• Uncategorized

    Annoyances and domestic disturbance

    It’s been a funny sort of week.

    First, chez Mullany most of the contents of the kitchen are strewn around the living/dining room. I have a really small house so you sort of notice when you find the toaster on the sofa or you start looking for a clean plate on a chair and find very ancient containers of spices under the table. This is because we have had a new kitchen ceiling installed and for the first time in years we can now open all the cabinet doors all the way and I’ve cleaned some of the cabinet shelves for the first time in … a very long time. The cat was extremely traumatized by having Men in the house.

    I should also announce with pride that I have finally finished unpacking from RWA Nationals last year and had a marathon washing of silk session.

    But that’s not what annoys me. No, the number one annoyance of the moment is Austen spelled Austin. Really REALLY REALLY annoying.

    Number two, heroes in historicals who fall into one or more of these categories:

    1. Marry the heroine without intending to have sex with her (see below).
    2. Marry the heroine without intending to have children with her (see below).
    3. Don’t want to marry anyone, heroine included, because they have so many cousins, brothers, male relatives of all sizes and shapes they don’t need to provide an heir although they will never be at a loss for sequels (see below).
    4. Stride everywhere.

    Number four doesn’t actually have anything to do with 1 thru 3 but I must say that all that striding is very tiring for the reader. In some contemporaries I’ve attempted to read both the hero and the heroine, to prove her kickassedness, stride all the time, everywhere. She strode to the bathroom to clean her teeth. She strode to the Mr. Coffee. And so on.

    Let’s take a look at the Church of England marriage service. I’m not sure exactly which version of the Book of Common Prayer would have been in use during the Regency, but it would have been something closer to this (1662) than any modern version:

    [Marriage] is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

    First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

    But wait, there’s more.

    For a brilliant exposition on the reasons why men married and wanted to marry–not just to avoid fornication, as reason number two in the service says–read Amanda Vickery‘s Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.

    For a decade or so popular historical imagination has been dominated by two sorts of Georgians. The first are the libertines, the frisky Casanovas who wink knowingly at their unborn Victorian grandchildren before setting off on yet another erotic frolic. The second lot are the tasteful Georgians, the ones who spend all their time polishing their tea caddies and getting giddy on the fancy new fabrics pouring in from the east. Both types might be described as residing behind closed doors. But it is the second group, the curtain-hanging, figurine-fingering kind, whom Amanda Vickery dissects in this brilliant book. Review in The Guardian, 10/24/09.

    Marriage, for the Georgian man, represented a state of maturity and social achievement; if you could afford to marry and set up house with the sort of woman who’d strike bargains with warehouse proprietors and wallpaper hangers, the sort of woman defined by Vickery as a “sexy battleaxe” you had arrived. You no longer had to send your laundry home to mama (yes, men really did that), worry about having enough plates for your dinner party, or suffer guilt and remorse about squalid erotic adventures.

    So I wonder why romance clings so strongly to the completely historically incorrect picture of the carefree bachelor–or is he really the irresponsible ingrate who won’t even take responsibility for directly siring his heir (he doesn’t have to enjoy it, for god’s sake)? Do you think this is a bit of anti-history that works well for romance? Could you find a hero yearning for a sexy battleaxe to order his domestic life romantic?

    I know that I could use a battleaxe, sexy optional, to organize my domestic life at the moment!

  • Uncategorized

    Always And Forever

    Okay, sorry to be all harsh reality today, but I found out a dear, dear friend is getting a divorce after close to 20 years together. And although it’s devastating to her and her children, I got to thinking about how vital it must have been for the women–girls, usually–in our period to make the right choice when it came to marriage.

    Can you imagine? You are courted by someone who waltzes with you a few times, escorts you to supper, gets you a glass of orgeat, and boom! you’re married. You barely know the guy, and now he has control over you, whatever fortune you might have, and whatever offspring the two of you have together.

    Just thinking of it frightens me. It’s a very real aspect of women’s lives at that time that it is hard for a modern woman to comprehend. I know I always wonder why Jane Austen accepted an offer only to change her mind 24 hours later, but if Jane was as remarkable a person and a thinker as we all believe, it’s no wonder she didn’t want to leave her fate in some guy’s hands.

    Making the importance of that decision resonate–and not seem like some woman’s unrealistic desire to be madly in love, even though that wasn’t the norm–is crucial to Regency authors, and something I struggle with as a modern woman. We’ve discussed birth control here before, and doubtless have talked about marriage and what it means, but my friend’s situation brought it all home again to me.

    So what aspect of your life would you never wish to relinquish control of? Do you or your husband handle finances (in my family, it’s me)? Which of your former boyfriends’ habits were dealbreakers for long-term commitment?

    Megan

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