Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rowlandson: I see London I see France

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Loretta reports:

Way back when I was writing my first Regencies, there was no Internet, and I didn’t know much beyond Jane Austen and Byron (I hadn’t even read Georgette Heyer yet).  I heard debates among Regency authors about whether ladies did or didn’t wear drawers/knickers/panties.  In the course of a video project (I was writing scripts in those days, along with having a day job), a historian at either Old Sturbridge Village or Plimoth Plantation
showed me some Rowlandson prints, and suggested I hunt for The Tour of Dr. Syntax.  I never managed to get a copy of Dr. Syntax, but I have, over the years, collected books of Regency-era prints.   Rowlandson is about my favorite pictorial resource.  Take a look at Exhibition Stare Case.
 
Clearly, the ladies aren’t wearing drawers.  But also notice how far up their stockings go.  And how crowded the staircase was.  And what this part of the interior of Somerset House looked like.  Absolutely worth a thousand words.  There’s more about the print here.

Fire at the Inn, which was one of his illustrations for Smollet’s
The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, is a terrific source of information.  I’ve referred to it often when writing inn scenes.  It gives me a sense of the layout of a coaching in--the galleries overlooking the courtyard were a common feature--and what people wore to bed, and what some of the room furnishings looked like.  It was from a gallery like this that Jessica watched Dain fight Ainswood in Lord of Scoundrels.

In other words, Rowlandson isn’t just naughty fun--though that would certainly be sufficient--but he opens a window on his time for us.

5 comments:

Jane O said...

I do love those etchings.
A question about stocking and garters: In this etching, the stockings only go up to the knee, but I know I saw at least one painting (Fragonard?) that had the stocking garter up on the thigh, and any number of books have the hero removing the garter from the heroine's thigh.
Now, I am old enough to remember my grandmother's garters — and these were elastic, not just tied-off bits of ribbon. If you wore them on your thigh, they slid down to the knee. If you wore them just above the knee, every time you bent your leg the stocking would be pulled out.
It seems to me that the only way to avoid constantly sagging stockings was to wear the garter below the knee and above the calf, as in the Rowlandson print here, or am I missing something?

nightsmusic said...

Jane, I'm with you. I too remember my gran's garters and the same thing runs through my head whenever I read things about stockings and garters and little slippers (though that's been made much clearer ;) ) I do believe I read somewhere that the 'drawers' or pantaloons women wore were a more modern invention, later in the 1800's. Up until that time, from what I remember (and I'm probably wrong--I so often am) women wore no underpant of any kind.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Most illustrations and references I've seen have the garters tied (or buckled) either just below or not far above the knees, where nature thoughtfully provides an anatomical bump (knee or calf) to help hold the stocking up. Of course you can never say never where something as personal as dress is concerned, but I haven't ever seen any stockings worn higher than that. I know the Fragonard, Jane O -- "The Swing", one of the swooniest paintings EVER! -- and that lady's tying her garters over the knee.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fragonard,_The_Swing.jpg

In this mid-18th c. Hogarth painting, "After" (and it's pretty clear after what), you can see the lady ties her garters below the knee, but pulls the tops over the:

http://tinyurl.com/ydmk7x3

But mid-thigh just wouldn't work in those pre-spandex days. As both you and Theo note, there's no way they'd stay up. So I think they have to wait for garter belts, Victoria's Secret, and "Bull Durham". *g*

And yeah, underpants for women are a 19th c. invention. Again, there were probably some ingeneous (or cold) women who adapted male breeches or drawers to wear under their petticoats, but for the most part, they're not wearing anything. Though there are pix of the famous/infamous Venetian courtesans of the 15th-16th c. wearing big bloomer-ish things under their skirts, that would have been considered sexy-hot and gender-bending, and highly disreputable.

Vanessa Kelly said...

These are great prints - thanks, Loretta. I just wrote a scene taking place in Somerset House, and I was having a dickens of a time finding prints of the staircase. This is just superb!

Oh, and I love the drunk, half-naked guy in the wheelbarrow. Clearly, I need to spend a lot more time looking at Rowlandson prints.

Oh, and I'm going to show these prints to some gals in my writing chapter, who claim that most upper class women knew little or nothing about sex. At the very least, they would have seen some of Rowlandson's tamer prints, don't you think?

Loretta Chase said...

Jane O & Theo, Susan's answered your questions as I would. I've seen the stockings both ways. I've also seen some photos of 19thC garters--all I have to do is remember where. Will report when I do. Vanessa, excellent question re sex. Women would not have talked about it as openly as we do, but the true prudery & keeping girls ignorant didn't happen until the Victorians--and even then I have to believe a girl had to be REALLY sheltered. The more graphic of Rowlandson's prints would have been sold under the counter, but suggestive prints by him and others would appear in print shop windows. And how could those upper class girls not know about the Prince Regent and his mistresses, and a host of other scandalous stuff--and wouldn't the more intrepid girls make it their business to discover the details? Too, we need to remember that people were living closer to nature then, and the upper classes spent a lot of time on their country estates. There a girl could easily learn about the basics of breeding, particularly in an era when people were simply more matter-of-fact about it. So this falls into my Let's Not Generalize category. Jane Austen certainly wasn't sheltered... I think I'm getting ideas for some future posts.

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