country society as illustrated in the works of Jane Austen,
Sir Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Elizabeth Gaskell is
seen as quaint and colorful, cheerful and pleasing-it's home
to the British, and the great cities-Bath and London-are merely
where the adventures take place. The country is where the heroes
and heroines discover themselves, have their epiphanies, and
become apotheoses of British literature.
had a complex social system. A single county is host to a variety
of classes. At the top, the duke and duchess preside, followed
by the earl and countess, the lord and lady, the squire, the
young ladies and old maids, the doctor and his apprentice, the
solicitors and barristers, the land agent and the governess,
and lastly, the servants.
Social status was unchangeable
for a man, but for a lady, it was much easier and most frequently
done. Jane Austen's Mansfield Park contrasts two sisters-one
marries beneath her and one marries below her; one lives in
squalor and one lives in luxury. A young lady's life was often
already prepared for; she was to be a wife in hopes of raising
a family. In preparation for marriage, education was minimal
and often done at home by a governess or at small private school
near the home. A governess lived with the family she was serving,
and educated her employer's children until they entered school,
college, or "came out." A governess was seen as a
member of the family, or a servant, and was supposed to be a
behavioral model for the children she taught. Young ladies became
governesses when they encountered a lack of opportunity to move
up the social status or to marry. Ladies were also expected
to learn how to sing, play the piano, dance, draw or paint,
and engage in other genteel arts, including embroidery, lace-making,
and crochet. At 16-17, a young lady "came out" to
society. Before her "coming out" event, she was not
encouraged to entertain romantic notions towards men, not allowed
to be with a man without a chaperone, and discouraged from walking
alone. Once "out," a young lady was only given a short
period of time to attract suitors and accept a proposal for
marriage before being labeled a "spinster."
A young lady could accept
any marriage proposal she wished, as long as it was first approved
by her father. The father would most likely approve a marriage
proposal from a duke, earl, lord, count, or squire, and would
more contemplate his daughter's match with a doctor, barrister,
a land agent, and mostly, a servant. An offer from the nobility
was customarily accepted right away. Members of the nobility
included the title of duke, marquis, earl, viscount, and baron.
They were offered seats in the "House of Lords" in
British Parliament, owned thousands of acres of land, and were
expected to display their rank through a crown, jewelry, clothing,
and other accessories. Income primarily came from renting land
to tenant farmers. The eldest son of the family would inherit
the title and the estate upon the death of his father. In the
meantime, he was given the second-most-important title; technically,
he was a commoner, as well as the rest of his brothers and sisters.
Children of the aristocracy were given the title of "lord"
and "lady" added to their Christian name and surname
(Lord George Byron). The wife of a duke was called a "duchess,"
and the wife of a baron, marquis, or younger son of a duke was
called "lady." "Squire" was not an official
title, but rather used to refer to a town's foremost landowner
who was as prosperous and as high up in social standing as the
aristocracy, yet not titled. A squire's family would have been
in possession of the land for several generations. A squire
would serve as a justice of peace or a landowner, renting his
land to tenant farmers.
Doctors were at the forefront
of the medical professions, followed by apothecaries and surgeons.
A doctor would have taken a degree at a university, and then
turned their role to apprentice to begin learning the trade.
A solicitor was an attorney and dealt with wills, deeds, and
other legal papers. Barristers helped solicitors, but were of
higher social status than solicitors. Barristers would argue
cases before the court. Success, unfortunately, came through
connections. A land agent managed the estate affairs of a member
of the landed aristocracy. He would supervise and collect payments.
Ladies and gentlemen maintained their comfortable, civilized
living style through servants. There were housemaids, kitchen-maids,
nurse-maids, and maids-of-all-work. The greatest of all servants
was the lady's servant, or the house steward or valet. A housekeeper
supervised the maids and the butler supervised the footmen,
pages, watchmen, coachmen, gamekeepers, gardeners, stable-hands,
and other outdoor servants. Servants had little hope for ascending
up the social ladder, and often had to perform strenuous tasks
for long hours. Not until the Reform Bill of 1832 did the government
of England become more democratic.
