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Last week Mr Fraser and I grounded our nine-year-old daughter, Miss Fraser, from all her electronic devices–her regular Kindle, her Fire, her DS, her computer, and the TV. She’s taking her electronics fast pretty hard. At one point I reminded her that when I was her age, I didn’t have any electronics except a TV which only got six or seven channels, two of them extremely fuzzy, and yet I entertained myself just fine with books, toys, and paper and pencils/crayons. All of which she has plenty of. “But you were used to it!” she wailed.

She’s adjusting. She’s been digging out toys she got for Christmas or her birthday that she’d barely touched, and she follows me around the kitchen wanting to help, but bored by the simplicity of my typical weeknight cuisine. While I’m just trying to get pasta or breakfast-for-dinner to the table, she’s trying to make it a round of Chopped or Iron Chef. Which might be fun–on a weekend when I have more time.

But it got me thinking what her childhood would’ve been like if she’d been born in 1804 instead of 2004. Setting aside for the moment the fact she’d probably be motherless (since I had complications of late pregnancy and labor and delivery that were no big deal in the 21st century but would’ve been dire back then), her world would look very different. She wouldn’t have My Little Pony figurines, she’d have an actual pony. (Assuming of course that Regency Mr Fraser and I were at least genteel and could afford to keep horses.)


(Yes, yes, I know, that’s a horse, not a pony. But isn’t it pretty? Horsie!)

She wouldn’t be able to read about Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, or Firestar the warrior cat, but she might enjoy Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. Or, given that we are Frasers (it’s a pen name, but one chosen from my family tree), she might find The Scottish Chiefs more to her taste than anything else available in 1813.


And while I suppose the Regency versions of me and Mr Fraser would’ve felt obliged to restrain our daughter’s tomboyish tendencies, I’m sure she would’ve angled for toy soldiers instead of dolls.

toy soldiers

As much as I love history, the only thing I envy about Regency Miss Fraser’s childhood is the pony.

What about you? What are your favorite toys, or your kids’ favorites? And what would you have played with 200 years ago?

Our Regency heroes were all dressed as girls for the first few years of their lives. Sad but true, and somehow they grew up normal; the upside of it was that they then enjoyed the formal ceremony of being breeched–that is, allowed to wear pants. And other than the cross-dressing, it wasn’t that bad a time to be a child, if you survived, and, of course, had the additional luck of being born into a family with money and education.

Children were no longer seen as adults in miniature or full of original sin that needed to be flogged out of them. Childhood was becoming recognized as a stage in life, much as the 1950s spawned the cult of the teenager, thanks to Rousseau’s Emile, a novel that explored the ideal upbringing of a child (ironically, Rousseau sent his own children to be raised in an institution, hoping they’d have a better chance in life there than as the illegitimate offspring of an impoverished writer). Wordsworth and Blake wrote about childhood as a state of mystical innocence.

Children now had their own styles of clothing, such as the skeleton suit for little boys and the late eighteenth-century styles for girls’ clothes–high waisted, simple cotton gowns–later became the fashion for adults. Books, games, and puzzles were produced for children, and not all the books were improving texts.

But even in those relatively enlightened times, and in affluent families, the infant mortality rate was appallingly high. It makes you wonder what the relationships between children and parents were like–did parents love their children without reservation, knowing they might have only a short time together? Or did parents repress their natural feelings to protect themselves from the grief to come?

In a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft I read (sorry, can’t remember which one), there was a truly heartbreaking excerpt from a letter Mary wrote after losing a child–but the thing that struck me as odd was that she referred to the baby as it. It could be a linguistic oddity–like the French word bebe not entering the language until the late nineteenth-century. But words are important, as we know. Does this reflect an attitude of the past that is quite alien to us now? Is this how the Regency produced Victorians?

And how do you feel about the portrayal of children in romances? Quoting myself, number seven in the top ten things a heroine would never say in a Regency romance (from The Rules of Gentility):

I don’t care if that adorable lisping child is the apple of the hero’s eye. If she doesn’t shut up I’ll slap her.

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