Paparazzi of the Regency

Barbara Monajem returns to the Lair with an interesting take on Regency scandal sheets and gossip.  She’ll chat about her new Harlequin Undone novella and tell us a bit about the Regency equivalent of paparazzi.  Welcome, Barbara!

The year is 1814. The rich, handsome Duke of Dumpling and the beautiful Lady Agatha Pillow, his bride, sneak out of the wedding breakfast and dash for the coach which will take them to their secret honeymoon hideaway. Little do they know that they’ve been betrayed, and the paparazzi are in hot pursuit –- by coach, by curricle, on horse- and donkey-back, cameras poised to reveal every intimate moment of their first nights together.

Hold on a minute. Cameras hadn’t been invented yet. There were no paparazzi back then… or were there?

Well, it was a different world, but people were just as fascinated by the rich and famous then as they are now. I have to confess that this is a phenomenon I don’t quite understand. Now and then I’m interested enough in a famous person to read a piece about him or her, but I don’t want to feel that I’m intruding on people’s private lives. Not long ago, there was an article (I don’t recall where) with photos of Prince William and Kate Middleton on their honeymoon. This was a monstrous invasion of privacy, and it annoyed me so much that I didn’t read past the intro — doing my small (if not very useful) part to NOT participate in that invasion.
Anyway, now that I’ve got my indignation over with — back to the Regency and the century or so leading up to it. The equivalent of today’s paparazzi were the caricaturists. They didn’t need to go chasing after anyone; instead, they turned gossip into drawings. Where did they get their information?

There was plenty of gossip in high society, of course. There was undoubtedly lots of inventing and exaggerating going on, just like nowadays, with people spreading lies and innuendo about their political enemies or social rivals. Servants were bribed to give information — even to spy on their masters and mistresses. I imagine there were people on the fringes of society who made it their business to gather and sell juicy gossip. Some of the caricaturists had the entrée to society itself.

Caricaturists were as merciless then as the paparazzi and the tabloids are now. Many of their subjects were political, with bribes going to the caricaturists and print-sellers, whether to slander the opposition or to prevent being slandered. Far more interesting to me as a writer are the caricatures of the members of high society — their follies, their gambling excesses, their sexual adventures, and so on. Some of these caricatures were aimed at groups of people — for example, the drunken vulgarities of country gentlemen, singing obscene songs, farting, vomiting, and so on — or the bluestockings (intellectually-inclined women) having a massive cat fight. Everyone was fair game.

Or were they? The worst caricatures, to my mind, were those aimed at individuals. The Duchess of Devonshire — portrayed in the movie starring Keira Knightley — was ridiculed for her involvement in politics. Caricatures suggested she offered sexual favors in exchange for votes. One particularly unpleasant print shows her putting her hand under a butcher’s apron while she kisses him. Another drawing implied that canvassing for votes made her a neglectful mother. She was also caricatured for her gambling excesses. Various other great ladies were ridiculed in prints comparing them to prostitutes or portraying them partly — and very cruelly — naked.

Selling caricatures was big business then, just as the tabloid newspapers and gossip magazines are today. The drawings were etched or engraved, printed and colored, and sold, sometimes by the thousands. Wealthy people often had subscriptions with the print-sellers, and some had huge collections of prints. The Prince Regent had a vast collection, and many of the caricatures were of him, poor man. Caricatures were also displayed in print-shop windows, where the poorer members of society would congregate and gawk.

If I think of the real people who were victimized this way –whether or not they may have deserved some of it — I don’t like it, any more than I like the present day tabloids. But if I think of the Regency paparazzi in terms of stories waiting to be told… Wow. So many books to write, so little time.

Here’s an blurb and excerpt from my latest novella, To Rescue or Ravish?, where a caricaturist is one of the secondary characters.

