WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Betwattaled

James Gillray really is all that and a bag of chips.

I was minding my own business in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery when I stumbled upon a two-part series of Gillray’s from 1806. The first just screams, “Go forth and find a Regency slang term that describes my expression.”

So I did.

Wide-Awake by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 1 November 1806, National Portrait Gallery.

Betwattled

Surprised, confounded, out of one’s senses; also betrayed.

Also when I saw the Gillray picture above, I thought about how much he looked like Mr. Bennet in form but how his expression resembled that of Mrs. Bennet. So off to the interwebs I went in search of the betwattled looks of Pride and Prejudice circa 1995.

And the pièce de résistance of surprised looks …

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Hobberdehoy

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Hobberdehoy

I think we all know someone who needs to act their age rather than their shoe size (to paraphrase Prince). This week’s word may be more a literal reference to age rather than behavior, but it’s easier to illustrate the latter, so I beg your indulgence of my interpretation.

Hobberdehoy (noun)

Half a man and half a boy, a lad between both.

For the ultimate Regency boy-man, I of course thought of the Prince Regent, the patron saint of leisure, fashion, and food, and extravagance in all three. He was criticized as selfish, careless, and inconstant, offering no direction to the country during his father’s incapacitation or the wars with Napoleon and America. His legacy is self-aggrandizement for all things frivolous and profligate.

George IV by Thomas Lawrence, 1822, Chatsworth House Chintz Bedroom.

George IV by Thomas Lawrence, 1822, Chatsworth House Chintz Bedroom.

The remaining behavioral visual aids for Hobberdehoys may be fictional – but they fit my thematic rendering rather well. And of course they came from the inspired mind of Jane Austen. Upon examination, I found a Hobberdehoy in each of her novels.

Do you agree with my choices?

Allesandro Nivola as Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, 1999.

Allesandro Nivola as Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, 1999.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill in Emma.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill in Emma, 2009.

William Beck as John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, 2007.

William Beck as John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, 2007.

Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion, 2007.

Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion, 2007.

Greg Wise as Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, 1995.

Greg Wise as Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, 1995.

Adrian Lukis as George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Adrian Lukis as George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Pig Running

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Pig Running

In case the post-holiday and winter doldrums have taken root in your soul, here’s a bit of summertime entertainment to banish the blahs. But first, how did I pick this week’s word?

Glad you asked.

In true stream of consciousness form, this phrase came to me. I always watch and read Pride and Prejudice over the Christmas holiday. I have a lovely leather-bound copy to read, and I watch all the versions I have access to – the 1940 film (purely for Laurence Olivier, Greer Garson, and Edna Mae Oliver), the 1980 and 1995 miniseries, and the 2005 film. There’s a scene in the latter that is not taken from the book but completely fits the character and the action. That led me to wondering if it was an anachronistic inclusion or if such practices really occurred, which led me to research.

That’s how I roll.

Pig Running

A piece of game frequently practised at fairs, wakes, &c. A large pig, whose tail is cut short, and both soaped and greased, being turned out, is hunted by the young men and boys, and becomes the property of him who can catch and hold him by the tail, above the height of his head.

Actress Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, 2005, Focus Features.

Actress Kelly Reilly as Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice, 2005, Focus Features.

And yes, Virginia, they really chased pigs at fairs back in the day (and still do every summer at fairs all over the United States). The largest of these exhibitions was the one held in London – the Bartholomew Fair. It began by charter of King Henry I when he allowed the Prior of Smithfield to hold a market in September near St. Bartholomew hospital. It grew in popularity each year, eventually lengthening to fourteen days, and was the event to see exotic animals, wrestlers and strong men, acrobats, puppetry, musicians and dancers, and to buy all manner of food, drink, and textiles.

By the early 1800s, the fair had shortened to just four days in length, and authorities railed against the lewd behavior, bawdy entertainments, drunkenness, and general atmosphere of exhibitionism that accompanied the fair. Regency visitors would have witnessed all manner of shocking spectacles, including a full-blown pig running. But it was the theatrical performances that especially vexed the strait-laced; they were prohibited from the Fair in the early 1840s. By 1852, no shows were enacted and in 1855, the charter expired.

Bartholomew Fair by Thomas Rowlandson, published in Rudolph Ackermann's Microcosm of London, 1808-10, British Library.

Bartholomew Fair by Thomas Rowlandson, published in Rudolph Ackermann’s Microcosm of London, 1808-10, British Library.

I’ve blogged about the fair before here, and author Susana Ellis offers up a fine examination of it in her Romance of London Series: Bartholomew Fair. But I did find something new in my pokings and proddings of the internet. London Metropolitan Archives Artist in Residence Nick Field discusses the famous print of the fair as part of the LMA’s Streetlife London series. It’s broken into two parts, each less than five minutes. It’s a fascinating analysis of both the artwork and its subject.

 

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends

Just like last week, we’re once again in the realm of gaming; specifically, cards. This post is a bit longer than my usual WOWs, but that’s because it will need to tide you over until 2017. The next two weeks will find me tucked away with my family making all things merry! I wish you warm cocoa, warm fires, and warm hearts this holiday season!

Blocked at Both Ends

Finished. The game is blocked at both ends; the game is ended.

