Rebecca Ann Collins, guest blogger and author of Expectations of Happiness and the Pemberley Chronicles series
Thank you very much for your invitation to contribute to your blog.
“Scandal- just what were the dreaded consequences?”
On the first question- it is difficult to answer this question fully without “letting the cat out of the bag” so to speak and revealing essential elements of the plot, which won’t be much fun for future readers of the book.
However, if I may speak generally, there were certain social conventions and rules for conducting courtship and romance that were accepted by most people, especially in country towns and villages of 19th century England, although these were largely ignored by the Regent and his courtiers. When these conventions were broken, there were inevitable consequences particularly for young women- gossip, social isolation and in certain extreme cases- an entire family tainted by the disgraceful behaviour of one of its members. (Note the effect of Lydia’s elopement with Wickham on the Bennet family in Pride Prejudice.)
However, in post revolution France, things were much freer, so the fact that young Margaret Dashwood meets her gentleman, while travelling in romantic Provence makes things somewhat easier for her than if they had met in Devon or Dorsetshire. But, when they return to England, she must face the consequences, which can range from gossip and social condemnation to losing her job as a teacher of young girls. How Margaret, deeply in love, yet sensitive to her situation and the possible repercussions on her family, handles this dilemma is part of the process of maturing as a woman.
11 Things You Do Today That Would Have Got You into BIG Trouble in Jane Austen’s Time:
As to the things one could do today, that would have been an absolute faux pas in Jane Austen’s time- nineteenth century society was set about with a variety of rules and conventions based mainly upon status and privilege in what was a class-based hierarchical order.
Many of these seem plainly ridiculous to us, but were nevertheless strictly observed in that era.
(1) For a lady, accepting an invitation to lunch or dinner with a gentleman friend- or (2) accepting a ride in a gentleman’s vehicle unchaperoned or (3) just spending too much time with one gentleman at a party or dance was not considered proper. (4) Dancing more than three dances with the same man was “not done” unless they were engaged to be married. (5) Physical intimacy was out of the question and cuddling or kissing in public- even if one was engaged- was a complete no no!
Any or all these faux pas could have brought instant censure upon any young lady at the time, while today such an encounter would be a non- event, regarded as part of normal social interaction in modern society.
Things would have been even worse if either the gentleman or the lady was married- as in Vanity Fair- since this would surely have started rumours running about their moral standards. This does not mean that such liaisons did not occur- just that they were discreetly undertaken and concealed from the busy bodies and gossips.
(6) Walking alone with a gentleman, unaccompanied by a chaperone or another member of the family or (7) standing in the street, talking to a gentleman, even if he was an acquaintance, was frowned upon and regarded as “boldness” that was unbecoming in a lady. (8) Undue familiarity or worse- “flirting” was disapproved of, although it was clearly a pastime that Jane Austen herself indulged in!
(9) There were also innumerable “courtesy” rules- which applied in a class conscious society regarding “introductions” and who spoke to whom first etc- all of which were rather silly- as Jane Austen herself makes very clear in several of her novels. The pompous Mr Elton (in Emma) refuses to “notice” Harriet Smith- when invited to dance with her- he thinks she is “beneath his notice.”
(10) While male and female cousins were permitted to use each other’s Christian names in conversation, outsiders were not. Permission to do so had to be obtained by asking and was usually a sign of some level of intimacy or close friendship. For a male acquaintance to use a lady’s Christian name when addressing her instead of Miss- Xxxx was unpardonable! Sounds bizarre today, when virtually everybody is on first name terms, but that’s how it was.
(11) There were complex rituals and codes about calls and visits too. No question of just “dropping in” on someone without notice! Rules applied especially in town-to who could call on whom, how they presented themselves- having first presented their cards, of course, at what hour they should visit, how they should dress for the occasion, how long they could stay etc. A man or woman who broke these unwritten rules could be cruelly snubbed. (Remember how Mr Collins is put down when he introduces himself to Mr Darcy at the Netherfield Ball?) Sounds weird in this age of mobile phones, Facebook and twittering; but then there were no problems of “hackers” getting in on your private conversations either! So, it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.
And, while Miss Austen saw many of these conventions as quaint and ridiculous, and occasionally found good reasons for breaking them herself, (as she writes in some of her letters to her sister Cassandra)- she, like many other women in society, mostly conformed to the rules. In her novels, however, she often took the chance to poke fun at the presumption and pomposity of those who made them.
Buy: Expectations of Happiness
Rebecca Ann Collins Website- www.rebeccaanncollins.com