Here’s the blurb:

When heiress Arabella Wilbanks flees a forced betrothal in the middle of the night, the last person she expects to find at the reins of her getaway hackney is Matthew Worcester. It’s been seven long years since they gave in to their mutual desires and shared the most incredible night of their lives, but Matthew still burns with regret for leaving her without a word. He should escort her to safety, but the chance to reclaim and ravish her once more proves impossible to resist!

And the excerpt:

London, January 1802

Arabella rapped hard on the roof of the coach. It lurched around a corner into darkness broken only by the glimmer of the hack’s carriage lamps and stopped.

She put down the window. “How far are we from Bunbury Place?”

The jarvey got down from the box and slouched against the coach, a nonchalant shape with an impertinent voice. “Not far, love. Changed your mind, have you?”

“I have not changed my mind. I am merely asking for information.” She put her hand through the window, proffering the guinea. “I trust this suffices. Kindly open the door and point me in the right direction. I shall walk the rest of the way.”

He didn’t take the coin. After a brief, horrid silence during which she concentrated on thinking of him as the jarvey and not her once-and-never-again lover, he said, “Can’t do that.”

“I beg your pardon?” She pushed on the door, but he had moved forward to block it.

“It’s not safe for a lady alone at night. This, er, Number Seventeen, Bunbury Place — it’s where you live, is it?”

How dare he? “Where I live is none of your business.” She shrank away from the door and kept her hood well over her face.

“So it’s not where you live. Who does live there, then?”

Why couldn’t she have just told him that yes, she lived there? Must every man in the entire country try to order her about? “Let me out at once.”

“Sorry, love. When I rescue a lady from deathly peril, I see her home safe and sound.”

Some shred of common sense deep inside her told her this was extraordinarily kind of him, but it made her want to slap his craggy, insolent face. Home wasn’t safe for her anymore. Nowhere was safe, and meanwhile Matthew Worcester was playing stupid games.

“Cat got your tongue?”

She exploded. “Damn you, Matthew! Stop playing at being a jarvey. It makes me positively ill.”

There was another ghastly silence. It stretched and stretched. Good God, what if he actually was a jarvey? Surely he hadn’t come down that far in the world. A different shame — a valid one — swelled inside her.

“You recognized me,” he said at last. “What a surprise.”

Barbara donated a download of To Rescue or Ravish to the Members Only prize and is giving one to one commenter today.

Do you read the tabloids? Why or why not? Do you think celebrities should be left alone, or are they fair game? Are most of the stories about them true, false, a combination of the two, truth with a twisted spin, or what…?


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  • Melody May says:

    I don’t read tabloids. I really don’t care what happens in those celebrity lives. They should be left alone. However, I think some of them actually like the publicity. You look at the ones who keep very quiet lives and I think it depends on how you want to live your life. The information is probably a bit distorted from the truth. So, who knowns what’s real.

  • Gail Nichols says:

    No,I do not read the tabloids because I have enough worried about my life it is sad that just because they choose acting as a profession their private lives are open to reporters. Didn’t anyone of the reporters learn anything from Princess Diana’s death?

    • Gail, almost everyone I’ve asked this question says they don’t read the tabloids. I’m beginning to wonder who does! Somebody must, or they’d go out of business, right?

    • Gail, I’m with you in having enough to worry about in my own life without borrowing someone else’s. The late Princess of Wales was apparently a gold mine for a photographer who could get a candid shot, and the result was horrible, as you note. She, too, had enough to worry about in her own life without having cameras everywhere she went.

  • tammyjackson says:

    only in the check out line then only the cover story lord i wish i look that good 24/7
    but no the actors get what they want fame and furtune and tabloids go hand and hand
    thanks for the chance

    • LOL, Tammy — the checkout line is about as far as I get into the tabloids, too.

    • Tammy, fame, fortune, and tabloids do unfortunately go hand in hand, as you say. When we’re in line at the grocery store (or the pharmacy), there isn’t that much to look at besides the tabloids. I gotta wonder at some of the things they print, though. I mean, Elvis sightings years after his death? Please!

