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Tag Archives: The Rules of Gentility

I blame it all on Azteclady who made the suggestion in the discussion following Pam Rosenthal’s recent appearance here. She suggested LOLRegencies, after we talked about the implied silliness of the Elgin picture at right, a marvelous mixed bag of a portrait that begged for a caption. Or several.

So I indulged in a little time-wasting.

And here’s my idea. Send me your LOLRegency (as a low-res jpg) and I’ll post them for Thanksgiving Day. I have a couple of copies of the English edition (pink!) of The Rules of Gentility to give away to my favorites. Please let me know what form of your name to put with your artwork. Also, don’t make your art too big or too small–that said, I’d suggest you make them about the same size as the ones here, whatever that may be.

The email address is Put LOLRegencies in the subject line, and send your efforts to me before midnight (EST) on Wednesday, November 26.

Update following Diane’s questions: if you don’t have photoshop, or some such (I used Appleworks), send me the pic and the caption(s). And I’m hoping to assemble these early on Thanksgiving morning, hence the deadline of late Wednesday, because I know so many of us will be dealing with a rock-hard frozen turkey and a hairdryer late at night…

Here’s a LOLRegencies insight into Jane Austen’s creative process:

and an insight into mine:

Looking forward to seeing much silliness and creativity….

Yes, they became Victorians.

That’s always something that alarms me when I consider our interpretation of the Regency. If not our characters themselves, then certainly the half-dozen babies of the epilogue grew up to become … like this.

Did it happen overnight or was it a gradual change in sensibilities–or, to put it another way, were the Georgians more Victorian than we like to think?

Pretty much, yes. For instance, William Bowdler (1754-1825) published his improved edition of Shakespeare in 1818, the Family Shakespeare, which omitted certain vulgarities which might offend or corrupt the innocence of women and children during family readings. Don’t you think “Out, out crimson spot!” has a certain appeal?

As early as 1710, the modest pamphlet that grew to be the bestselling book of the eighteenth century, Onania: or, The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences in Both Sexes, Considered, warned against solo sexual activity. Yes, sex for Georgians was fraught with moral peril and the best approach was to grit your teeth, think of England, and try not to enjoy it because this was all about procreation and duty.

A brief glimpse of fashions during the first couple of decades of the nineteenth century shows women’s clothes evolving from diaphanous muslins with high waists to shaped bodices and puffy sleeves and lowering waistlines, with a shape dictated by corsets and a gradual restriction of movement.

Yes, indeed, dear Mama did appear half naked in public, just like the sensibly dressed young ladies in the cartoon.

Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, published in 1847-48, was illustrated by the author who showed his characters dressed in “contemporary” clothes.

Tastes had changed, as Thackeray explained:

It was the author’s intention, faithful to history, to depict all the characters of this tale in their proper costume, as they wore them at the commencement of this century…I have not the heart to disfigure my heroes and heroines by costumes so hideous; and have, on the contrary, engaged a model of rank dressed according to the present fashion.

Similarly, the painting Before Waterloo by Henry Nelson O’Neil (1868) has not an Empire waistline in sight.

But within a couple of decades tastes had changed once again and with the passing of time came a certain nostalgia for the past. A genre of painting emerged that showed the big bad Regency as being pretty, cute, and innocent.

Marcus Stone (1840-1921), Dickens’ friend and later illustrator, painted a series of genre scenes such as this one. It’s related to his painting In Love that HarperCollins, bless their heart, used for the cover of The Rules of Gentility (same characters, same silly hat, same ribbon and basket, and he still hasn’t plucked up the courage to propose to her!).

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) also idealized the period.

When you’re reading or writing do you ever consider that the Regency is going to become the Victorian age? Do you want to? Can you imagine the family portraits becoming objects of embarrassment?

I am Everard Dominic Benedict Ashford Alexander Artichoke FitzGrennan, Duke of Hawkraven, known and feared as Satan’s Elbow, but you may address me as…Cuddles. Top Ten Things, Rules of Gentility

Part X, because this is something we write about again and again–how to find names for characters that don’t sound hideously 21st century, that somehow represent a quality of the character, and lend themselves to different forms of address. How would your hero’s mother, sister, mistress, best friend, etc. address him? (Other than as “sir,” of course.)

This is something on my mind at the moment because I’m considering changing the hero’s name in a book that’s pretty much written. For one thing, his nickname, a shortened version of his title, is a sort of fish. And yes, he’s a retired naval officer, but even so… His first name is pretty much nonedescript because no one ever uses it. Everyone close to him uses his nickname, even the heroine. As far as fish names go, I can think of better ones–Hal, short for Viscount Halibut–but there are also minor characters called Henry and Harry. Not that he has to have a fish name–I’m trying to get away from the fish motif, you understand. And it bothers me that somehow, in not having the right name, I don’t have the proper handle on the character. Eeek.

So I did a bit of research on favorite names and it’s a small but level playing field in the 18th-19th century: lots of Johns and Williams. There’s a list at but I’m not sure how accurate it is in relation to usage then or or now, and some are specific to the US. For a list of popular English girls’ names in the eighteenth century, there’s some good information in Female Names over the Centuries.

