Musical Instruments in Regency England

When I first began reading Jane Austen’s and Georgette Heyer’s novels, the pianoforte seemed to be the musical instrument of choice for every Regency era heroine.

Portrait of Geneviève Aimée Victoire Bertin by Francois-Xavier Fabre

Jane Austen often equated a woman’s ability on the pianoforte to her overall value to society as an “accomplished woman.” In her novel Pride and Prejudice here’s how Caroline Bingley described Miss Georgiana Darcy:

The harp was another instrument mentioned in Austen’s novels, but with much less frequency; once again, Caroline Bingley mentioned the harp in regard to Georgiana Darcy:

“I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp.”

Author Georgette Heyer, who wrote her novels set during the Regency over one hundred years after Austen, also wrote about female characters who played the pianoforte. She also mentioned harps in her stories but usually for comic value, such as when a male character complained about a woman “twanging” away at a harp.

In recent years I’ve come to learn that there was another musical instrument that was just as popular—if not more so—than the pianoforte and the twanging harp: The guitar.

Lady with a Guitar, by Francois Xavier Fabre

I’ve found quite a few portraits of people—women and men—who lived during the Regency era and were memorialized with a guitar.

I find this so interesting, mainly because I always associated guitars with twentieth century America. Say the word guitar and I think of a cowboy strumming “Home on the Range” while sitting with his fellow cowpokes around a campfire. I never really thought of the guitar being prevalent in the early nineteenth century, and I certainly never thought of it being English.

Young Woman Playing Guitar, by Adele Romany.

Another instrument that’s often featured in portraits of the time is the lyre. Unlike the guitar, the lyre makes sense to me, given that a majority of the early Regency years were influenced by Greek symbols and stylings.

Portrait of Hortense Bonaparte, by Fleury-Francois Richard (1815)

In this post I’ve shared a few examples of portraits I found, but I’ve collected even more examples on one of my Pinterest boards, and I’d love to have you take a look!

Click here to visit my new Pinterest board, “Musical Instruments in the Regency.” I hope you enjoy it; and be sure to subscribe to the board so you’ll be notified when I add new images. I’m pretty certain I’m going to be posting some more images of guitars and lyres and pianofortes. And who knows? Maybe I’ll come across some other surprising musical instruments to share with you!

 

Stories from Quarry Bank

Not long ago I wrote a post for the Austen Authors blog about Charles Bingley, a character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (You can click on the Austen Authors logo to read the post.)

If you’ve read Austen’s classic novel, you know that Charles Bingley and his sisters are quite wealthy by the standards of their day. They certainly enjoyed the finer things in life and spent their money freely on travel, clothes, and large, expensive homes. Austen told us the Bingley siblings inherited their wealth from their father, and that the family fortune had been “acquired by trade.”

I’ve often believed “trade” meant ownership in a textile mill, a belief I explained in the Austen Authors post. Also in the post, I wondered what kind of mill owner the Bingley’s father would have been.

My opinion has always been that the elder Mr. Bingley would have been among the enlightened brand of mill owners. By that, I mean that he treated his employees with respect and probably established churches and schools for his workers. I based my theory on research I did about Quarry Bank, a real-life mill founded in 1784 in Manchester, England.

At the time I wrote that post, I didn’t know there was a book about Quarry Bank Mill that described the workers and the conditions at the mill. Nor was I aware English television had broadcast a dramatic series that told the stories of the children who worked at the real Quarry Bank Mill.

I haven’t seen the series, but last week I discovered the book on Amazon. You can click on the book cover to read more about it

I just ordered my copy, and it’s on it’s way (Thank you, Prime two-day-shipping!).

On a whim, I switched from the U.S. Amazon site to the U.K. Amazon site to see if I could find a DVD of the TV series. Lo, and behold, Amazon U.K. has quite a few books about Quarry Bank Mill! Oh, how I wish I had known about them before!

This book, for example, is only 128 pages long, but contains over 250 pictures of life at the mill:

And this one really piqued my interest:

It tells the story of the wife of Quarry Bank Mill’s owner, and her life-long efforts to improve the education, health and welfare of Quarry Bank’s workers.

Both of these books are must-haves for me! And if you’re a fan of North and South (another classic novel that centers around early English Textile mills), or ever wondered how those Bingleys got so rich, you may find these books of interest, too.

If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to know what you think of them!

Symbolic Armor

I’m an American fascinated with all things British, especially manor houses. In my Yankee mind, every English country house has a butler, a stable full of horses, and an ominous-looking suit of armor standing guard in the hall near the front door.

Suit of Armor inside Peles Castle, Romania (from Pinterest)

But then, a funny thing happened.

While browsing through The Metropolitan Museum of Art collections, I came across this eighteenth century helmet and shield, and all my previous fascinations with battle armor went out the window.

It’s gorgeous! No clunky, clanking armor here; just beautiful design, plenty of gilt, and a deep blue patina that makes every beautiful detail stand out.

This kind of armor was symbolic, rather than functional. Its design was based on Classical themes that remind me of Greek and Roman heroes.

It’s also the kind of armor that was created to impress all who saw it. Very probably it graced an important place in a grand castle or estate, in the same way we’d hang a Monet or Rembrandt so it could be viewed and admired.

