If you write Regency romance, you spend a lot of time thinking about Regency heroes. Sooner or later, you stumble across that ultimate Regency hero, and man of mystery, Beau Brummell.
I’ve just finished reading Ian Kelly’s wonderful biography, Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style.
Kelly says of Brummell, who was chosen as the best man at the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales “in 1795 when still in his teens and was described as the most famous and influential man in London while only in his early twenties, at the center of what amounted to a personality cult.”
Brummell’s fame came early, but his downfall was sudden, and it was all his own fault.
In a sense, Brummell was the ultimate fashionista. Kelly reports, “his rules of dress have dominated male power dressing ever since. Without Brummell, there would be no suit, for men or women, or tailoring in the Savile Row, Wall Street or Chanel sense.”
Although Brummell ruled fashion for only a few years, he made an impact which lasted. He wasn’t an admirable man. He came into his inheritance early, and squandered it. He ran up huge gambling debts, and was forced to flee to Calais to avoid going to prison for debt. When he died, mad from syphilitic dementia, just one man saw him buried.
Although I loved Kelly’s book — read it if the Regency period intrigues you — I found the latter half depressing. Brummell had wit, intelligence, and immense style, but he forgot himself, and insulted the Prince Regent.
From a review of Kelly’s book, Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy:
“His downfall came when he allowed himself to believe his own propaganda. Cut by the Prince Regent, his temper flashed and he returned insult for insult. ‘Alvanley,’ he demanded, ‘who’s your fat friend?’ But the Prince Regent’s power was real, the dandy’s fictive. George never forgot or forgave.”
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