If I lived in the Regency era, I would be dead.

October 17, 2018

Have you ever looked around a crowded room and wondered how many people exist because of advances in medicine? How many people would have succumbed to disease that modern day vaccines practically eradicate? What about people who were created with the help of science via in vitro fertilization or fertility drugs and procedures? Have you contemplated how many people would have been sent away due to mental illness or disability and no doubt had shorter lives and poor life quality? How many people would be dead due to complications of childbirth? In Regency England, childbirth was the leading cause of illness and death in women. As many as 20% died during childbirth or shortly following due to infection. Roughly the same number of infants also perished. Yes, these are things I think about. I do not understand my friends who say that they would rather live in an earlier time period, so I silently calculate which of them would be dead and wonder why they would prefer to relieve themselves into a chamber pot or bourdaloue when they know about toilets and plumbing.

 

Had I lived in the Regency era, my oldest son would have likely not existed due to fertility drugs and procedures which were a factor in his creation. As for the twins and I, we would have all died without the technology to monitor and treat twin to twin transfusion, not to mention the improbability of a successful twin caesarian section with Mr. G needing over two weeks in NICU to stabilize his breathing as the boys were born so early. For true accuracy though, I myself would have died as an infant without incubators and breathing and feeding tubes. So I suppose my family as I know it would not exist at all. 

 

As enjoyable as it is to ponder all the death we are avoiding in this modern age, there are a multitude of further reasons that Regency England would be a difficult existence. The years of 1795-1837 fall under the Regency era in English history. This period can also be referred to as the Georgian Period, with the Regency Period spanning only the years in which of Prince George IV ruled during his father's illness. This time period spans three monarchs, the latter part of the reign of George III and the reigns of his sons, George IV and William IV. This period ended when Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837. The population of England quadrupled during this time. There was a great disparity created between the wealthy and the impoverished. Large cities struggled with the influx of people and the influx of crime and general debauchery. 

 

As the rich got richer, they turned their attention to architecture, art, music, dance, and fashion. Styles from this period are iconic. It became the fashion to "escape the city" and live in cultured country towns such as Bath, or Cheltenham. It was also often prescribed by doctors to "take the waters" in a spa town or visit the seaside. As a result, a lot of people are buried in seaside and spa towns. Once again, modern medicine trumps whatever they did back then (I still cannot watch the blood letting scene in Sense and Sensibility- even thinking about it makes me feel faint).

 

If you come visit me in Cheltenham you will see some excellent examples of Regency architecture. Unfortunately, the Regency fashion has not been as lasting. In my time here, I've yet to encounter any empire waist floor length gowns or high collars and tall hats for men. Although, I've not visited Bath during a Jane Austen Festival (yet) and there is somewhat of a Cotswolds "uniform" of sorts. I observe an abundance of breton stripes paired with jeans and a statement shoe. Animal print or a bit of a faux fur collar. Full parka if the temperature falls below 12 degrees Celsius. Anything from Joules. For Men, a smart shoe (shoes are the thing), fitted trousers or jeans (never baggy), button down, wool jumpers, tweed, caps. 

 

My favourite Regency person and my not so secret best friend, Jane Austen, lived 1775-1817 and wrote beautifully of the quirks, charms, and downfalls of Regency England. In doing so, she also highlighted the quirks, charms, and downfalls of humans in general. Her characters and are timeless and I know a few Elizabeths (dear friends), Mr. Darcys (the friends you warm up to eventually then always want around), Emmas (the friend who makes poor decisions but means well), Mariannes (my gorgeous sister in her younger years- we all know it's true), Mr. Tilneys (basically the silly sort I fall in love with), Mr. Wickhams (stay away from these), and Mr. Collins (harmless yet tedious) in my everyday acquaintance.  

Jane's novels primarily highlight the life of affluent people living in Southern, mostly rural England. As I find myself presently living in Southern, mostly rural England, surrounded by a fair share of affluent people, a study in the differences between then and now seems particularly appropriate. Jane shows us a patriarchal classist society where women have very little control over their life beyond the decision of whom they choose to marry (or not marry), and even then this was not always a choice. As wealth was handed down to male heirs only, many wives and daughters were left with very little upon the death of a father, as so expertly illustrated in "Sense and Sensibility." Often marriages were agreed upon to secure land or dwelling, choices between suitors were  based on income and rank.

 

Jane Austen clearly does not agree with this reasoning, as all of her principle characters manage to overcome obstacles and marry for love. Those who do not, Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, Lydia Bennett and George Wickham, are to be pitied. Perhaps this is why Jane Austen chose not to marry. As someone so keenly aware of how society functioned at the time, I doubt she would have been eager to engage in it's trappings. She also would have lost much of her writing time, her sister and her mother took control of the household responsibilities and encouraged Jane to use her time for writing, I am grateful that she did and that her mother and sister were so supportive- I am also a tiny bit jealous until I remind myself that I would be dead. I'm sure that witnessing three out of her four sister-in-laws perish due to complications of childbirth did not encourage her to seek marriage.  

 

Nowadays in Gloucestershire, women tend to be highly educated and work in whichever capacity they so choose. I see Dads on the school run, but I do see more Moms, so I would assume that women are still bearing the brunt of the responsibility when it comes to child rearing, whether by choice or not. I don't know anyone who has a yearly income promised to them as part of their inheritance, although I think these unicorns might exist in Cheltenham and just choose not to reveal themselves. As a foreigner I am immune (and grateful for my immunity), but I feel like class politics are alive and well. Male heirs are frowned upon and women have many choices in life beyond who or if they marry. Doctors have thankfully stopped blood letting and prescribing a trip to the seaside as a cure for cancer. Safe birth control is available for all. There are 8.2 maternal deaths out of every 100,000 live births in the UK, scoring worse than Canada at 6.6, but far better than the United States at 16.7 (truly shocking).  

 

I for one, am pleased to live now. We have so many conveniences and choices but we really need to do better in taking care of the planet. Maybe a week of living the Regency lifestyle, toilet pots and all, would scare us into being more grateful and doing better. I am glad that I am not dead (yet) and I think I would like to bring back Regency fashion. While I am at it let's bring back Regency social life, dressing up and then visiting, taking tea (this means eating a meal), followed by some dancing in the Pump Rooms, it all sounds delightful. On a sunny day, I would like to take a leisurely walk with my friends and stop for a picnic in the countryside. I would like to spend more time playing my piano and singing, as well as painting and writing. Perhaps I could have servants to help me with my household duties and my children. So maybe... I would like to live in the Regency Era as an affluent person. Except I would most definitely be dead. 

 

 

 

 

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