Tag Archive | Morality

Elizabeth Bailey and “Adoring Isadora”

Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.

When Noel Coward wrote that song, the profession of acting had acquired a certain cachet of glamour. Actresses, however, were still not respectable, and the stage-door Johnnies could still hope for the ultimate reward if they wined and dined their favourites.

Society had become much more integrated by then, but the middle classes were offended by theatrical morals and the bohemian lifestyle. This attitude did not much affect the male of the species, of course, although the well-born young man about town would encounter strong opposition if he attempted to take to the stage. An actor, however, might be accepted into exclusive circles, where his female counterpart would be firmly kept out.

Even when I trod the boards in the late sixties and seventies, there was a faint whiff of disapproval and suspicion. I remember my grandmother, on hearing I was an actress, saying to me, “But wouldn’t you rather be a secretary?” to which the short answer was “No!” What she meant was that I really ought to be doing something rather more respectable.

As the 19th century wore on, some actresses made the successful jump from stage to respectability, burying the past as “Lady” Someone or Other, but these were few and far between.

However, in the 18th century, my historical period, any female who set foot on the boards could kiss goodbye to any hope of respectability. All actresses then either got married or assumed married names, because that gave them a slight advantage and room for doubt. Sarah Siddons was probably one of the few actresses who were genuinely respectable and did not fall victim to “vice”.

To be honest, Society was not really to be blamed. The acting lifestyle provided endless opportunities for dalliance, secret assignations, intimate moments and the opportunity to enrich oneself at the expense of a generous protector. The temptation to stray was endemic, as the famous Perdita Robinson bore witness with her affair with the Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent.

Adoring Isadora3a reduced 700 x 500My heroine from Adoring Isadora knows full well what it would mean to plunge into a theatrical career, but this does not prevent her from hankering after the professional stage and making secret plans to take up a theatrical career. Isadora is hopelessly naïve, however, for she has no real idea of what such a life would mean, weaving dreams of success as a tragedienne taking the Ton by storm.

When the new head of the family, Viscount Roborough, appears, she is brought swiftly down to earth. Not that Isadora gives up easily. But questions concerning the probable earnings of an actress daunt her; nor can she ignore the potential for scandal that would come back on the family should she carry out her design.

I have to wonder if the taint of wickedness has an appeal in terms of glamour. Despite all these disadvantages, ever since women were at last allowed to appear in the theatre, replacing the young boys who had played female roles in Shakespeare’s time, the lure of the stage has always drawn the naïve, the reckless, the rebellious and the ambitious, as well as the genuinely talented.

About Adoring Isadora

Isadora’s secret plan to save her family is frustrated by the arrival of the Errant Heir, with plans of his own. As Isadora prepares to thwart him, Lord Roborough’s friendliness and warmth undermines her determination—until she discovers he is a hardened gamester.

As Roborough struggles to recover a wasted inheritance and counter Isadora’s attempts at sabotage, he is both intrigued and infuriated by her mercurial temperament. Bitterly hurt by her lack of trust, he despairs of a happy outcome.

Will the truth serve to effect a reconciliation? Or will Isadora’s outrageous plot signal the end of all hope?

Available

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About the Author

Elizabeth Bailey close-up reducedElizabeth Bailey grew up in Africa with unconventional parents, where she loved reading and drama. On returning to England, she developed her career in acting, theatre directing and finally writing. Elizabeth has 18 novels published by Harlequin Mills & Boon and recently began a Georgian historical crime series of which the first two books were published by Berkley (Penguin US). But since she still loves romance, Elizabeth is delighted with the opportunity to publish her work independently.

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Spotlight On Regency Personage Hannah More

220px-HannahMoreMonday’s Lady P episode mentioned Hannah More as having a significant influence on the changing attitudes toward women in the late Georgian/Regency era. Regency readers will recognize the name as being the author of books that many well-meaning Regency mothers assigned their daughters to read while said daughters preferred to indulge themselves with Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels.

Hannah More grew up in a very religious family. Her father taught in a free school and later opened a girls’ school managed by his daughters while he himself managed a boys’ school. Hannah started writing at a young age, beginning with pastoral plays for the young girls at the school to act out, and eventually moving on to London, where her play Percy was a great success at Covent Garden. For several years she enjoyed the social circle of a well-known group of bluestockings (a pejorative term referring to a female intellectual). Her second play, however, was not a success, and after a falling-out with a poet friend, Hannah withdrew from London’s intellectual circles and began to focus on religious and philanthropic works.

As the Regency period advanced and the older generation of politically-active ladies died or became infirm, fewer women involved themselves directly in politics. In 1815 Hannah More wrote a study on St. Paul’s description of the female character, which instructed women to dress themselves modestly and atone for their spiritual weakness by keeping silent and learning from the men. By daring to publish her writing, Hannah was herself breaking these rules, for which she apologized in all of her works.

  • Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to General Society (1788)
  • An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World (1790)
  • Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799)
  • Hints toward Forming the Character of a Young Princess (1805)
  • Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809)
  • Practical Piety (1811)
  • Christian Morals (1813)
  • Character of St. Paul (1815)
  • Moral Sketches (1819)

stricturesIn spite of the daunting titles, Hannah’s work outsold all of the authors of the aforementioned novels, and she became a force to be reckoned with, responsible for the sudden popularity of “religion of the heart” and countless conversions to the Evangelical faith.

Women could, of course, become involved in charity work to benefit the poor, and Hannah and her sisters threw themselves into establishing a series of schools in rural areas. The schools taught reading, the Bible, and catechism, as well as sewing and knitting, but not writing, as that was thought to give the poor too much power. Even then, they ran into opposition from the farmers, who feared that too much education would prove the end of agriculture, and from the clergy, who claimed that she was teaching Methodism, a religious movement of the lower classes that was considered dangerous by the established churches.

Along with William Wilberforce, she became a major force in the fight to abolish the slave trade, publishing a poem called Slavery in 1788.

The Pendulum Swings the Other Way

Through her writings and philanthropic work, Hannah More wielded a huge influence on English society, urging people to seek God in their hearts through Bible reading, to live their lives in an orderly and circumspect manner, and to help the poor escape their misery.

For the most part, though, her strictures did not address the moral depravity of the upper classes, where debauchery and excesses continued to rule the behavior of the Prince Regent and his brothers on down. The Evangelical movement did not address the inequalities in English society, but took the position that if God chose someone to be rich or poor, there must be a good reason for it, and the best thing to be done was to be content with one’s circumstances and look toward treasures in heaven. Wilberforce, for all of his efforts to help the poor in Africa, condemned as immoral the formation of unions against unfair employers in England. Easy to say for a man who inherited wealth and married more of it.

Another problem with the Evangelical movement that Hannah More was a part of was when the fight against “worldliness” went to extremes. Just about anything pleasurable was considered “worldly,” including dancing, card playing, and taking country walks on Sundays. By the time Thomas Bowdler had begun altering Shakespeare’s works to make them acceptable for reading in mixed company, the puritanical excesses of the Evangelicals were making them a laughingstock.

In Episode #11, Lady P decries the extremism in English morality. Hannah More’s popularity is proof that her “religion of the heart” was a timely one that many were eager to hear. Taken to extremes, as it was by Wilberforce and other Evangelicals, however, that message becomes lost in a sea of strictures and censorship that incites ridicule and rebellion.

Thanks go to:

Our Tempestuous Day by Carolly Erickson, 1986.