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Thursday, December 13, 2012

How Did The Regency Aristocracy Use Slang: Fashionable Rebellion

The Regency was a rich and vivacious period. What makes the era interesting for me are the deviations from the rules, the ways in which people rebelled against society’s attempts to control. However, the Regency had its own rules, it was not exactly like the Victorian era. Yet Victorian morality and manners are an image, which seems to predominate popular views of the Nineteenth Century.
I enjoy the study of social history the most. One of the areas of behavior that fascinates me is the use of language in any time. There seems to be this general impression of a very stiff and formal type of speech spoken by the noble classes the entire Nineteenth Century. A very limited vocabulary of only the most refined words. However, this impression mutes some of the more fascinating idiosyncrasies of a dynamic period that moved a culture from the more pleasure affirming values of the Georgian era to Victorianism.
During the Regency, it became fashionable for young gentlemen to speak in what was known as “flash language”, the “cant” of the lower classes. They received their education in cant from sources like Life in London by Prince Egan. These words, like shamming, swells, pinks, corky, dicked-in-the-nob, peep-o-day-boy, plant-a-facer (and many more) often sound surprisingly modern to our ears. To me, they have a ring of the 1940-50s. I like it. I think it shows the spirit and creativity of people has always been there. We're more similar to people from the past than not.

The word “cant” was first used to describe the language of moralistic reform sweeping through society as whole in reaction to the relative moral laxity of the Georgian Era. Georgian hedonism refused to be suppressed into total silence. Flash language, as a cant of the demimonde* as spoken by members of the upper classes, could be viewed as a vibrant form of verbal rebellion.

In my erotic regency era romance, A MEASURED RISK, William Bourchier, the unfortunate Earl of Cranfield, was just such a stylish, canting gentleman. It would only stand to reason that his wife, Anne, a quiet intellectual rebel in her own right, would pick up some of his fashionably lower class language. Just the same as she picked up Lord Ruel’s use of more bawdy language in the bedchamber and allowed him to seduce her into more scandalous behavior.  She is a heroine who never fit in, who never had close friends of her own gender besides her abigail. She's not like the other young ladies. She is shy but inside she is no proper little prude. 

Social history in any period is complex. I try to incorporate that complexity in my writing. My decision to be e-published and to write erotic gives me the freedom to explore non-traditional aspects of historical romance. I tend to write about heroines who are in some way different than their peers. Their differences affect how my characters speak, act and how they are affected emotionally by their environment. I enjoy exploring those differences and discovering what psychological and external consequences these deviations create for the heroine and the man who loves her.

My stories will likely always center around flawed characters who make mistakes and struggle to find their place in a ambivalent world that they do not fit into easily. Their romance develops and grows as they work out this struggle. This is where my pleasure in writing comes from.
*Yes, I know the word "demimonde" comes from a later time (1855) than the Regency, I am just using it here to describe a theme.

Citation: Some of the concepts I blogged about today can be explored in greater depth in Decency and Disorder, 1789-1837 by Ben Wilson, Faber and Faber, 2007, pp. 287-288.  




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