The English Regency period had its own form of social media and celebrity culture. Devotees of Regency romance know that long before Twitter, letters, newspapers, caricatures, and scandal sheets, made money gossiping about the ton.
Social media and Regency romance: Melly’s story
Readers of the Regency romance The Lady And The Rake: A Scandalous Arrangement know that scandal and gossip play roles in the novel. Every lady had to be careful, because even the slightest appearance of impropriety could cause a firestorm of gossip, and eventually, ruin.
Melly’s formidable sister Catherine takes charge and squelches the gossip, but even completely innocent behavior could ignite gossip.
For example, in Lady Saville’s Lover, Bess Fleming has refused numerous suitors — and even this ignites gossip.
A snippet from Lady Saville’s Lover
From Lady Saville’s Lover…
Bess was shocked. She sipped her chocolate to give herself time to mentally assess her behavior. Finally, she said: “I don’t flirt, Jane — you know that.”
Gordon, she thought. She barely restrained herself from snapping at Jane. Gordon could only have learned of the offers which Bess had refused from her. Jane was Gordon’s spy.
“I admit that you’ve been circumspect, my dear, but look at this morning’s paper.”
Jane handed Bess the Morning Advertiser and Bess read a small item Jane tapped with her finger:
“The delicious and wealthy heiress Miss F has cut a swathe through our gallant gentlemen, but this reporter has learned that the gay charmer will have none of them. One wonders whether the lovely lady has already surrendered her charms, and to whom.”
Bess felt the color leaving her face. The item was about her, and it made a scandalous allegation. Libelous even.
She read the item again and again, until Jane snatched the scandal sheet from her. “It’s all right my dear. It seems that you’ve made an enemy. Don’t concern yourself. I was worried about that something like this could happen. Mere gossip my dear, it will die down.”
“What can I do?”
Jane shook her head. “I won’t have you rushed into an alliance simply to weather gossip. We’ll ignore it. You’ll hold your head high… But perhaps you could let it be known that you favor someone? The gossips find it peculiar that you don’t show a partiality for any of the gentlemen who court you.”
“I don’t favor anyone — and why is that so strange?”
“It’s strange, because most young women are a good deal sillier than you are. They allow their head to be turned. You don’t.” She paused for a moment. “You have a fortune, and that’s set people to talking. You’re a prime plum on the marriage mart, and you’re from Scotland. I’ve my suspicions about where this gossip comes from.” She frowned darkly.
“Who’s gossiping about me?”
“It doesn’t matter. However, you do need to favor someone. So pick someone, anyone,” Jane said firmly. “Anyone you like. What about Lord Darius Saville? He’s the son of a duke — an earl. His father would leap onto such an alliance with pure joy — the family needs an infusion of funds.”
She paused for a moment when Bess shook her head vehemently. “You don’t have to marry him, but you must show a partiality to a gentleman.”
“Marry that man? Never — besides, he would never countenance an alliance.”
“Why have you taken such a set against him? And what do you mean, he wouldn’t countenance it?”
Bess knew why she’d taken Lord Darius in dislike. Calling her uncivilized had been the beginning of it, and she disliked him intensely after that. She’d only seen him three more times. He never paid any attention to her, and yet, she found herself looking for him in the ballroom, or glancing at him at a dinner party.
She didn’t like him at all, and yet he claimed her attention.
“He called me uncivilized.” She explained to Jane what she had overheard.
Jane’s eyes widened, then she smiled. She said drily, “Uncivilized, is it? He’s a member of Fox’s set, so he’s one to talk. That set is quite uncivilized enough for anyone, I should think. The things I could tell you…” She stopped, and winked at Bess. “I’ll tell you when you’re married, my sweet.”
If you’d like to read Bess’s story Lady Saville’s Lover is available now.