you bring these topics up. They're fun and very informative for use budding historical writers!


catslady said...

Now many women have to do all of that and work outside the home too but at least it seems like the younger generation of men chip in and help lol. It's good to know what the norm is for the the different times - thanks for the reminder.

JOYE said...

It definitely was a man's world during the Regency glad things changed over the years...If we women don't want to clean and cook we don't have to!

Barbara Elsborg said...

Well I know the covers like 1# are not the real thing but if I saw a cover like the picture 2# - my inclination would not be to buy the book!! LOL I think we've imbued our modern needs on these regency guys. I think they were largely shorter too, weren't they? Not much use for me at almost 6 feet!

Delaney Diamond said...

Very informative. Though as others have stated, I'm more inclined to go for book #1 :)

Linda Banche said...

You're welcome, Joanna. So many times, what we "think" we know about the past is wrong.

Congratulations, Rosemary, on your release. I don't care for the first type of cover on my books, either, but, like you, I wouldn't want the second one there, either!

You're welcome, Steph. I admit, I like picture #1, too. *g*

catslady, I think it's wrong for today's women who work outside the home to have to do all the work inside, too. Their husbands need a good kick.

Joye, although I love the Regency, I would never want to live there. Definitely a man's world then.

Barbara, the average height for a Regency man was about 5' 5". By the way, Napoleon was 5' 5", not the midget we make him out to be. But nutrition is a factor in height, and upper class men, whose families could afford food (food was expensive) were taller than their malnourished peasant counterparts. George Washington was over 6 feet tall, and he wasn't the only man of that height in that era.

Delaney, I hear you. I like image #1, too!

Savanna Kougar said...

Linda, fascinating as always. Another reason men were short-statured, other than poor nutrition, was the fact that tall, strong peasants were killed off because they were considered to be competition during medieval times, and before. So, those genetics were in 'shorter' supply.

Maggi Andersen said...

If we wrote about the real Regency it would be boring, lol. That book sounds interesting, thanks Linda.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Linda,
Great blog very informative and interesting as always. I'd go for No 1, even though I know No 2 is reality in those days.



Carol L. said...

Very informative post. I really enjoyed reading the reality of the times. I also prefer #1. :)
I'm a new follower and will definitely be back.
Carol L.

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Savanna. I didn't know that about the peasants, but it makes sense. Get rid of any possible opposition.

LOL, Maggi. I agree, reality is usually boring or miserable. Who wants to read about that?

Thanks, Margaret. So far, the consensus is #1. I wonder why? *g*

Hi Carol L. Always nice to have a new follower. Welcome.

Dawn - ilovedobermans! said...

I am a very odd duck, I admit. I prefer the man yearning to be married. He seems a heck of lot more romantic to me. Just like I prefer to watch a happily married with children far more sexy than a promiscuous man. The first I admire wholeheartedly. The second, hmm, not so mu. In fact, I'd be inclined to pity those men. The first seems like far better husband and father material, the second would worry me spitless. I personally would love to read ANY romance novel where the man is younger, closer to the age of the heroine, and a virgin. Hey, it worked for Jamie Fraser! I know, I know, It's supposed to be romantic to be the only woman who brings him to his knees, and of course his prowess in bed. But what about STDs? The poor illegitimate children? I told you, I'm an odd woman. When I read a (recency) romance, I try hard not to read the man or women's ages, and pretend as much as I can the man's a virgin, and he learned from a book how to keep his woman happy.

Linda Banche said...

I'm with you, Dawn. I don't find Lotharios attractive, either. Neither are men a lot older than the heroines. Most of my heroes don't run around, and they are about the same age as the heroines. But that's me. *g*