The Universe and Me

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Yes we're going to a party, party

Documentary/Reality show/PBS special: Regency House Party. Can’t say it was six hours of unmitigated fun, but it was interesting to see modern Brits propelled back in time to the Regency era. And thinking of how I might live in the early 1800s. If I could adapt or not. Jane Austen makes it sound so romantic and intriguing. This film showed the time in a different light. Some things would be horrible, like one bath per week (and everyone smelling like a badger), three hour dinners, not being able to dress oneself to the extreme of not even being allowed to take off your own gloves, women not being independent, not allowed to say and do whatever one wants or feels.

The women on the show complained about being terminally bored, since they were stuck inside most of the time, with each other, doing little besides gossiping and the occasional dance lesson. I felt they didn’t take enough initiative to fill their time in better ways, such as sewing (although they did sew when they were told to) or taking piano lessons, reading, writing poetry or prose (although chaperone Lady Davenport wrote a poem or two and one of the girls mentioned it took her an hour with a quill to write a letter), going for chaperoned walks with the other girls since they weren’t allowed to walk alone or with the men. The men’s existence seemed filled with (to me) pointless feats of bravado. Boxing matches, endless exercises, military drills, drinking too much, and purges.

The show was set up to be a form of reality dating, but someone didn’t realize that there was no dating in the Regency era. There was matchmaking, engagement and marriage. All done for the sake of securing the best social and financial status for the woman. And then one in three women died during childbirth. I’m with the one girl (Hayley?) who said marriage on these terms (being totally at a husband’s mercy, bearing too many children, and having a good chance of dying before the age of 35) wasn’t for her. Me either. The one chaperone (of Miss Braund’s) came across as mean at one point, when she said she couldn’t bear to leave her room and therefore Miss Braund couldn’t leave either. The chaperone was smiling creepily as she said it. I’d have clashed with her too.

The narrator mentioned competition was rife among real Regency women. Something that should have made them vindictive and back-stabbing. But I’ve never noticed much of that in films made about this era. And these modern girls thrown back in time seemed to develop great friendships. Perhaps both eras of women felt such sympathy for each others fate, they couldn’t help but be disposed towards kindness. The main difference between the women of that time and these girls was that, no matter what they were told, the modern girls still chose to listen to their hearts. One major omission from the DVD: an update on where the gang is now, although if you google, you can find some interviews.


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