Former Riskies,  Regency,  Research,  Writing

We’re all in Trouble Because I’ve been Thinking

Here’s what I’ve been thinking.

1. It’s important, to me, to know a lot about the historical era I write about (The Regency).

2. Some things were invented/discovered/thought of AFTER the Regency

3. People haven’t changed all that much.

4. People today have been affected by things invented/discovered/thought of AFTER the Regency.

5. Because of No. 4, people in the Regency used/believed/needed things we don’t today.

So. If you’re going to write historical fiction, you should know about the things invented/discovered/thought of AFTER the Regency so you don’t have your hero driving a car a wee bit before Henry Ford started mass producing the automobile.

Number 5 is interesting, though. There’s all these things we know nothing about that people in the Regency used every day. And it shaped their world and their view of the world.

How you interact with the spaces around you is different if there’s no electricity. When you enter a darkened room, you don’t automatically reach for the light switch and speed along into the room on your merry way.

Instead you have to go a little slower, maybe. You, or your servant, might be carrying a light source already. But it’s not as bright as electric light, right?

And if you don’t have your light source with you, then there should be one by the door. Where else would you put it? It has to be by the door so you don’t kill yourself walking about in the dark.

Since the room is darkened (assuming you didn’t bring your light with you) you have to pause to light a candle or a a lamp or something else before you proceed.

Now you’re carrying something flammable…. I’m not aware of non-flammable light sources until electricty came along (no sun, doh, the room is darkened, besides, the sun IS a flammable object)  you need to be paying at least a little bit of attention to how and where you’re walking.

Your light source is also unlikely to light the entire room the way turning on the electric light does. Again, you probably have to watch your step.

We know there were clever ways to increase the amount of light in a room, mirrors, for example.

I really do sometimes just sit and think about all the ways things were different and how that shaped what people did. In the dark I can proceed to the light switch and flick. Instantaneous light fills the room. Now I can walk quickly to my destination. Also, I am not wearing layers and layers of clothes…. I am less encumbered by my clothes, I’m pretty sure, than a Regency lady was by hers.

I do my thing and turn out the light on my way out.

The Regency woman is either still carrying her light source or still followed by the servant with the light or is headed where she won’t need the light. But the light needed in the darkened room can’t be disposed of with a flick. Someone has to deal with that.

That what I was thinking lately. About all those extra things people had to do or think about. More steps. More work. More time.

Thank you Mr. Edison. And Mr. Tesla.

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Elena Greene
10 years ago

When writing I often think about candlelight. Since it was an everyday thing then people wouldn’t have thought it romantic the way we do now. But soft light is always flattering. Visualizing it helps me get into scenes set in the evening. And if modern readers find it romantic, it’s all good.

Isobel Carr
10 years ago

The thing I find the hardest to deal with is characters needing to create a source of light. It’s just not all that simple to do if you don’t already have a flame of some sort to light the candle from (there’s a reason you kept the kitchen fire carefully banked so that there was always a ready source of fire). I’ve lit many a fire over the years at an even using a tinder box, and the idea of doing that in the pitch dark in a room so I could light a candle … no, just no.

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

I try to remember about light sources in the Regency. There were more types of light sources besides candles. Colza oil lamps, for example, something I learned about at Stratfield Saye years ago. You’ll see oil lamps pop up in my stories fairly often.

10 years ago

It’s this kind of “trouble” that gets me in trouble – LOL! Because then it gets me thinging. Great post today and wonderful insight.

Barbara Monajem
10 years ago

Like Diane, I have oil lamps in convenient spots. People carry lanterns, too, and sometimes there are gaslights in the streets. And sometimes it’s just plain pitch dark.

10 years ago

Yeah, I think lamps or lanterns pretty much had to be close to the door. Or maybe no one would head to the darkened room without a light source at hand.

Or maybe a banked fire gave off enough light not to kill yourself getting there?

But, more interesting to me I think is the impact these things would have on one’s psyche.

I can walk through my house at night with impunity in the areas where I know there are lights and light switches. I feel very differently about the places that are not well lit.

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

Yes, but we expect light. I’m guessing Regency people would expect darkness or dim light, so it would not feel strange to them. They could probably see better by the light of a dying ember than we could.

Cara King
10 years ago

Ah yes, what things we all muse on! 🙂

I think having a full or near-full moon (if the clouds are thin, anyway) would have been a big, big deal. Plus, of course, the huge difference in seasons, between a day that gets dark at 4 pm versus 10 pm…

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Fascinating. I’ve been reading Lucy Worsley’s fascinating new book “If These Walls Could Talk” (a history of all things domestic!) and have been thinking about just that sort of thing. That’s one of the most fun parts of writing historical–imagining a different world 🙂

10 years ago

My point, really, isn’t what people thought was normal, it’s the ways in which that “normal” isn’t our normal and what that means to how people think or thought.

I have a different relationship with darkness than people in the Regency did, at least I’m pretty sure that’s so. I know with the flip of a switch I can make a room completely bright. I navigate my home differently than someone who does not have electricity. I go out at night with near impunity because of electricity. Not only do I navigate internal spaces differently, I navigate external ones differently, too.

Darkness is something I can vanquish with little to no effort of my own. I imagine that a Regency person would be at once more comfortable about darkness as well as, perhaps, warier about it, as that person must do more than flip a switch to bring light to a space.

Since I live in the country where, if I turn out the house lights, I can stand outside in near natural darkness, I see the night sky and the effect of the moon’s brightness more than most people who live in cities. But I have to make the effort.

I do not have to keep in mind the date of the full moon. I notice the full moon only because it happens to be so annoyingly bright through my bedroom window that it often wakes me up.

So, again, it’s not what’s normal, it’s about the different relationship we have with light and darkness in the age of electricity.

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