Friday, March 20, 2009

And You Thought Life Was Busy Now

Sometimes I feel like I’m being stretched in sixteen directions at once. Motherhood, writing, moonlighting in my old profession, volunteering at church, trying to help parents, being there for friends, wait, wasn’t I supposed to exercise somewhere in there? Many have said that the pace of life has increased dramatically in the last decade.

But they never saw the schedule for a young lady on her first season.

Marissa and I have written previously about the importance of going up to London after Easter each year to see and be seen. This was your chance to find the young man of your dreams, to chart your future. I’ve no doubt it was every bit as exciting as the stories told in books.

But think about it. Here you are, a young lady of sixteen or seventeen. Up until now, you’ve most likely been at home with perhaps a governess to teach you to read, write, calculate, embroider, and do other useful things. Perhaps you were one of the few who went to an exclusive girls school and learn deportment and dancing as well. Either way, your days have been fairly orderly, predictable, and staid.

Then you arrive in London. In short order, you have to shop for fabric, find a modiste, and get your gowns and riding habits made (and fitted and fitted again). You need hats, gloves, boots, shoes, muffs, tippets, scarves, pelisses, mantles, evening capes, and reticules to go with your new gowns, not to mention corsets, chemises, and morning robes. You have a maid to style your hair. Once you’re properly attired, you may get up early and don your fetching new riding habit to ride in Hyde Park then come home and change to eat breakfast while looking through all the invitations that arrived yesterday while you were out. Hm, if you’re to attend Lady Badgerly’s musicale, you’ll need one more set of gloves to match that new gown. So you change again and out you go shopping. You come back home victorious for nuncheon and then you may change again to go pay calls or accept calls from all your new friends. Some considered it bad form to stay more than 15 minutes at any one house, so you bobbed all over the West End visiting and being visited. Kiss, kiss. How lovely to see you. Do call again soon.

Back home in time to change for dinner, and then perhaps to change again before heading out to a ball or the opera. You also have to find time to practice your singing or playing (you must show off at musicales yourself, you know), read whatever's in vogue so you can speak intelligently, and study the ladies' magazines so you can stay up to the minute in fashion. Then there were horse races, river regattas, Venetian breakfasts (which are actually in the afternoon), cricket matches, court galas, scientific lectures, art exhibits, concerts, and the theatre, not to mention all the sights of London, like Vauxhall Gardens, the Egyptian Hall, the British Museum, the Elgin Marbles, and a must-see visit to the Panoramic View of St. Petersburg, a very large painting at Mr. Wigley’s Great Room.

Remember that the Season ran from after Easter to the middle of August, at best five months and often less. During that time a young lady might be expected to attend over 50 balls, 75 parties, 30 dinners, and two dozen breakfasts, with all the dressing, undressing, redressing, primping, curling, and shopping required to support them. And in the middle of all that she was expected to find, attract, get to know, and become engaged to her future husband.

And I thought I was stretched! Phew!


Addie said...

Wow, what a work out! Thank you for the excellent post!

Marissa Doyle said...

Fab post, Regina!

I always wonder at the culture shock those poor girls must have gone through: from country life to city life, quiet to crazy busy...and expected to do their best to attract a husband when many of them, if they didn't have brothers or other male relatives, with no idea of what men of their social class were like. The majority of them were frightfully naive, and ended up being either excruciatingly shy or putting on a thin veneer of flirtatiousness to cover. Poor things!

Angie Frazier said...

This is facinating! Thanks so much for showing us what these girls actually did on a daily basis. It's not all glamour and fun, is it?? Wow...

QNPoohBear said...

All that sounds exhausting and not even fun! It must have been a relief to finally get married and not have to do all that.

Dara said...

Definitely not as glamorous as I'd thought :P