In the late 1600s, Vauxhall was a rustic village on the south bank of the Thames, with a large plot of trees known as Spring Garden, where locals could wander and seek a refreshing break from the squalor and noise of city life.
By the mid 1700s, Jonathan Tyres, a leather tradesman, had transformed the plot into Vauxhall Gardens — an exotic and verdant space for people to enjoy art, music, and dancing. There were numerous pavilions, grottoes, illuminated pathways, and a Grecian-style grove that could accommodate 3,000 people.
In the octagonal Orchestra building, patrons could sit in colonnades of large, open-air boxes to savor refreshments while listening to the concert.
During its heyday, in the late Georgian era, the Prince of Wales and the elite of London society were frequent visitors, and a “silver ticket” or season pass cost one guinea – a huge sum in those days.
But Vauxhall Gardens was open to anyone who could pay the regular one-shilling admission, and all could enjoy the music, singers, dancing, sculptures, and fireworks displays. There were over 100,000 visitors every season.
Henry Fielding wrote, “That delicious sweetness of the place; the enchanting charms of music, and the satisfaction which appears in every one’s countenance, carried my soul almost to heaven.” Amelia (1752)
In Georgette Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax, young Richmond Darracott is mightily impressed when his rakish cousin Vincent arrives,
“…driving himself in a curricle to which were harnessed three magnificent black geldings, randem-tandem…and exclaimed: ‘Here’s my cousin at last! Oh, he’s driving unicorn! He’s the most complete hand!'”
[He asks] ‘What’s this new quirk, Vincent? ….Is it now the high kick of fashion to drive–unicorn, do you call it?’
‘Yes, or Sudden Death,’ replied Vincent…’And no, little cousin, you may not drive them. We have had enough sudden deaths in the family.’
When I first read The Unknown Ajax, there was no Google-search, and the dictionary only described the mythical horned beast, so I had to guess what the term meant.
Later I learned that driving a team of horses unicorn-style means there are 3 horses pulling the carriage — a pair of wheelers behind a single lead horse.
Farmers would hitch their horses in this fashion in order to negotiate closer turns along the edge of the field. Coachmen might drive unicorn when one horse in a team of four went lame and had to be left behind.
This difficult style of driving, also known as “randem (sic)-tandem,” requires a particularly well-trained lead horse and an experienced driver (see, e.g., Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, p. 169)
During the Regency, sporting gentlemen (and the occasional dashing lady) would drive unicorn-style as a display of their prowess.
Even trickier was driving a coach in a pickaxe hitch — five horses, three across at the front and two wheelers behind them. Apparently the fashionable Corinthians and Go’s wanting to show off restricted themselves to driving tandem (one horse in front of another) or unicorn, and left the pickaxe hitch to professional coachmen.
G is for Grena Green — THE destination for runaway marriages in the early 19th century.
Not because it was a romantic spot for a honeymoon — Gretna was just an obscure little village. Not exactly the Poconos, or even the Vegas, of the Regency era.
But its location, right on the toll road and just over the Scottish border from England, was ideal for a couple racing to get married without the restrictions of English law, especially if there were an angry father or rival suitor in hot pursuit.
Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754 required parental permission for anyone under age 21 to marry, but that law did not apply in Scotland, where the age of consent was only 14.
Furthermore, in England everyone had to ‘post banns’ (announce the upcoming marriage for 3 weeks in a row at the local parish church), or else obtain a costly special license in order to wed.
In Scotland, however, as long as a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anyone was allowed to conduct the marriage — including the blacksmith on the green in the village of Gretna.
For anyone who could not get consent of the parents, or who, for whatever reason, did not wish to publicize their marriage, Gretna Green was the only option.
It wasn’t a decision to be taken lightly, either. Although an elopement to Gretna sounds very romantic, it was a scandalous and expensive undertaking. The journey took several days…and nights!…over a long road.
“Runaway Wedding at Blacksmith’s Shop Gretna Green – ‘Too Late'”
A young, unmarried lady was not even supposed to drive around the park in a gentleman’s carriage without a chaperone. To travel together in a private chaise — alone! — was the height of impropriety. Especially because the unmarried couple would be forced to stay at several public inns along the way, all without benefit of chaperone.
Furthermore, there was the cost of hiring the post chaise, the postillions, paying for the horses, the tolls, the rooms at the inns…
“All’s Well That Ends Well”
So those who undertook an elopement to Gretna Green must have been driven by desperation, passion, or both. 😉
Gretna Green still does a thriving business in marriages, but now it’s more of a tourist attraction and a quaintly historic venue for a wedding, rather than a last recourse for a couple desperate to marry.
Really a delight, this is a Regency romance in the Georgette Heyer tradition, with engaging characters, a clever plot, and witty dialogue.