The French Revolution
declared a change in dress. The dress of the Ancien Régime-wigs,
embroidered coats, brocaded gowns, powdered hair, headdresses-was
replaced by English country clothes. English nobles spent their
leisure in the country, fox-hunting. Therefore coats were made
of plain cloth and not embroidered. Instead of heels with silk
stockings, the British wore boots. France believed England was
a country of freedom and therefore took an interest in all things
English. The French gave the English country coat tails, boots
were made in different shapes and sizes, collars rose behind
the head, and neckcloths rose to the mouth. By the time of Napoleon,
men took to wearing top hats and lowering their neckcloths.
Breeches came in style and were often worn with riding boots.
Women's paniers, bustles, and corsets were done away with in
return for the "empire" waist. Waistlines rose to
the breast and the cloth that made dresses was light, and sometimes
transparent so that a dress was made to look like a nightgown.
Women began to wear slippers rather than heels and carry handbags
called "reticules." Another essential accessory came
into vogue during 1800-the shawl. Women's hair became less extravagant
than before, yet it was often decorated by feathers and plumes
and worn with bonnets when outdoors.
In England, after the
Peace of Amiens, women's sleeves looked more romantic and were
puffed and slashed. In France, the fashion was different. The
hem of the dress became slightly inflated. Men's waistcoats
became short and square-cut. The trousers became tight-fitting
at the thighs, but not at the legs. Men took to shortening their
hair and shaving, and carrying canes as they walked.
By 1822, men began to
wear corsets to accentuate the broadness of the shoulders. The
top of top hats widened further than the brim, and the shirt
collar rose again. Women also took to wearing corsets, as the
waist finally resumed its normal position and the sleeves became
ridiculously puffed. The hems of skirts were made to look wider
by adding frills and ruffles. By this time, the Romantic Movement
made its way to the family library. The novels of Sir Walter
Scott delighted women readers and therefore expressed a need
to look like Scott's heroines. For a short while, Scotch tartan
plaid came in style. These styles were maintained until 1830,
at which time the skirts broadened and the sleeves puffed out
Quirks: Etiquette and Life
must not decline a man's invitation to dance, unless she means
not to dance at all for the entire set, or for the entire evening.
If there are more young women than young men present at a semi-informal
ball, some young women would dance with each other.
were the only mode of long-distance communication. Letters were
charged to the recipient, rather than the sender, and were charged
per sheet of writing. Unrelated couples of the opposite sex
who were corresponding to each other were considered engaged.
Travel and Transportation-
Because wealthy men and gentlewomen did pretty much nothing
but sit on their behinds all day, they frequently traveled,
visiting relatives and friends and staying for as little as
4 weeks to two months. Genteel unmarried women were not allowed
to travel alone in public coaches. The coaches the pre-Victorians
traveled in were numerous, much like today's busses and convertibles.
Reading- The pre-Victorian's
equivalent of television were novels. Novels were considered
distasteful by the general public, but many respectable people
read them anyway.
Card Games- Along
with other entertainment (reading, music) groups of adults would
engage in numerous card games.
The Double Standard-
Women who were unfaithful to their husbands, or engaged in sexual
activity before marriage were considered socially "ruined,"
while men who were charged with the same sins were not considered
goes first)- Precedence among women was ranked by seniority,
unless someone younger was married, for example a younger sister
married before an older sister, the younger sister would take
precedence first. Precedence is also determined by the social
rank of the husband.
Costume & Fashion. New York: World of Art, 1995.
Wives & Daughters: English
Society Illustrated. PBS, WGBH, ExxonMobil. April 2001.
The Republic of Pemberley.
27 July 2001 <http://www.pemberley.com/index.html>