  • Barbara, what a fascinating piece. I remember researching the printmakers for the Magnificent Marriage, the Golden Heart finalist book that didn’t sell in 2006! 😉 Fascinating stuff and they were so cruel – no censorship at all back then! Love the sound of the new book! Thanks for visiting us today.

    • Anna — are we going to see The Magnificent Marriage in print some day? I hope so!

      It’s almost 2 am where I live, so I’m headed for bed. 🙂 Until tomorrow…

      • Barbara, I’m seriously thinking of putting it out as an indie effort – I need to rehaul it, though. It’s six years since I looked at it! I’d love to share it with an audience! It’s very light for an Anna Campbell and I had great fun writing it.

        By the way, I’m not a tabloid reader either. Although I flick through the mags at the hairdresser. Said to her saidly this week when I was in getting the mop cut back to something bearable that I didn’t know anyone featured as a celebrity. Clearly I’m getting old!

    • Anna, I also hope we’ll see The Magnificent Marriage one day, but I know what you mean about overhauling it. I looked at my ’06 finalist recently, and I think I’d have to start over with a clean file because snipping here, reshaping there, and adding over yonder might actually be harder than starting fresh.

      • Nancy, I’m really hoping this is going to be just a case of tightening and making it punchier. I suspect if it’s a complete rewrite, it’s going to stay under the bed.

  • Helen says:


    The book sounds great I look forward to reading this one

    I don’t read the tabloids either I am not interested enough in their lives and I think that they should have their privacy as well. I guess people in the limelight will always be interesting to some but for me no I know I like my privacy and I think they deserve a lot more than they get.

    Have Fun

  • Barb says:

    Hi Barbara

    Another good book…. I love historicals …

    I don’t read the papers and just lately haven’t even watched the news on TV…just have a look at the homepage of the newspaper …. I think everybody desreves their privacy… if they want to inform the public then that is OK… at least that way you would get the truth

    • I love how everyone is saying people deserve their privacy! That’s comforting.

      And yet I guess to some extent celebrities want the attention–it’s a career booster. It must be hard to keep a balance between privacy and useful exposure.

    • Hi, Barb–

      I no longer watch my local news because they spend more time on lurid stories from several counties away, when they can find such items, than they do on city/county government and the ramifications of choices in governance. The latter is dry stuff, unlikely to drive ratings, alas, but far more important to my life.

  • Dianna aka Hrdwrkdmom says:

    No, I don’t read the tabloids, everyone deserves their privacy. I always think of Princess Di, in my opinion she was hounded to death by the paparazzi.

    I also believe at least half the tales told are untrue if not more.

    • Yes, I think of Princess Di, too, which is probably one reason I was so indignant about Will and Kate. I think you’re right about a lot of the tales being untrue. Well, how much credence can you put in a newspaper with aliens on the cover?

      Not that I don’t believe in aliens, mind you.

    • Dianna, to me, the death of the late Princess of Wales is the ultimate cautionary tale, but it hasn’t seemed to make much of a difference. When it comes to tabloid headlines, I also tend to think a lot of the stories are unlikely. Several actors have successfully sued over untrue stories about their lives, and I wish more of them would.

  • Hi Barbara! Welcome back to the Lair, where we have enough gossip and intrigue with the cabana boys, hockey hunks and gladiators!!

    I don’t BUY the tabloids, but at 3 am at work if I have nothing else to read and my patients are asleep, I do skim through People or Us that my younger coworkers bring in. I mean, how can one get through the day without knowing what Brad and Angelina are up to?

    • Well, according to Anna, the big news is Angelina and the GR.

      Hockey hunks? I didn’t know. I must hang around here more often. I lurve hockey. 🙂

    • Suz, a law firm I worked for had a subscription to People, supposedly for the lobby but copies kept turning up in the restrooms. *g* I do buy it on occasion if there’s a story about an actor and a movie I’m interested in, but I don’t buy the ones about scandalous divorces, illegitimate children, longlost relatives, adulterous affairs, etc. An authorized look behind the movie is one thing. Prying into someone’s personal life is another.

