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Monday, 18 February 2013

Regency period London in Pride and Prejudice

While I was looking through some issues of Ackermann’s Repository, I came across two pictures which put me forcibly in mind of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The prints are particularly appropriate as they appeared in 1813, the same year that Pride and Prejudice was published, just two years into the Regency period.

Cheapside

Cheapside from Ackermann's Repository (Jun 1813)
Cheapside from Ackermann's Repository (Jun 1813)
The first is a picture of Cheapside. Elizabeth Bennet’s uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Gardiner, resided in Gracechurch Street in London, not far from Cheapside and the city. Your London address spoke volumes about your degree of gentility. Mr Bingley’s sisters regarded Cheapside as a most unfashionable part of London to live in and intrinsically associated with trade; Mr Bingley, on the other hand, was happy to accept people for who they were, regardless of their connections.
“I have an excessive regard for Jane Bennet, she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it.”
“I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton.”
“Yes;” and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside.”
“That is capital,” added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.
“If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it should not make them one jot less agreeable.”
“But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world,” replied Darcy.
To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend’s vulgar relations.

Mayfair

North side of Grosvenor Square from Ackermann's Repository (Nov 1813)
North side of Grosvenor Square from Ackermann's Repository (Nov 1813)
The second picture is of Grosvenor Square. Mr Darcy and the Bingleys were to stay in the neighbouring Grosvenor Street, in the fashionable, Mayfair area of London, near to Park Lane and Kensington Palace in the park beyond.
She [Jane] then read the first sentence aloud, which comprised the information of their having just resolved to follow their brother to town directly, and of their meaning to dine that day in Grosvenor Street, where Mr Hurst had a house.
Mrs Gardiner herself was aware of the differences in situation between the Bingleys and her family. She expresses her concern to Elizabeth lest Jane should be hoping to come across Bingley by chance when staying with them in London.
“I hope,” added Mrs Gardiner, “that no consideration with regard to this young man will influence her. We live in so different a part of town, all our connections are so different, and, as you well know, we go out so little, that it is very improbable that they should meet at all, unless he really comes to see her.”
Elizabeth is in no doubt about what the Bingleys, and more particularly Mr Darcy, thought of the Gardiners’ unfashionable address:
“Mr Darcy may perhaps have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think a month’s ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, were he once to enter it.”
London in August

After the end of the season, when parliament had finished its session for the summer, the fashionable retired to their country seats or visited a spa or seaside resort whilst the unfashionable remained.

Although Mr Gardiner was in "a respectable line of trade", he was able to adopt the fashionable habit of leaving London in the summer and travel into Derbyshire with Mrs Gardiner and Elizabeth for three weeks in July to August.

A passage from The Penny Magazine describes the difference between Mayfair and Cheapside during August:
The ‘east’ and ‘west’ ends of London present a curious contrast with respect to the London season. In the city, trade and commerce flow on in their accustomed channels, unaffected by the vicissitudes of fashion. During the month of August, he who moves in fashionable circles may exclaim, “There is nobody in town!” – an expression which appears ridiculous and affected, amidst the never-ending throngs of Fleet Street or Cheapside. But at that period, in the fashionable streets and squares of the ‘west end’, the expression has force and meaning. There, house after house appears deserted; the windows are closed with funeral-looking shutters; the streets, always more or less stately and quiet, are now silent and lonely; one would think that the inhabitants had fled from the approach of the plague, or of a hostile army.
Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (1813)
Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813, London)
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, The Penny Magazine (29 April 1837)

6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it - I thought the two pictures represented the two different worlds very vividly.

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  2. Don't you find it ironic that the Bingley sisters would look down their noses at the Bennets' connection to trade (via Mrs. Bennet), when their own family comes from trade?

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    1. Absolutely! I had forgotten this until I reread P&P recently. The Bingley sisters were somewhat hypocritical, I think!

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