Monday, September 21, 2009

Drunk at Almack's

Monday, September 21, 2009

Loretta reports:

As I mentioned last time, American Richard Rush in 1818 saw an Almack’s where youth by no means predominated. He was thirty-eight at the time, rather older than all but three (depending on who the source is) of Almack’s hostesses: the ladies who decided who was allowed to buy tickets to the famous Wednesday night assemblies. (At left is one of them, the Countess Lieven.) We of the Regency persuasion have learned to think of Almack’s as the Marriage Mart. Rush’s comment about the age groups made me wonder about this.

Other things make me wonder: So many of the attendees were already married--and cheating on their spouses, in some cases to a phenomenal degree. Lady Cowper, one of the patronesses, was not only unfaithful to her husband but to her lover, Lord Palmerston, who got even with her infidelities by sleeping with (among many others) the courtesan Harriette Wilson. Whom the Marquis of Worcester slept with, too (see Gotta Dance for a picture of Worcester sort of dancing with his wife).

Then there’s this: “Although alcohol was not served on the premises, many arrived late from the theater or elsewhere already quite drunk. Added to this nightclub atmosphere was the particular delight of people who believed they had gained entry to a gathering of an elite, which amounted to a frenzy,” according to Ian Kelly's, Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style. Kelly describes the atmosphere as "fraught but sexually heightened."

Well, gee. Don’t know about you, but I’m starting to wonder whether Almack’s is the right place for somebody’s innocent seventeen-year-old daughter to meet her future husband.

18 comments:

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Shocking! So from whence, NHG, did our kinder/gentler version of Almack's arise?

Vanessa Kelly said...

This sure ain't Georgette Heyer's version of Almack's!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yeah, but a certain kind of 17-year-old daughter would find much enlightening entertainment in such company, if not a perfect husband.

I'm with Michelle: where do you think this notion of a staid, well-lit Almacks run like a super-chaperoned mixer, came from?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Also very nice portrait of Countess Lieven, looking oh-so-sly and knowing. Who's the artist?

I hope you notice I've made NO allusion to Clanronald McDonald dancing at Almacks. Except, of course, right there. *g*

Loretta Chase said...

Ladies, I suspect that our vision of Almack's arises from Georgette Heyer, and her vision arose from the information she had available at the time. Recent bios of famous Regency folk, like Brummell and Harriette Wilson, are either showing aspects of the time period that were suppressed by the mostly Victorian authors who wrote memoirs, etc., or offering a slightly different interpretation, based on study of original sources or new knowledge. Susan & I have noticed a lot of myths created during the Victorian period. Sometimes it's the ones who were hot young things in the Regency, whitewashing their youth. Sometimes it's their kids, trying to cover up Ma and Pa's shocking misbehavior. This is one of the things that makes history so much fun.

Loretta Chase said...

The thing that struck me most in reading Ian Kelly's bio (which by the way, passed muster with the picky folks at Dandy.net) was how much Almack's sounded like the hot night club everyone wants to get into--but you have to be a celeb or look incredibly hot--to get past the bouncer.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Loretta, you mention dandy.net, just as I was wondering whether the Beau,etc., might have enhanced his rep, and others around him, etc., might have done the same. How can one be reasonable sure of the truth when something like ego/rep is involved? How 'wild' someone was seems like such a subjective thing, as some would want to seem more 'sexy' in youth, and others not so much...

Loretta Chase said...

Excellent point, Michelle, and one well worth pondering. One thing Susan & I agree on is that it's hard to be sure of anything, esp when it comes to character, motive, etc. Because what we read is what someone wrote, and we can't be sure how well they remember or what axes they have to grind. I've found it interesting to compare what I read in Byron's Letters & Journals, for instance, with what others write about him. The same for Brummell, about whom so many have written, men and women, in different time periods. But I am inclining toward this new interpretation of Almack's because it puts together what one has read in many different sources, but paints a picture rather different from the one many of us had. Frankly, I find this picture much more interesting, and more in keeping with the era, which was rougher and rowdier (esp before Waterloo) than is often assumed.

Ingrid said...

The whole thing about strict chaperonage begins to make a lot more sense in the light of this information.

Loretta Chase said...

Ingrid, I agree. It didn't make a lot of sense if one imagined a sedate gathering, everyone perfectly well-behaved.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

This version of Almack's sounds like my kind of place. In fact it sounds like the current club Annabels in London where people go to see and be seen amongst their aristocratic peers but nobody goes for the food.

Monica Burns said...

You know what's interesting about all this sleeping around?? I keep wondering about STDs among the upper class. If I recall correctly Earl of Rochester died of syphilis, but I don't recall other names of the aristocracy. Got any info on that? Inquiring mind here loves the on dit when it comes to consequences. *wicked grin*

Ingrid said...

Well, Brummell died in a mad house in France from syphilis (I too have read Ian Kelly's biography). Kelly surmises that Brummell caught a very virulent strain that was newly brought to the London brothels by the British officers returning from Spain.

LorettaChase said...

From the Kelly bio, regarding syphilis and gonorrhea (at the time it was believed that they were the same disease, in different stages): "Only a little later in the century, it was estimated that fifteen percent of the population of Paris and London had them both, but the proportion was higher in the circles in which Brummell moved."

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Monica, poor Lord Rochester died of a mixture of syphilis and alcoholism, which in him proved a swiftly lethal combination. Making his early demise (he barely survived into his 30s) even more tragic is knowing that his father was also an alcoholic, likely passing the predisposition down to his son, and that his first case of the "pox" was probably acquired on an early trip to France when he was only in his early teens. A pretty awful way to go -- but the tin-nose that Johnny Depp affected in "The Libertine" was NOT accurate. A nifty costuming effect, maybe, but not accurate. *g*

And yes, he had a great deal of poxed company in 17th c. court circles. Almost everyone did have it, from the King on down, and they almost all routinely took the various mercury-based "cures."

I see another blog on the horizon.....

Monica Burns said...

I see another blog on the horizon.....

I can't wait!!! And if you did a blog on the REAL Rochester (I still adore JD though! LOL) that would be awesome too!!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Actually, Monica. His Lordship is planning to make a brief cameo appearance on Friday at the TNHG, with a word or two to contribute in our continuing discussion of Ladies and their Servants.

And if that's not a teaser, I don't know what is --! *g*

Monica Burns said...

Damn, I'm going to be traveling, but there's free wifi in WVA I'm going to do my best to get to the ball on time!

 
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