  • CateS says:

    I’m only reading them in the check out line.. but you see more and more of it online on news sites … anyway.. how about a little ‘candid camera’ where you leave a tabloid on a park bench or in a coffee shop… wonder how many people would take a look-see!!!

    • Cate, every time I log into my email, I get a homepage screen full of celebrity gossip and freakish events. I go straight to my email, but they make that stuff hard to avoid.

    • I must confess I would probably read more in the checkout line if the cashiers weren’t so fast at processing people.

      Usually I carry a book in my purse — a story I want to read but don’t mind if it’s in bit and pieces — supermarket line, eye doctor’s, whatever. (Just picked up my new glasses this morning and am trying to adjust…)

  • Barbara – What an interesting post (and lovely excerpt – yum!).

    I don’t read the tabloids, but I do read the brief “People in the News” section in the daily newspaper with my morning bowl of cereal. It beats reading about murders, accidents, and politics. And I do scan the covers of the tabloids when in the checkout line at the grocery. Do I believe what they say? No.
    I assume everything is taken out of context – unless I see it repeated again and again and again – or unless it becomes a mention on the evening news.

    Crazy times then with the caricatures. Crazy times now with telephoto lenses and a tweeting universe. What’s next?

    • Well, the aliens are certainly out of context. I think.

      I think they go for pics where the celebs are grimacing so they can put them with headlines about cheating, etc. So juvenile!

    • Donna, I do trust traditional news organizations not to run celeb stories without vetting them, but I cynically wonder how long that will remain true.

  • Barbara, I read To Rescue or Ravish? and thought it was great.

    Our visitors should probably know that as your PAL (Published Author Liaison) in Ga. Romance Writers, I get a free copy of your work when I report on it to the meeting. I didn’t do this one, though, because I couldn’t get to Atlanta. I bought it anyway, as I have a couple of the others I couldn’t do the reports on.

  • Minna says:

    I’d be lying if I said I don’t read tabloids at all, but in those cases someone else has paid for the paper. I don’t waste my own money on them. Big headlines+small news= tabloids.

  • Minna — LOL. Very well put. Something made up out of whole cloth, as they said in the Regency. (What does that actually mean, by the way? Anybody know?)

  • sandyg265 says:

    I don’t read tabloids. I think celebrities have a right to private lives.

    • I think they do, too — if that’s what they want, and I assume in most cases, they do.

      I think I find it interesting as story fodder because the people in books are imaginary, and if they’re in a historical, they’re from a different time and place, so there’s a lot of distance from reality.

      I guess what I’m saying is that if I’m writing stuff that’s emotionally exhausting, like intrusion on private lives, I like it to be somewhat distant from reality – so I don’t write straight contemporary.

    • Sandy, I think they do, too. Some of them maybe want a lot of publicity, but others surely don’t.

  • Susan Sey says:

    Oh, dear, now I feel terribly guilty about my love of celebrity gossip. Not guilty enough to renounce my subscription to People Magazine but guilty. 🙂

    I do know better than to believe more than half of it. And I am appalled at some of the intrusive methods used to get those pictures & stories. Then again, there are plenty of celebrities who manage NOT to appear on the tabloids. Those are usually the ones who raise normal kids in normal places rather than putting them on reality TV.

    Then again, I’m grateful because I get a lot of story inspiration from their bizarre lives lived in public.

    • Susan, I think the people who live way outside of Hollywood do it in part for their privacy. After Andy Griffith died, I read that the practice in Manteo when any stranger asked directions to his home was to supply a convoluted set ending at the beach.

    • Susan — Yep, story inspiration is what got me going with the caricaturists. There’s just so much bizarre stuff to work with. 😉

  • Deb says:

    Thank you for the excerpt; the story sounds good!