From the blurb:
In Regency England, young ladies make their fortune by marrying it. But Cleo Cooper has come to London with a different idea – she’s going to make her fortune by stealing it. Raised abroad by unconventional parents, Cleo has no use for the rules and strictures of the ton. She’ll pretend to fit in, but she has a secret scheme.
Arthur Ramsey, Duke of Winton, is in the market for a wife. He imagines a sweet, conformable young lady who will gracefully fill the role of Duchess, secure the succession with an heir, and not interfere with his scientific pursuits. That’s what he’s looking for – but what he finds is Cleo. (Author’s Note: A Feather To Fly With is a traditional Regency. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG, or even G.)
Harmon is also the author of a cozy mystery series, and anyone who has read Died on the Vine or Bidding on Death will recognize her talent for understated humour and well-drawn characters.
* * *
Check it out! Particularly if you like Joan Smith, Georgette Heyer, or Barbara Metzger, A Feather to Fly With is a highly enjoyable read.
(and also for Equal time – Darcy got his own post for D, and Elizabeth deserves her own post for E :-)]
Elizabeth Bennet, one of my favorite heroines of all time! Maybe she doesn’t kick ass like Katniss or solve mysteries like Harriet Vane, but she manages to push the boundaries of her narrow social sphere, with grace, style, and humour.
Elizabeth is bright, spirited, witty, and kind. She’s also pretty – not as beautiful as her celebrated sister Jane, perhaps, but quite appealing, as Mr. Darcy reluctantly admits.
“…no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.
To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying….he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.”
Elizabeth is admirable, but not perfect. She’s too pert for Bingley’s fashionable sisters, she defies propriety by “scampering about the country” — walking miles alone to visit her sick sister — and she enjoys music but doesn’t practice enough to be truly “accomplished.”
She does prefer books to cards, which is seen as a fault by Mr. Hurst, but Darcy considers that (in general) a woman should improve her mind by “extensive reading.”
Elizabeth is the “prejudice” in Pride & Prejudice, because she misjudges Darcy. After reading his letter, where he explains the truth about Wickham and his sister, she is stunned.
“She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
‘How despicably have I acted!’ she cried…..‘Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.’”
Frankly, I’ve always thought Lizzie was perfectly justified in disliking Darcy, who behaved with such rudeness and arrogance. It seems hardly fair to blame her for overlooking his admirable qualities, considering that he did such a good job of concealing them.
It is another sign of a worthy heroine that she can learn from her mistakes, but not dwell on them. “You must learn some of my philosophy,” she tells Darcy when she eventually accepts his second, much-improved proposal. “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
So…who is your favorite version of Elizabeth Bennet?
Greer Garson in the 1940 MGM movie, with Laurence Olivier?
Elizabeth Garvie, in the 1980 BBC miniseries, with David Rintoul?
Jennifer Ehle, in the 1995 BBC miniseries, with Colin Firth?
Keira Knightly in the 2005 movie with Matthew Macfadyen?
Or maybe your favourite incarnation of ‘Elizabeth’ turns up in one of the contemporary riffs on Pride & Prejudice:
Aishwarya Rai in the 2004 Bollywood spin, Bride & Prejudice, with Martin Henderson? Renee Zelwegger as Bridget in Bridget Jones’s Diary, with Colin Firth as Mark Darcy?
Or Jemima Rooper in Lost in Austen, as the Pride & Prejudice fan who exchanges places with Elizabeth, goes back in time to fictional Georgian England (!)…and falls for Elliot Cowan’s Darcy?
Elizabeth Garvie was wonderful in the 1980 miniseries, and for many years I couldn’t imagine anyone better – but I was blown away by the 1995 miniseries. Not only was it a gorgeous production, but I thought Jennifer Ehle was the quintessential Lizzy. She is still my personal favourite.
Who is yours?
Who would you cast as Elizabeth Bennet in the next version of Pride & Prejudice?
Ah, Mr. Darcy! The pride in “Pride & Prejudice.” The wealthy, arrogant, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, he of the 10,000 pounds a year
[*ASIDE: 10,000 a year may not sound like much, but consider that in 1810 the average laborer earned a mere 20 pounds a year. Of course Darcy had to pay for all his servants and upkeep on his vast estates, but the 10,000 pounds was his annual income — about $ 700,000 – $1 million dollars in today’s money, and only about 4% of his overall wealth. Check out this analysis from the Jane Austen’s World blog.http://tinyurl.com/6l7aws.]
Fitzwilliam Darcy is the man who has to be dragged by his amiable friend to a public assembly, and then stands around looking down his nose at everyone, sneering at the locals for engaging in such frivolous entertainment, commenting: “Every savage can dance.”
