Byline: TERRY COLEMAN
Now the Regency was a very fine time when the Prince of Wales, known as Prinny, happily sinned in his outrageous Royal Pavilion at Brighton. It is a time made much of by Georgette Heyer, whose heroines chastely swoon, and more recently by Emma Thompson who, in her adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility, makes it abundantly clear that under those famous flimsy muslin gowns, with high waists just under the breasts, breathed real carnal women-as if one didn't know anyway.
And did not Jane Austen herself dedicate
her novel Emma to Prinny, at his request, though whether this had done her any good, as she wrote to her sister Cassandra, she did not know?
More than this, the Regency is an era which you don't need to be an historian to know something about. Anyone can picture a Regency beau like Brummel, or Regency wallpaper stripes, or Regency chairs with rickety sabre legs. On top of that it was an outrageous time, so it helps Jane Aiken Hodge that she, too, is outrageous. 'The word Regency is often misused,' she writes, 'and I have misused it.'
She has indeed. The Regency lasted from 1811 to 1820, those years when Prinny stood in as Regent for his poor mad father, George ill. Aiken Hodge has simply decided she will take the word to mean the whole period between 1789 and 1820, and writes about women and love in that time. And she gets away with it. 'This book,' she says, 'is intended as a pleasure cruise, not a learned work', and since she has the spirit of a woman who has written 24 romantic novels with titles such as Rebel Heiress, Maulever Hall and First Night, and since she has the rare gift of writing wittily and well, she carries it off.
So we whisk through the story of Jane Austen's life in nine pages, of Dorothy Jordan's (the Duke of Clarence's mistress) in 12, and that of Emma Lyon (later Lady Hamilton) in another 12. In 1789, says Aiken Hodge, Nelson went fresh from his
victory at the Nile to Naples where 'Emma fell into his arm (he had only one by now) . . .'It's all a lively canter. There is some nonsense. I put it down to Aiken Hodge's romantic past that she believes the Regency, or her Regency at any rate, to have been a time when a woman servant met by a guest in a corridor was likely to be dismissed or raped. …