Thanks to this display at The Met I now have an entirely new take on armor, and a new bit of inspiration to use when I want to imagine the luxurious interior of a great English country house.

If you’d like to know more about this helmet and shield (as well as other armor on display), follow this link to The Met’s website.

Smokin’ Hot Literary Characters

Back in the day when cigarette smoking was cool (and some physicians actually prescribed cigarette smoking to their patients!) tobacco companies invested heavily in advertising.

One of the most successful and effective methods for spreading the word about cigarettes was through printed cigarette cards.

Issued between 1885 and the beginning of World War II, pictorial cards were extremely popular with consumers. Each cigarette pack included a collectible card and a bit of history, which might have helped smokers justify wasting their money and health on the wicked weed.

In England, John Player & Sons (a branch of The Imperial Tobacco Company) was arguably the most popular producer of collectible cards. They typically issued their cards in sets and encouraged consumers to collect them all.

The company issued hundreds of different sets, some containing as many as 50 individual cards. The most popular sets featured images of royalty, with collectible sets depicting kings and queens, coronations, castles, and highlighted events from a particular monarch’s reign.

While not quite as popular, the company also issued about a dozen sets dedicated to literary characters. Dickens was very popular; Thackeray and Scott had their own sets, too.

 

The images in this post give a sampling of characters from books published in 1766 to the mid-1800s. Some of the artwork was produced by major artists, including H. M. (Henry Matthew) Brock, British illustrator of Jane Austen’s novels.

I like these particular images, because they coincide with the way I imagined the characters in my head when I read the books.

An added bonus: the Cliffs-Notes-style descriptions of the books on the reverse side of the cards, which gave just enough information about the characters and the plots for smokers to converse intelligently about classic novels while they smoked themselves to death.

My favorite cards are the three characters from Vanity Fair: Becky Sharp, Jos Sedley, and Lady Southdown.

What do you think: Are the characters portrayed on these cards as you imagined they would look?

I’m Giving Away Books!

Shame on Santa. He brought me new books for Christmas, but neglected to bring the shelves to put them on.

That means I have to get rid of some of my existing books to make room for my new treasures.

If you’re a book-lover living in the U.S., and you’re interested in history and all things English, I’d love to send you one of my research books FOR FREE!

All you have to do is promise to give it a good home.

Here are the books I’m giving away this month:

The London Mob; Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England, by Robert Shoemaker

About the book: By 1700 London was the largest city in Europe, with over 500,000 inhabitants. Weakly policed, its streets saw regular outbreaks of rioting by a mob easily stirred by economic grievances, politics or religion. If the mob vented its anger more often on property than people, eighteenth-century Londers frequently came to blows over personal disputes in a society where men and women were quick to defend their honour. Slanging matches easily turned to fisticuffs and slights on honour were avenged in duels. In this world, where the detection and prosecution of crime was the part of the business of the citizen, punishment was public and expected to be endorsed by crowds. The London Mob draws a fascinating portrait of the public life of the modern world’s first great city. This is a hardback book with original dust cover.

Heroines, by Norma Lorre Goodrich

About the book: Norma Lorre Goodrich, world-renowned Arthurian scholar and historian, turns her attention to female heroes whose valor, fortitude, fearlessness, brilliance and fame have defined and defied women’s roles throughout the ages. She traces the core archetypes of women in ancient history, shows how the stories have descended through the ages, and examines the historical truths behind the myths. From legendary “Good” women to Amazons, fallen women to Joan of Arc, Goodrich examines the female legends on which today’s grand operas, classic novels, and beloved movies are based. This is a hardback book with original dust cover.

Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter, by Diana Souhami

About the book: Alice Keppel, the married lover of Queen Victoria’s eldest son and great-grandmother to Camilla Parker-Bowles, was a key figure in Edwardian society. Hers was the acceptable face of adultery; discretion was her hallmark. It was her art to be the king’s mistress, all the while lauding the Royal Family and the institution of marriage. Formidable and manipulative, her attentions to the king brought her wealth, power, and status.

Her daughter Violet Trefusis had a long and tempestuous affair with author and aristocrat Vita Sackville-West, during which Vita left her husband and two sons to travel the world with Violet.

From memoirs, diaries, and letters, this is a fascinating portrayal of two strong women, their complicated relationship, and the duplicity and double-standards of the world in which they lived. This is a hardback book with original dust cover.

The Man Who Would Be King, the Life of Philippe D’Orleans, Regent of France, by Christine Pevitt

About the book: When Louis XIV, the Sun King, died in 1715, his five-year-old great-grandson succeeded him as King Louis XV. But real power passed to the new Regent, the man who became the de facto ruler of France, Philippe, duc d’Orleans. This biography examines the character of a man whose scandalous reputation has almost overwhelmed his many extraordinary qualities. He earned a reputation as a philanderer and a rake, but he was also intelligent, diligent, loyal, and brave. At a time when Europe was enjoying the dawn of the Enlightenment, Philippe d’Orleans established France as the very center of the intellectual and artistic ferment. This is a hardback book with original dust cover.

If you reside in the USA and would like to have one of these hardback books, leave a comment below, telling me which title you want.

If none of these titles sound like your cup of tea, please check back regularly. I’ll have more research books to give away in the next week or two!