I like old-fashioned interchangeable male/female names like Evelyn and Joslyn. (Did you know that John Wayne’s real name was Marion Michael Morrison and he adopted the nickname Duke in his youth?)

The book Bad Baby Names by Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback,was reviewed in the NY Times by John Tierney:

By scouring census records from 1790 to 1930, Mr. Sherrod and Mr. Rayback discovered Garage Empty, Hysteria Johnson, King Arthur, Infinity Hubbard, Please Cope, Major Slaughter, Helen Troy, several Satans and a host of colleagues to the famed Ima Hogg (including Ima Pigg, Ima Muskrat, Ima Nut and Ima Hooker).

The authors also interviewed adults today who had survived names like Candy Stohr, Cash Guy, Mary Christmas, River Jordan and Rasp Berry. All of them, even Happy Day, seemed untraumatized.

A contest that followed the review for the worst modern name came up with this winner:

Iona Knipl. The judges chose it because, in addition to being an embarrassing pun, it also set up an inevitable reply from people imagining they were being wittily original. I called up Miss Knipl and asked her how many times she had heard someone meet her and reply, “I own two.”

As for names that seem to have implicit meaning, if you read Chuck Shepherds’s News of the Weird, you’ll know that the name Wayne has unfortunate connotations and the column has regular Wayne updates.

So I won’t be renaming my hero Wayne.

Here’s a short story I wrote in 2001 at the writing site Toasted Cheese, all about the different forms of names and what they can say about characters.

The hero in A Most Lamentable Comedy is called Nicholas Congrevance, because I like the first name and his surname is a French Arthurian name I came across that seems suitably foreign and exotic. The heroine was originally named Mary, which I found a very stultifying good girl name (although her first appearance in The Rules was as a very bad girl indeed) so I changed it to Caroline, and she took off. The book is released July 23 and you can order it with free shipping from And don’t forget the contest at my website!

Compulsory promotion over, what are your favorite names in fiction and in real life? Is there an interesting story behind a character’s name in one of your books?

Louisa Cornell, congratulations, you’re the winner of Tessa McDermid’s book. Please contact the Riskies at

They may be the best thing since sliced bread but I can’t do them.

Really, I’ve tried. Let’s take the problem of Dukes first. They seem to outnumber the regular population about 5:1 so you’d think I could come up with one pretty easily. Somehow they just don’t exist in my particular corner of Romancelandia. Or if they do, they don’t behave in an appropriate ducal fashion.

In the Rules of Gentility, my heroine meets a member of the royal family, a Duke, misbehaving in a house of ill repute in the company of a bishop and several lightly clad females. He is neither hot, young, nor anything other than atmospheric wallpaper.

In my August, 2009 release A Most Lamentable Comedy (warning: shameless self-promotion, and new release date), I have a Duke who spends most of his time indulging his passions for sheep (no, not in that way) and antiquities. He is happily married. Without undue spoilers, he takes on the heroine as a mistress (sort of). He sets her up in a house and thoughtfully provides entertainment for her, a pianoforte (which she plays very badly) and

...there is an easel and a set of paints and brushes, tablets of paper and so on. A small bookcase holds some rather serious-looking literature bound in opulent gilded leather. Good God, it is like an expensive academy for young ladies, and I thought I was descending into the very pit of impropriety. It is bad enough to have become a whore, but to be expected to practice the accomplishments of polite society as well seems to be remarkably unfair.

The Duke reports: she stared at the books in the house as though they were vermin.

And this is the crux of my problem with mistresses and the aristocracy: other than the obvious, what do they do the rest of the time? Call me a lefty if you will (oh, please!) but I like my characters to have some sort of social conscience, to do something other than frivol away their time.

I don’t want to see his grace become a spy unless I’m absolutely sure his land steward can be trusted to look after the tenants properly while he’s out performing deeds of derring-do and sleeping with unsuitable women.

And if a woman does become a courtesan, I want her to be at the top of the Harriet Wilson scale of cheekiness and good humor.

How about you? What do you think of the current overload of dukes and courtesans? Can you suspend disbelief?

The Little Black Dress edition of The Rules of Gentility–out today in the UK and elsewhere!

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Fashion and charitable works are all very well–but what’s a Regency girl got to do to get married around here?

Regency heiress Philomena Wellesley-Clegg is not short of offers. Unfortunately those doing the offering–two lords, a viscount and a mad poet–all fall short of her expectations. But she’s about to meet Mr Inigo Linsley. Unshaven, wickedly handsome and hiding a scandalous secret, he simply isn’t Philomena’s type–so why can’t she stop thinking about how good he looks in his breeches?

Pride and Prejudice meets Sex and The City in this ravishing Regency romp about boys, bonnets and breaking the rules.

Isn’t that cool? And the sort-of sequel, A Most Lamentable Comedy, will be released in March 2009.

Today I’ve joined the History Hoydens–I’m blogging over there about local history, the town of Bladensburg, Maryland. Come and check it out.

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