A man who prides himself on his perfect manners, but refuses to dance with Elizabeth, because “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Tall, dark, handsome, rich – but not exactly a charmer. Which makes it so much fun to watch his reluctant, but growing, fascination with Elizabeth Bennett, culminating in one of the funniest proposals ever written:
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
If only he’d stopped there! Maybe Lizzie could have overcome her dislike of him, in the face of all that ardent admiration.
But no, he had to go on and explain himself [narrative in the novel; dialogue, in the 1995 BBC screenplay by Andrew Davies]:
“In declaring myself thus, I am fully aware that I will be going expressly against the wishes of my family, my friends, and, I hardly need add, my own better judgment.”
Mr. Darcy is an intelligent man, yet he has no notion of how insulting it is to tell a young lady that he loves her against his better judgment.
Which is fortunate for the reader, or the story would have ended there, instead of going through many misunderstandings and revelations en route to (spoiler alert, if you need one) the HEA.
Of the many screen adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, which Mr. Darcy is your favorite?
Laurence Olivier, in the 1940 MGM classic, with Greer Garson?
David Rintoul, in the 1980 BBC version with Elizabeth Garvie?
Colin Firth, in the 1995 BBC miniseries with Jennifer Ehle?
Matthew Macfadyen, in the 2005 movie with Keira Knightly?
Or, in some modern spins on the story —
What about Martin Henderson in the lively 2004 Bollywood version, Bride & Prejudice, with the lovely Aishwarya Rai? (and it’s nice to see Naveen Andrews outside of LOST, as “Bairah” – the Mr. Bingley role)
Colin Firth (encore!) as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary, with Renee Zelwegger as Bridget? (2001)
Or Elliot Cowan, in Lost in Austen, with Jemima Rooper as Elizabeth’s “understudy” 😉 ?
Have I missed any Darcys? Who’s your favorite Darcy incarnation?
Who would you like to see in the next adaptation of Pride & Prejudice? (there’s bound to be more!)
Often in Regency stories the characters will refer to “the latest crim. con.” – usually with titters, blushes, or knowing looks.
For example, in Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion, when Freddy Standish runs into his sister Meg at Almack’s, she exclaims
“Oh, Freddy, I must tell you the latest crim. con. story! You will be in whoops! Only fancy!—it is all over town that Lady Louisa Aldstone and young Garsdale–“
“Lord, I knew that before I went to Melton!” interrupted Freddy scornfully. “And you needn’t tell me Johnny Eppleby fathered the last Thresham brat, because I know that too!”
When I first read Cotillion as a young teenager, I was puzzled by the phrase “crim.con.” It was clear from the context that it had something to do with people having affairs, but when I looked it up, the definition merely said “criminal conversation.”
Huh? Were all these people having affairs also criminals? Chatting during their romantic interludes? It seemed unlikely.
Well, not exactly. I later learned that “criminal conversation” was the legal name for a tort case involving adultery, where a husband sued another man for monetary damages for carrying on with his wife. It was often, but not always, connected to divorce proceedings.
The concept was based on the notion that a wife was chattel – the legal property of her husband. If another man had an affair with her, that was a form of trespass on the husband’s “property,” and the husband was entitled to seek financial compensation for the loss of value in that “property.”
[I can’t help putting quotes around the word ‘property’ as if it were not true, but legally a wife was the property of her husband – for long before, and surprisingly long after, the Regency era]
Divorce was still extremely difficult and expensive in the early 19th century. This would punish the wife, but if an angry husband wanted revenge on his wife’s lover, he would would sue, hoping to win a sizable sum (and perhaps ruin the lover as well)
Basically, a criminal conversation proceeding was a lawsuit by Lord Cuckold against Sir Rake, for fooling around with Lord Cuckold’s wife.
Rosebery v. Mildmay
In this 1814 case, the Earl of Rosebery sued Sir Henry Mildmay of consorting with his wife, Harriet Bouverie. This was not merely scandalous but also illegal, because Sir Henry was Harriet’s brother-in-law (He had been married to Harriet’s sister, who was now deceased; still, the law prohibited marriage between a man and his late wife’s sister; likewise, a woman could not marry the brother of her deceased husband.)
The charges were uncontested, but a trial was held to determine damages. The jury awarded Lord Rosebery the enormous sum of 15,000 pounds (equivalent to about a million dollars in today’s terms) – the highest amount ever in a crim. con. case.
Lord Rosebery promptly divorced his wife. A year later, Harriet and Sir Henry married, in Germany, “by special permission of the King of Wurttemburg.”
Harriett had three more children with her second husband and they lived happily together for nearly twenty years, until her death in 1834.