Thursday, 6 February 2014

Frequently Asked Questions...

"Why does Lady Cecelia Stanton stay with her husband?"

VP: There are a number of reasons why a woman in Cecelia's position would remain with a philandering husband.

Prior to the development of the Married Women's Property Act 1884 - a woman and her all her incumbent property were transferred into the ownership of her husband upon her marriage. Thus if she chose to leave, she would have no finance with which she could support herself - unless she could find a benefactor willing to accept the social stain a divorced woman would place on them. For this to occur Cecelia would have to reduce herself to beg for assistance, a situation that would be highly distasteful for any woman in her social class. For many women it was preferable to tolerate their husbands infidelities and weaknesses than suffer the disgrace of divorce and resultant dependence on another, or the other alternative, poverty.

"Lord Stanton is such a cad and manwhore... were there really men like him? And women willing to put up with men like that?"

VP: Yes and Yes. In my research I read extensively about a gentleman named James Boswell, who wrote 33 years of diaries. His diaries describe his multiple affairs with whores, mistresses and actresses - but also go into extensive detail about his love for his wife. Boswell, like the fictional Stanton cared deeply for his wife, but was, at least during periods of their marriage quite the libertine. You can buy a copy of Boswell's London Journals HERE.

Boswell's wife, on several occasions reproached her philandering husband for his actions, but always forgave him. No one truly knows Mrs Boswell's reasons for doing so - but one can assume it was much for the reasons suggested above.

There was a massive sexual dichotomy during Georgian and Regency times. The upper-classes were surprisingly sexually permissive for the gentlemen, but not so for the women. In some cases it was even expected that the gentleman may seek his sexual pleasures elsewhere, and in these cases there was often an agreement between the husband and wife. In Boswell's case, his wife's only stipulation was that he did not love those other women - and in this regard, he was fairly faithful.

"Can a wet nurse - really lactate for seven years - like Nancy?"

VP: Of course. A woman can lactate for as long as there is stimulation to the milk ducts of her breasts. Additionally, milk production can be re-stimulated through sucking/expressing or herbal remedies.There are cases in which certain families retained the same wet nurse for over twenty-years. I read somewhere (but cannot find evidence of it) that the oldest living wet-nurse was actually an octogenarian. So Nancy's tenure of seven years as a wet-nurse (surprising though it may be today) was a fairly common occurrence right up until the Victorian era.

Wet nurses were paid substantially more than maids and a good milk producing wet-nurse was a commodity that a family would like to keep. Most wet nurses were either married women with offspring of their own who were looking for extra money, or young women who'd got pregnant and needed to support themselves.

"Did doctors really think it was bad to have sex whilst you were pregnant in Regency times?"

VP: This depends of the physician, but was not an uncommon belief during this era. Though research into human biology was gathering momentum during this time, old beliefs still carried through. Many believed that sex during pregnancy could cause bad humours in the child, stimulate miscarriage, distress the baby, and pollute the womb. In the case of Cecelia and William Stanton, their physician was likely to know about William's sexually promiscuous lifestyle - and warned against intercourse during pregnancy to prevent William transferring a venereal disease to his wife and child.

"How did Lord Stanton never get a venereal disease / sexually transmitted infection?"

Just because Cecelia doesn't know of any venereal disease, it does not mean William never caught one. The tale is told from her point of view in a diary, and therefore the reader (and Cecelia herself) is not privy to what happened in London. One can assume he did not catch anything, or perhaps consider the length of his absences as time to recover from bouts of venereal disease.

The most common venereal disease during this time was in fact gonorrhoea - a bacterial infection also known as the 'clap'. Most women with this condition are unaware of it, believing symptoms to be a urinary tract infection. Similarly some men have few symptoms, but most have a discharge from the penis, burning upon urination and sometimes swollen testes. Gonorrhoea made its first appearance into English historical texts sometime in 1611.  Initially, it was treated most commonly by mercury being ingested or injected up the male urethra. Later in the 19th Century, silver nitrate was used as well as powders from foreign trees. Treatment was expensive, and the length of time it took to recover varied.

In the historical diaries of James Boswell, he speaks of suffering over twenty bouts of gonorrhoea - usually as a result of using lower class prostitutes. On each and every occasion he suffered the infection, Boswell refrained from relations with his wife to ensure he was fully recovered before returning to her. One would hope that other promiscuous husbands of the time would do the same. Thus, if Lord Stanton had caught gonorrhoea it is most likely he too would remain absent from his wife until it was safe to rejoin her.

Additionally, condoms were available during this time for prophylactic use, and in Cecelia's diary, she questions him about their use as a contraceptive - and wishes him to procure some for their own use.

There were naturally other venereal diseases around this time, but none quite so prevalent as gonorrhoea. Interestingly syphilis - which would eventually kill the sufferer - was less rampant during the 18th and 19th centuries than previously and less of a concern to the promiscuous members of society.

If you have any other book related questions you'd like to find out the answers to, leave comment and I'll respond.