Attending the theatre in Jane Austen’s life-time

In my Regency period novels I often set scenes in theatre boxes, and for some that may seem a strange place when there would be little conversation between characters, yet, for the 19th Century that wasn’t true. As I learned from descriptions in the diary of a courtesan, Harriette Wilson.

Writings that talk about the every day life in that era are rarer, and I usually search this information out in letters between family members, but it was Harriette’s diary that helped me visualise what going to the theatre meant at the time. For the middle and upper class, it was a place to meet people, to see people and be seen, in the same way we might use a night club now. The rich paid to retain a box for months. Though, if they were not using the box they may let others hire their seat for an evening. The owner of the box often saw entertainments numerous times, and so they had no desire to listen, or men may pop in to listen to one particular element of a performance that they loved most and leave again. Those with no interest in the performance often talked through a whole performance. Something Harriette laughed about when someone became annoyed with her, because talking was why people used the boxes. She told the couple they should have sat in the seats below. For Harriette, the theatre was also part of her shop window. It was one of the best places where she and her fellow courtesans could meet new men, they clubbed together to rent a box and dressed up to be admired and deliberately laughed and conversed loudly to sell themselves as good company. They needed to be admired because the more men who were interested in them the higher price they could charge the men they agreed to enter into a relationship with.

So then, with all of these comings and goings, and the continual conversation, and I’m sure the actors shouting to be heard, the theatre would have been a very different place than it is today, and it’s one of those regency ways of life that fascinates me. I was, therefore, thrilled when I saw these prints hiding high up on the stairway of a 17th Century pub in the Lake District which depicted exactly what I have imagined from Harriette’s descriptions.

The Interior of the Royal ~ as it appeared on the night – New Theatre Hay Market – of it’s opening night 4th July 1821, published London 1 January 1823

This first print, which is contemporary to the time, shows exactly what I have read described, look at how many people in the boxes are seated with their backs to the stage, and are clearly talking, it displays how much of a social event theatre going was for those with money. While in the pit, we see those who may have their one and only opportunity to see the entertainment facing forward and concentrating on the stage.

The image of the second theatre, The Royal Theatre Cobourg Surrey dated as the opening night in 1818 published 1 January 1819, is not anywhere near as busy a picture, and yet again it portrays that the people attending are talking, some with their backs turned on the stage. Both images portraying the theatre was a social hub.

A wonderful insight, so, if you love insights into history as I do, keep your eyes peeled for those interesting wall-filling prints in old hotels and pubs. I always have a walk around and a good look.

For more information on the history of theatres take a look at the UK’s National Archives here

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Macabre or beautiful? ~ mourning treasures

I’m going backwards again and sharing another inspiration behind the story of Entangled. I mentioned yesterday, my leaning toward the macarbe (it is definitely no wonder that I’ve ended up moving into writing thrillers). Like I said, I’d prefer to stand on Lyme Regis harbour wall watching a threatening, storming sea thrashing the stone wall, than laying flat on a sunbed on a tropical beach.

So the fascination I have with antique mourning jewellry shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Although, I don’t think I’ve shared that on my blog before. By the time of the regency period many people wore jewellry with an artfully placed lock of hair held in place by glass, to remember a loved one. It might be to remember a living person, but more often it was to remember someone who had passed. It may sound strange today, but it’s not really, they didn’t have a stack of albums or computer folders full of photographs. Perhaps they had a minature portrait, it they were lucky, often just one. Employing artists was a more expensive luxury than jewellry. There were more jewellers than artists because you can’t just learn to be a painter who can precisely capture someone’s appearance as you can learn to manipulate metals, there has to be some rarer natural skill. Therfore, a jeweller’s time was less expensive than a good artist’s. The phrase ‘paying an arm and a leg’ for something comes from the fact that a full portrait was expensive and most people, even the upperclass, would only pay for the head and shoulders. But also, someone’s hair means you retain a part of their presence.

There’s a mourning brooch at Jane Austen’s cottage museum at Chawton containing her father’s hair. If you look out for peices of jewellry in museums and antiques shops, you’ll see a lot, and some, like those in the heading images are really beautiful. I think it’s brilliant. I imagine people regularly looking at their pieces or touching them, rubbing a finger or a thumb over the glass as they think of their missing loved one. It would bring the memories and the good emotions back. Wearing a brooch or a ring with a loved one’s hair inside, meant you always had a part of the person with you.

Of course, because I love mourning jewellry, I had to weave it into the story of atleast one book ( 😉 ). Remember also that last week I told you about Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, which is about a locket, inspiring aspects of Entangled. James, one of my Wickedly Romantic Poets, is a lover of keeping hair, and that is also an intergral part of the story which links the first book in the series to the last. He cuts a lock of Clio’s hair in the prologue of the Thread of Destiny, and he’s already wearing a ring containing the hair of his deceased mother.

I have recently discovered that I have dyspraxia as well as dyslexia and the way my mind works perhaps makes a little more sense now, because I litterally look at a piece of mourning jewellry and my mind races with questions and the desire to see and know that person. So when I saw this minature with what I think must be a lock of his hair, I had to buy it. It makes the image of him more real, giving it a 3D context.

I’ve tried to find out who this gentleman is, without any luck unfortunately, nor can I tell who owned this, his wife, mother, lover … I don’t know. It must be someone who wanted to keep him close while he was distant, because I assume it was made when he was alive, due to the painting. But then the thing with not knowing is that I have to make it up, and that’s a joy and exactly where stories begin …

I didn’t say above, but this bracelt in Beatrix Potter’s cottage is not only displaying human hair, the actual braclet is woven peices of human hair.

Oh and one more cheeky fact before I end this post, I have said it before in my Scandalous Women posts, but I’ll share it again. Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron shared pubic hair, so, I’m sure a lot of that went on too. I didn’t put that act of his in my poets novels, though. 😀

Inspirations for the Wickedly Romantic Poets Series

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