Southern Elegance as America’s Regency Era?

Southern Elegance as America’s Regency Era?

The Regency Era was, in my mind, unsurpassed by any other era for elegance and sophistication, manners and morals, and–of course–amazing literature.Tonight, however, I strayed from my love of Jane Austen and wandered back across the Atlantic to the era of Southern culture during the 1800s. Now, we all know that there was a lot of ugliness in the south. Slavery was a massive blight on our country’s otherwise very interesting history.

Let’s put that aside and focus on the culture of the elite during this time period in the South.

You can probably guess that I was watching Gone With the Wind. When was the last time you watched that movie? The elegant dresses. The proper manners. The unspoken rules. The gorgeous houses. The elegant balls. You cannot watch it without thinking about Jane Austen’s novels.

Even still, there is a sense of innocence about America in the movie. On the eve of destruction, the South still clings to their way of life. They do not see that they will fail in their campaign to be a new nation. And when Rhett brings Scarlett her new bonnet from Paris, she’s so out of touch with European fashion that she puts it on backwards.

Today, I often look around and I’m very unhappy with the way that our modern society is progressing. There is an increasing lack of manners, proper behavior, and common courtesy among many communities. And let’s not discuss the current trends in clothing among our young people. (shudder)

But it’s the adults, too. Just today, a grown woman posted terrible things on social media about a young woman who adopted a mustang as part of the Extreme Mustang Makeover. On day three of the 120 day challenge, the horse broke its leg and had to be put down. Rather than console the young woman who was, as one would expect, devastated, the grown woman (and business owner!) criticized the trainer and mockingly called her a child. I’m not sure how this would have been handled in the 1800s — a dual, perhaps?–but a bee-swarm of fellow horse trainers jumped all over this terrible person in defense of the young woman.

The point is that I was shocked to read this original posting. Not just that it was rude and uncalled for, but that it was meant to HURT someone who was already hurting. Even Scarlett couldn’t bypass this one with a “Fiddle dee dee.”

While I think slavery was disgusting, I do think that good old southern manners should be the one export of the South to other areas of our country.

I often lament that I wish I could have been born during the early 1800s in England…mostly because I love their clothing and the balls. But I do appreciate the way people behaved. Even the ruthless rogues who tempt sassy damsels in the Regency novels know how to behave. And, Elizabeth Bennett was a perfect counter-balance of propriety to her ridiculous sister, Kitty.

As for Gone With the Wind, well…Scarlett might not have understood demureness and respectability, but she certainly demonstrated a strong heroine that, despite her short-comings, makes readers love her nonetheless.


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9 Responses to Southern Elegance as America’s Regency Era?

  1. I agree with so much of this. I worry about my children with the way so many people seem to do their best to tear other people down. It’s one of the reasons I stay away from a lot of social media but I know that it’s something that is much more difficult for them to ignore.

  2. I must have missed the original posting of this, but I could not agree more! I too always wished to be born during the Regency era. My mom used to tell me I was born 200 years too late.

  3. Boy howdy, I sure do know exactly what you mean! Moving from California, where manners and just plain decency are practically non-existent, to Kentucky has been an eye opener. People are people no matter where they live, and bad behavior is fast becoming the common way. Still, in the South there is, over all, a far greater degree of old-fashioned attitude than in the west and east.

    It is seen in the small things: I am addressed as “ma’am” by EVERYONE. Men hold doors open for a lady, and the lady says, “Thank you.” Shocking! Shopping at Walmart entails hearing “I’m sorry!” at least a dozen times simply for passing by in an aisle or almost bumping carts. People stop and chat with you, even if they have never met you before! On and on. It truly is a breath of fresh air. I’ll take the Southern way any day.

  4. Oh, I think you’re right! The old south did have a lot in common with regency England! Thank you for making the connection. It is fascinating to see things that certain cultures have in common.

  5. I am not on social media of any kind. That poor woman… bless her heart. I was always taught to say ‘yes ma’am and yes sir or no ma’am and no sir’ to my elders and even to my parents. When I was in the work force… I continued that even when other employees didn’t and even when I had a much younger boss. I never outgrew that. I see it as a form of respect and kids today are not taught respect… of any kind… for property, themselves, their elders… and least of all… their fellow man. It is sad… I don’t know if we will ever regain that lost ground.

  6. I”m not on social media but I think that woman was very cruel mocking that girl after she lost her horse! Losing a beloved animal or pet is devastating. I also agree that social media is out of hand. Gone with the Wind is a great movie and read. I think slavery was bad too.I think Scarlett is a very stubborn but very strong woman. I don’t know if I could go through what she did. She really proved her strength.

  7. I didn’t see the social media event that you spoke of, but I am certainly grateful that the woman’s fellows supported her and hopefully shamed the creep that did such a deplorable thing.

    I don’t know what can be done about social media, it’s gotten way out of hand. I can be as cantankerous as any other grouch regarding something I’m steamed up about. But going to the point of shaming someone else: I really hope I haven’t been that sinful. I cannot decide (wishy-washy) whether or not to just ignore the bad things I see on Facebook way too often these days and add fuel to the fire, thus validating the person who posted something I find really awful, giving the person something they strove to achieve….any kind of attention, the more furor the better. And for that reason I all but gave up following Facebook during the last presidential campaign. The absolutely hatefully false and unkind postings that appeared constantly about the candidate I personally supported.

    You have probably have put your finger on one of the reasons I like most about the Regency period of romance novels I best like reading. The manners, social courtesy. On the other hand, if we are to believe the stories that are written about the time, with such regulated manners how was it that people enjoyed and got away with destroying someone else through malicious gossip. The ‘scandals’ that could befall a lady in those times and ruin their lives seem so unnecessarily unjust and cruel. The Social Media of their time.

    Thank you Regina for this post. At least for me it was quite thought provoking.

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