Risky Regencies

A Room of Her Own?

“Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes alone!”

I sometimes think that one of the greatest and most subtle difference between our time and the Regency period is that now we take privacy and the right to time alone for granted. Then, it wasn’t so clear cut. Very few people lived alone, and “living alone” then might well mean a household with a servant or two. If you were an unmarried woman, you’d live with your family. I ran into an interesting fact somewhere that a household of three or more unrelated women was considered a brothel under the law in London (oh, how I wish I could give a source and a time period for this–I believe it was Georgian).

Living alone for a woman would be particularly difficult since she’d need someone to lace her into her stays. I’ve seen mid nineteenth-century front-lacing stays of linen for a working-class woman, and I’m sure they existed in our period. Yet, if you were a lady, you’d have back-lacing stays because that’s what ladies wore–and a maid, or sister or other female relative had to lace you into them every morning and out every night. And even at night you wouldn’t be alone–chances are a sister would share the bed.

Even if poets could wander lonely as a cloud, it wasn’t encouraged for women. Your activities would be tied into those of your family and you would be busy, busy, busy–there was a prevailing belief that women were weak and inconsistent creatures who would get into trouble morally if left to their own devices. Finding time “for yourself” was an alien concept; even Jane Austen had to snatch time to write, pretending she was producing something of little consequence.

How do you think you’d cope?

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Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

I think I’d lose my mind. I’ve always had my own room (except for that one horrible year during college when I had to *share*; oh the horror).

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I, on the other hand, have never lived alone–except for 3 months one summer. I think I might be okay with having people around.

I am alone all day, writing (or playing ScabbleBlast and looking up stuff on Ebay)but I always have my email on.

I think I would be okay being alone, though. What an adaptable creature I am!!

Diane

Megan Frampton
15 years ago

I would hate it, also; I’m an only child, shared a room in college, and that was about it (btw, I am still close, close friends with my roomie, but I hated her when she put her books on my bed), except for a brief time with another close friend.

Hate it, I would despise it. I love being alone.

I don’t mind living with the spouse and son, but I do like to have the house to myself.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I’d become very grumpy if I couldn’t find a quiet corner somewhere to escape now and then.

I love my family but by the end of every weekend I am sooo happy to hug them and send them off to work and school.

Maggie Robinson
15 years ago

I’m by nature somewhat solitary (only child married to an only child) and my husband and I give each other plenty of space. The four noisy, messy, crazy kids are grown and it is kind of nice, although I do love to see them.

At one point I had our four children, one porn-surfing Danish foreign exchange student and two disabled parents living with us…Walton’s Mountain without the Mountain. And no maid, who would have had to lace me into the straight jacket had one been handy.

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

Hi, Maggie! Glad to see you here.
Diane

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I’ve never truly lived alone, but, except for three semesters in college, until I got married I always at least had my own room where I could go and shut the door when I wanted privacy.

It’s been very crowded in our 900 sq ft box of a house since our daughter turned mobile and started accumulating her own books, toys, and furniture, and just this week we signed a lease on a townhouse that’s almost twice as large. We move next month, and the thing I’m most looking forward to is having enough space and enough rooms for a change that when I want to be alone, I can. I’m already mentally furnishing my office nook, because it’s such a joy to FINALLY have enough room to have a proper writing space, with my research books next to my desk, filing, wall space for a white board and collages (I’ve been wanting to collage ever since a Jennifer Crusie workshop last fall, but don’t have the space for supplies or the finished product), etc.

Sorry to gush so much, but I’m so thriled about my new space and hopefully getting some privacy back!

Megan Frampton
15 years ago

Susan:

Congratulations! My husband and I are looking for real estate, we just had to move on from a place that needed way, way too much work.

Lois
15 years ago

I realize that if I was actually born then, I wouldn’t have a problem with all the people around, but when I’m reading and I actually think of it when it says that the maid is in the room while the heroine’s bathing or helping her get dressed, eww, definitely hate that idea. LOL 🙂 But I like being alone and can’t imagine not having it. 🙂

Lois

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

I think the concept of privacy, and how it developed, is fascinating. I’ll be blogging more about it. As for how I’d cope….well, in a funny sort of way I think it would be rather good, particularly for a writer. You’d learn to snatch those precious moments of solitude and you could spend a great deal of time observing and storing information, rather as I think Jane Austen must have done.
I share an office at work with one to three other women and we have a great time. Sometimes we even get some work done!

seton
15 years ago

Oooo, that’s an Ingres painting, right?

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

I grew up with no concept of personal space. During college, I was too poor to have a room of my own. Graduate school onwards till I got married, I had my own room, and sometimes, my own apartment.

Since having kids, I do fantacize of having a house to myself where I’m not constantly cleaning up other people’s messes. However, I know that I would be very lonely living alone. In fact, I desire a passel o’ kids and a lot of hubble-bubble in the house and yard and laughter. Always, laughter.

However, I firmly do desire a home office with a lock on the door, so that that’s a room only I go in and no one else. It’s a room where things stay exactly the same when I return from a break. For us to be able to do this is more of a technological challenge (wiring another room for that same hi-tech ability) as the study. Someday we’ll remodel a part of the second floor and see what we can do about it. Till then I dream as I leaf through furniture catalogs and home renovation magazines.

arnique
13 years ago

Who is the artist of the painting inset? 🙂

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Arnique, the painting is Young Woman Drawing by Marie-Denise Villers in 1801. The original hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

see more here

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