You must be living under a Regency-period stone to have missed that it is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. To think we have had 200 years of Darcy! (and 18 years of Colin Firth in a wet shirt – thank you BBC).
I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 15. When I borrowed it from the school library, all I knew about it was that it was a famous book. At the time, I was doing my best to read the classics. It is hard now to remember why, but I suspect it had a lot to do with being unpopular, shy, pimply, dorky, terrible at sports, and, most damning of all, a book-lover. Well, if I was going to be known for one thing, I may as well do that one thing well. If nothing else, it would help to imagine myself as a towering intellect, with superior brain power to my trendy-sneakered tormentors. They may have had hand-eye coordination and permission to stay out late at night, but dammit I could SPELL.
As a coping mechanism it might not have been very sensible, but I did at least get to read a lot of good books. This didn’t always work – at age 14 the dark passions of Wuthering Heights flew entirely over my head, and I thought they were all being rather dramatic and silly. And having heard of The Pickwick Papers as a great comedy, I was confused to find it full of stuffy Victorian gentlemen who talked unintelligible nonsense.
But Pride and Prejudice, well, it was love at first line. Not just for the Darcy-a-thon, but because it was truly, deliciously, funny. And the characters, coming from a different age, a different country, a different class and background, felt as fresh and current as if I might meet them walking down the street (accompanied by appropriate chaperone, of course). Many years and many readings later, I still feel that way. The behaviour of the characters is so complex, yet so utterly and completely normal, that it always feels new and real and relevant.
I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the birthday of my favourite book, than by adding my love of vintage into the mix and checking out the Regency fashions available at the Jane Austen Centre giftshop. For those who love the 30s and 40s, some of the Regency bonnets could match very nicely with, say, a long 30s tea dress or tailored 40s coat. I’ve written about my love of dressing up in bonnets previously, you’d be surprised at how flattering they are. And if I had a ball to attend the mustard silk empire line dress would be so much fun to wear, or if I needed to walk several miles through fields to visit my sick sister the sprigged cotton gown would be ideal. For everyday purposes though, my top picks are the long nightgown and the crochet gloves. The gloves would be wonderful to wear with a pretty dress to take afternoon tea with friends, and the nightgown is perfect for putting your hair in rag curls, curling up under a warm blanket with a mug of cocoa, and reading a very good book.