I spent almost 9 hours in Regency England this weekend, what with watching the DVD of Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon and the delectable (and possibly the next James Bond) James Purefoy.
Vanity Fair is a novel by William Makepeace Thackery. Becky Sharp is the daughter of an impoverished artist and a french opera dancer, and she has to use her wits and her good looks to make her way up the social ladder in Regency England. She manages to marry the second son of Sir Pitt Crawley, expecting that his aunt will leave Rawdon all her money. To her surprise, the aunt cuts Rawdon off without a penny due to his impetuous marriage. Not to be outdone, Becky allies herself with the Marquess of Steyne, and finally takes her place in society. Eventually, she is ruined and ends up alone, living on the continent.
I saw Vanity Fair, in an advanced screening last August. Seeing it again, I was struck anew by how much Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind owes to Becky Sharp. She's the original anti-heroine. There would be no Scarlett or Amber in Forever Amber without her. The film softens her considerably but you expect that when you have Reese Witherspoon in the lead. Becky is much more avaricious and bitchy in the book. The film gives Becky a happy ending which is different from Becky's fate in the novel.
After watching Vanity Fair, I plunged into watching all 6 hours of Regency House Party. The premise of the series was take 5 men, and 5 women from the 21st century and plunk them down for a house party in Regency England. The general idea was that they would have to try and match up according to their station.
Maybe it's the actress in me, but I would have a great time doing this series, although I would have been relegated to a chaperone. What was interesting was seeing how little freedom women in the Regency actually had. We tend to get a different impression in Regency romance novels, where women are constantly paying calls, shopping or attending balls in London. In the country, you were pretty bored for the most part. The men got to smoke, drink, ride, shoot, fight, drink, argue, drink, and drink. The women had to embroider, take tea, ride and that's about it.
What was really interesting was that one of the participants was a West Indian heiress, who was black, which was a shock. Apparently there were blacks living in Britain at that time. I got more of a sense of what it must have really been like then I have from most of the novels that I've read. Maybe it's because they didn't gloss over the less savory aspects of the regency like the lack of bathing, and what women actually had to wear during their periods.
There were lots of dancing, inappropriate liaisons, fighting amongst the chaperones, parties, romance, drinking, one guy who couldn't hack it and left. I was so sad when the series ended. Of course, now I have to buy the companion book to the series, damn it.
I love the Regency period. When I first started writing, I thought that I would write Regencies, but after reading Mary Balogh and others, I thought that I didn't have anything to say, but after seeing this series, I may have to rethink that.