Paparazzi of the Regency
Posted by Nancy Northcott Aug 3 2012, 12:34 am
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…?
Posted in Barbara Monajem, historical romance, To Rescue or Ravish, Undone