History, they say, is just gossip that has grown old gracefully.
This certainly holds true for me. I can’t remember significant dates and I don’t even try to. It’s the little things that catch my eye, that I actually look for and remember fondly. The day-to-day life, with its ups and downs. People talking about other people and about themselves, in letters and diaries. Who fell in love with whom, and did they marry? What about Lord Paget’s elopement with the sister-in-law of the future Duke of Wellington? Or the children of a certain high society lady, who were collectively known as ‘The Harleian Miscellany’, because no one could tell with absolute certainty who the father was in each and every case?
Ever since I discovered my fascination with the Regency period, over the years I have been snooping into many people’s lives, looking for details about what they wore, what they ate and when, what they read, what plays they saw, where they went and in what sort of carriages and what they did to occupy their time. But I found so much more than what I had bargained for! Not just details about their way of life, or the juicy gossip. Now and again I was lucky enough to stumble upon happy stories, and here is one of my favourites:
She was the second daughter of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, and her name was Lady Harriet Cavendish.
After her mother’s death, her life had some hints of Cinderella. Not the rags of course, nor the evil stepsisters, but the stepmother she eventually acquired was, if not evil, then certainly eager to advance her own children to the detriment of her predecessor’s.
But then the gentleman she had secretly been in love with for quite some time finally proposed, and the young lady got married.
Although considered very handsome by many ladies of his generation, her husband – Lord Granville Leveson Gower, first Earl Granville – wasn’t exactly Darcy-like in conduct in his early youth, truth be told. Will it shock you dreadfully to hear that, some years before his marriage, as a very young man he actually had a longstanding affair (let’s call it liaison) with Lady Harriet’s own aunt, an older and very sophisticated married woman, and oddly enough nobody batted an eyelid? And it gets worse: there were two children from that liaison, a boy and a girl, which Lady Harriet eventually adopted and brought up, along with the couple’s own children.
You’d be right to ask ‘So, what has this sordid little tale got to do with the Darcys?” Well, it’s all in the details – or rather, in the letters. Lady Harriet wrote many, the most candid ones to her sister, who had married the son and heir of the Earl of Carlisle from Castle Howard, a magnificent country house in Yorkshire.
In my opinion, these letters might very well have been written by Elizabeth Darcy to Jane Bingley. Not so much the other way around. Lady Harriet comes across as thoroughly besotted, but full of wit and humour, in a style that brings Elizabeth to mind, rather than Jane. Here are a few snippets, and I hope you’ll like them just as much as I did:
“… my attention is taken up this morning with G’s profile at chess. I never saw him in such beauty. […] his blue eyes watching the pawns are quite irresistible. He is really more adorable than ever and his kindness, sense and sweetness make every hour passed with him happier than the one before it.”
“… it is quite amusement enough to look at his beautiful face. How angry it would look if he knew what I was writing! He is much handsomer than ever.”
“God bless you, my dear, dear sister. Granville is putting up all his beautiful regular features and saying – ‘Now leave off’ [the letter-writing], it is really too foolish, tiring yourself.’ What an angel he is, eating buttered roll!”
“Granville is delightful and I am so happy and healthy that I think I must be a comfortable sight to the humane and charitable.” [She was by then heavily pregnant].
“Granville’s constant kindness and attention and his reading to me, driving me, etc. make him so necessary to the enjoyment of every moment of my time that I feel quite helpless without him, as if my hands, feet and understanding were all with him in the Town Hall at Stafford.” [where her husband was attending the assizes at the time].
“You will grow sick of hearing me repeat that I am happier every day. It is the only subject that occurs to me. Granville’s kindness is not to be described.”
“Granville is like any steward all day at business and accounts till I wish there was no such thing as coal or a sixpence in the world.” [He had recently inherited some small coal-mining property in Staffordshire and was busy putting his affairs in order].
“He is shooting this morning and I submit to his absence with very good grace for he comes home so radiant in health and beauty […]. I really think I am happier every hour. There never was anything as angelick [sic] as his kindness, so adorable as he is in every way.”
“Granville is a talisman to preserve me from every evil in life, great and small.” (*)
There is more, a lot more – not just about her husband but also about daily life, friends, acquaintances, grand dinners, pregnancies, dieting and servants – but to me, that last phrase says it all. So would Mr Darcy be: a talisman to preserve the woman he loves from every evil. And it’s so wonderful to discover that sometimes he has his match in real life, and he is not just a figment of a brilliant imagination!
I hope you have enjoyed reading about this happy marriage, and please come back soon!
(*) The quotes are from ‘A second Self – The Letters of Harriet Granville 1810 – 1845’ edited by Virginia Surtees.