    I read the gossip articles, but with a grain of salt. Haven’t we all had a circumstance that may have been blown way out of proportion? Hehehe, just last spring, I hugged the local minister, on his front porch, for he and his wife are great friends of mine. Well! In a small town, I could have started Big Rumors for that! 😉

  • Louisa says:

    Oh everything you read about the GR is probably true! And if ever there was a publicity hound it is our GR !!

    FABULOUS post, Barbara! The world’s taste for celebrity gossip has been around a long, long time.

    I don’t read the scandal sheets. For the most part they are about people who are famous for being famous. Can’t stand that. People who are famous for behaving badly are poor role models for young people who already have more than enough bad examples as it is.

    And my criteria for celebrity is either extreme talent or extreme bravery or extreme public service. The rest of it is all garbage and there are too many great books out there for me to read to waste my time on garbage.

    Romance writers are my celebrities! Opera singers! Orchestra conductors! Captain Sullivan who landed a plane on the Hudson River and everyone walked away safely. Mother Teresa was a celebrity.

    Put these people up against the Khardasians??? Lynsay Lohan? PULEEEZE !!

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Louisa, I also have no interest in people who’re “famous for being famous.” Or notorious. :-/

      As you say, there are more interesting things to read about. And many novels are more genuine than some of these celebs.

    • LOL, Louisa Evidently people felt the same about many of the celebs 200 years ago — the caricatures prove it.

  • Margay says:

    There was a time when I used to read the tabloids, but I don’t bother with it anymore, especially since it’s broadcast all over twitter and tv these days. I think the media goes way too far and I think that celebrities deserve to have their privacy. Yes, they’re there to entertain us – on the screen alone. I don’t think that should mean they’re fair game and people can stalk them with cameras or make up stories when they’re uncooperative. I don’t think we have a right to know all about them just because they’re famous – would we want people stalking our every move? I know I wouldn’t.

    • Nancy Northcott says:

      Margay, I wouldn’t like people following me around, either. People should be able to go out looking scruffy if they want.

    • I can’t imagine how it must feel to always be prepared for scrutiny. It gives me the creeps!

      • Margay says:

        Me, too, Barbara. And to always be on your guard, careful not to do anything stupid or embarrassing or news worthy. Not the kind of life I’d want to live.

  • bn100 says:

    I think they should have some privacy and not be followed everywhere.

  • Mozette says:

    Your book sounds like a great read.

    But to answer your question about the famous and infamous alike… I think they should be left alone. Yes, they went looking for fame and fortune, but not at the desecration and invasion of their privacy.
    What you have to do is think of what would happen if you were to suddenly become a household name… and I mean like Cher or the Queen…. would you like to have some awful group of photographers around every street corner waiting for you to fart the wrong way? I wouldn’t either. However, some of those photographers do.

    I remember there was a time when River Phoenix was dying outside The Viper Room. A famous paparazzi was waiting for somebody – anybody – famous to walk out of the place. And River so happened to stagger out, fall to the ground and begin convulsing. Now, this photographer had a huge choice to make. He could photograph River’s death, or try and save him…. he made the right choice and put down his camera and called 911. Then, he began performing CPR on him. Sure, he didn’t get the shots that would have made him a lot of money, but he felt right in doing what he did as he gave an interview to 60 minutes a few months later and said that he’d have felt like a monster otherwise.

    Now, if I meet a famous person, I don’t bother getting a photo. I say hi and introduce myself. Instead of blabbing about how great they are as an actor (or whatever they do), I ask how they and what lovely/bad/cold weather we’ve been having. The last thing I want to make them feel like is a product; because it’s what they’re made to feel like every day, and it feels good when one fan makes them feel at ease around them… as though they’re talking to their next door neighbour and not some weirdo-fan-stalker who knows every little detail about them.

    Also, I remember one thing: once, in a distant past, those people went to school, got detention, had a first job of flipping burgers or working in a bank or a dry cleaners and were discovered somehow… once in their lives, at some point, they were nobodies. 🙂

  • Thanks for that story, Mozette! Yeah, we’re all just people, and it would be good if we could remember that.