A well-born and well-bred lady will know from her earliest days that the vociferous and perhaps, at time, intemperate actions of her brothers can never be repeated by herself. A true lady should be amiable, restrained and circumspect in her actions and behaviours. The hustle and bustle of a busy, public life should hold no appeal for a lady, whose primary concerns and interests lie in the domestic circle.
Yet within this domestic circle, a number of idle hours can arise. After all, a lady has no need to seek employment. Although she may oversee the housekeeping, the bulk (or ideally all) of the actual work should be undertaken by servants. And while even a quiet day may require a reasonable number of different outfits, so that some time will be taken up with the labour of dressing (or being dressed), there is only so long this activity can realistically engage a ladies’ attention.
In consequence, it is important that the respectable lady, with social aspirations, knows how to use her leisure time to her best advantage. While a lady may be at leisure, she should not be lazy. Moreover, if one has one’s eye on a certain social prize, one is not likely to achieve it without mixing appropriately and actively in Society. Behind The Past has therefore created the following guide to suitable activities in which a lady may, if she wishes, partake.
The making and receiving of calls is a fundamental aspect of Regency life. If you are looking to do well in Society, you would be well-advised to devote your leisure time to the business of making calls. It is through this social exchange that acquaintances grow and become fixed. Meeting someone in passing at a ball is one thing, calling upon them and having them call upon you in return is something else.
However, one must also be careful to observe the proper etiquette. This will aid you in securing your own position, as not knowing the proper etiquette will mark you as an outsider to Society. Moreover, mistakenly calling upon someone who you should not (i.e. a gentleman or a lady of higher social rank) could cause offence, confusion and scupper any plans you might have made.
Going out to pay calls will take up a lot of your morning hours, show off your good-breeding and provide you with some fresh air and activity, which will naturally be beneficial to both the figure and complexion.
It is a foolish lady who, after spending years gaining her accomplishments, abandons them as soon as she is married. Worse still, of course, are the young ladies who forget them as soon as they leave the schoolroom. The ability to prettily litter one’s conversations with French will serve one well for years, so forgetting everything after one Season of balls is simply preposterous.
Particularly for the unattached lady, musical skills are of the utmost importance. Music is as much the food of love as poetry. Consider, for instance, that when called upon at a social gathering to exhibit your skills, you have the closest thing to a captive audience as you are ever likely to receive. You also then have the chance to captivate your audience, which could hopefully include a number of eligible bachelors. The need for a gentleman to turn the pages, or provide accompanying singing, can also be useful for the matrimonially-minded.
An accomplished lady exudes an air of cultivated refinement. The practising of accomplishments is thus another way that a lady can pass her leisure hours in a self-beneficial manner.
There are some who would see that ladies retain their figure as they did in the constricted days of old, simply by walking up and down the long halls of their houses. In this age of exuberance, a lady has a far greater range of activities available to her, without compromising her respectability in any way. Of course, a lady must always act with caution and discretion, but this in no way precludes her from partaking in any number of outdoor activities.
Walking is a very popular pastime, and if one has the benefit of a sizeable estate, one can do so quite safely and comfortably. If this pleasant advantage is not available, a pretty country lane will very often suffice.
The more adventurous lady may choose to ride, if she is properly escorted and attired, of course. There are also those ladies who choose to follow the hunt. Carriage-driving is another increasingly popular pastime. Indeed, some ladies are very desirous to show-off their expertise in Hyde Park for every promenading hour throughout the Season.
In short, one hopes that the above discussion provides some helpful instruction for aspiring young ladies. If anyone feels they would like to study more, then they may wish to look at the following sections of the Handbook:
Hughes, Kristine, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901, (Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1998).
Kloester, Jennifer, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, (London: William Heinemann, 2005).