Rock Stars of the Regency Part 1: The Ladies

"The Comic Muse," Dorothy Jordan, John Russell, 1801, public domain

I assure you the utmost stretch of public fame would not make me amends for the loss of any happiness in private life.”–Frank Churchill in Emma

Recently, JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) held their first online Annual General Meeting (AGM). Last year I was privileged to attend the AGM in Williamsburg. This year was scheduled for Cleveland, but of course covid got in the way. Since Cleveland is famous for its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Dr. Jocelyn Harris prepared a presentation about “Rock Stars of the Regency.” People dressed up as the famous and infamous celebrities of Austen’s day, who Austen would certainly have known about.

I much enjoyed the online presentation, and for Jane Austen’s World I am telling readers a little more about those people’s lives, along with my nominees for additional “rock stars” of the time. And, I’m considering what Jane might have thought of each one.

In our time, the most popular, flamboyant people may have personal lives that most of us would not want to emulate. And it was the same in Austen’s England.

As we’ve seen–and as Mansfield Park shows us–many in the highest classes in England accepted sexual immorality as normal. Of the five “rock stars” in this presentation, three were known for adulterous relationships. One never married, but had children with several different men. And one, who we know Jane Austen admired, lived a moral lifestyle. She married a man she loved, who also loved her, at age 41. This was Fanny Burney (Madame D’Arblay), a novelist whose books seem to have inspired Austen.

The female “rock stars of the Regency”:

  • Emma, Lady Hamilton, known for her beauty and vivacity, her expressive poses called “attitudes,” and her love affair with married Lord Nelson
    George Romney and other artists were captivated by Emma Hamilton’s beauty.
    Emma Hamilton by George Romney, circa 1785 ©National Portrait Gallery, London
    Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
  • Dorothy Jordan, known for her comic abilities as an actress (Austen looked forward to seeing her on the stage), and for her long-term relationship with the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV)
Dorothy Jordan was known as “The Comic Muse.” Dorothy Jordan, John Russell, 1801, public domain
  • Fanny Burney, author of Cecilia and Camilla, which are lauded in Northanger Abbey
Portrait of Madame D’Arblay (Fanny Burney) engraved from a painting by Edward Francis Burney (Portraits of Eminent Men and Women, 1873), public domain, wikimedia

These women all feature in my post “Rock Stars of the Regency: The Ladies, and What Jane Might Have Thought.” Check it out!

What characteristics do you think make a person worth admiring? What would you admire, and not admire, about these three famous women?

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