Friday, August 22, 2008

Where the Fashionable Bluestocking Shopped

“Summer reading, had me a blast
Summer reading, went by so fast . . .”

Sorry, wrong period! And forgive my liberty with the lyrics. I was thinking about my favorite summer pastime, which, oddly enough, doesn’t necessarily involve beaches or boys.


Reading was a popular pastime for the nineteenth century young lady as well, although she might not want to admit it for fear of being labeled a bluestocking, one of those ladies with more brains than social skills. Marissa’s previous posts mentioned some of the authors and stories. I, of course, am just as interested in the shopping aspects.

In the early nineteenth century, London had twelve good circulating libraries, where you could pay a subscription to borrow books; four French booksellers; one German bookseller; three children’s booksellers; and twenty dealers of rare books. If you were very fortunate, your family had a private library, or you knew someone with a private library. Marissa’s characters borrow books (with rather disastrous consequences) from the private library of a noted sorcerer in her Bewitching Season. Sir Joseph Banks, the noted botanist and president of the Royal Society, and Earl Spencer, the forefather of Princess Diana, were said to have the best private libraries. Spencer House is just off St. James’s, so quite easy to access on your way to the sensational shopping on Bond Street.

And just around the corner is Hatchard’s, one of the premier bookstores in London. It opened in 1797 at No. 173 Piccadilly. In 1801, it moved to No. 190. Later it was moved to No. 187, where you can still find it today. Hatchard’s was the social meeting place for those who loved literature. Being right across the street from the Albany, where the poet Lord Byron lived, it attracted any number of literary luminaries. Even Queen Charlotte shopped there. You could always find the daily newspapers set out on a table by the glowing fire, and your servants could wait on benches outside the door while you took your time perusing the many fine offerings.

Such as the handsome baronet thumbing through Shakespeare.

So, what are you reading this summer?


Angie Frazier said...

I am so happy to have found this blog! It's packed with historical goodies that I love to devour :-)

I am expecting Marissa's Bewitching Season in the mail any day now. Until then, I am re-reading Anne of Green Gables. It has me laughing out loud!

Amee said...

I'm reading Thoreau and Shakespeare right now. My fall semester has started, obviously. :P

Anonymous said...

I've been reading Georgette Heyer's Regency Romances, of course! I'm not lucky enough to live in London, but I do live near a city with one of the oldest subscription libraries in the United States. I had a subscription a few years ago and sometimes I like to go and browse. It is supposedly haunted by Edgar Allen Poe! I would totally have been considered a bluestocking in the 19th century! One of my favorite catalogs is Bas Bleu, bookseller by post!

Gillian Layne said...

Finding these details is like Christmas morning! Love, love, love it!

I'm reading The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon, Family Jewels by Toni McGee Causey, and La Petite by Regina Scott, of course! :)

(My girls grabbed La Petite first. They really enjoyed it!)

Regina Scott said...

Hi, Angie! I loved Anne of Green Gables. Now, there are stories!

Ambeen, it's a shame that required reading sometimes edges out reading just cuz. :-)

How cool to live near a subscription library! My mouth drools as I think of the opportunities to research!

And Gillian, so glad to hear the girls liked it! Hope you do too!

Addie said...

I LOVE this blog. It's absolutly wonderful. One of my favorite summer reads is The Great Tree of Avalon series. I am a HUGE fiction junkie.

Marissa Doyle said...

Hey, QNPoohBear, I'm reading Georgette Heyer too! Somehow my education had been neglected in that direction...

So far The Grand Sophy is my favorite...I was actually reading bits of it out loud to my husband and had him occasionally asking, "So now what is she doing?"

Cheryl said...

What a great idea for a blog. Do you know which books were popular reads for the 19th c. teen?

Regina Scott said...


Welcome! Marissa actually did a post on the most likely reads back in March. I hope this link comes through:

If not, look for her post on March 11, 2008. Thanks!