There is an aphorism that I consider half-right: it is how you play the game . . . but it’s also fine to say winning is usually the hoped-for outcome. To wit: if you want to win at Regency parlor games, you’ve got to know how to play.

I first read about Regency card games in Georgette Heyer’s Faro’s Daughter. I knew nothing about the game, yet Heyer’s deft and focused touch kept the details interesting and understandable. I was never lost by the maneuvers and machinations.

So in case you need a new game to play whilst stuck indoors with too much food (and perhaps too much family) this holiday season, let’s learn the basics of play for some Regency parlor games.

Cassino (also, Casino; there is actually controversy about the spelling, according to Pagat)

Cassino made its first documented appearance in London at the end of the eighteenth century. The main objective of the game is to capture cards from a layout of face up cards on the table. A card is captured by playing a matching card from the player’s hand. It is also possible to capture several cards at once if their values add up to the value of the card played. Captured cards are held by the winner and scored at the end of the play. Two to four players make up each game.

Italian deck of cards for Cassino.

Italian deck of cards for Cassino.

Commerce (also, Thirty-One, Whisky Poker, and Bastard Brag)

I grew up playing this game (we played for M&Ms and Skittles and thought we were So. Cool.) so I’ll simply explain it like I play it. A game can have three to ten players; one deck of cards is used and Aces are high. Players contribute equal stakes to the pool, then receive three cards from the dealer. Three cards are then dealt face up on the table to form the “widow.” The dealer can swap out 1-2 of his cards with the widow to “make his hand.” Once the dealer is satisfied with his hand, players may look at their cards. There are usually as many rounds as there are players, and a fresh card is added to the “widow” at the beginning of each round. Once a player is satisfied with his cards, he knocks on the table; play stops once two players have knocked. Players then show their cards and the holder of the best combination receives the stakes deposited in the pool; the player with the worst hand puts in one counter called “Going Up.”

  • Tricon – three of a kind
  • Sequence – three cards of the same suit, in order
  • Flush – three cards of the same suit (the highest wins)
  • Pair – two similar cards (highest pair wins)
    Point – cards added up by their face value (Ace 11, Kings 10, etc.)

They all spent the evening together at Thorpe’s. Catherine was disturbed and out of spirits; but Isabella seemed to find a pool of commerce, in the fate of which she shared, by private partnership with Morland, a very good equivalent for the quiet and country air of an inn at Clifton.
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 11

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds ¦ WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends. Pictured, "Doings In A Hell."

Faro

This is the game your mother warned you about. It ruined smarter, better, and wealthier people than you. What began as the politest of card games in Italy and France under the name Basset became quite different when its ancestor was outlawed. Faro was the overwhelmingly tempting open secret of gaming halls and private card parties alike. A suit of cards was glued face-up, Ace to King, on an oval of green baize known as the board. The dealer was called theBbanker, and players were known as Punters. Punters laid stakes on one of the 13 cards on the board. Just to complicate the issue, Punters could also place side bets on multiple cards by laying their wagers between or on card edges. Bets ranged from one to one hundred guineas (or more) upon a single card. There are myriad rules on payout and further play that I will explain via the Seinfeld example: yada-yada-yada, the bank wins big and the gamblers lose.

Fun fact: after migrating to the United States in the mid-1800s, it swept that country with the speed of western expansion and the zeal of the gold rush. Criminal cases concerning faro were even argued all the way to the Supreme Court (United States v. Simms, 1803 and Ex parte Milburn, 1835). Mark Twain declared:

A dollar picked up in the road is more satisfaction to us than the 99 which we had to work for, and the money won at Faro or in the stock market snuggles into our hearts in the same way.

Faro's Daughters, or the Kenyonian blow up to Gamblers by Isaac Cruikshank, 16 May 1796, Digital Collections, Yale University Library.

Faro’s Daughters, or the Kenyonian blow up to Gamblers by Isaac Cruikshank, 16 May 1796, Digital Collections, Yale University Library. Ha! I see what you did their, Georgette Heyer.

Loo (also, Lanterloo)

A minimum of five players use all 52 cards. Each is dealt 3-5 cards (gamers choice) and after looking at their hand, they can drop out without charge or elect to stay in, paying to play. Committing to play requires the player to win at least one trick (thereby winning one-third or one-fifth of the total pool). Fail this, and pay a penalty amount equal to the whole pot – you’ve been “looed.” The pot carries forward and increases with each hand: great for the winner, potentially ruinous for the loser.

Loo in the Kitchin or High Life below Stairs by Isaac Cruikshank, published by Rudolph Ackermann 25 June 1799, Digital Collections, Yale University Library.

Loo in the Kitchin or High Life below Stairs by Isaac Cruikshank, published by Rudolph Ackermann 25 June 1799, Digital Collections, Yale University Library.

Piquet

Here’s the card game I’m determined to play this holiday. It seems so terribly refined yet cutthroat at the same time. I love that the English pronounce it “Picket” rather than the French “P.K.” Two players, 36 cards (Aces to Sixes), with each hand divided into five parts:

  • Blanks and Discards
  • Ruffs
  • Sequences
  • Sets
  • Tricks

The dealer is called the Younger while the player is called the Elder. Each player is dealt twelve cards, in groups of 2-4, depending on the part, with the remaining twelve cards lying in a stack between the opponents. The first player to score 100 is the winner. The rules on scoring for each part are lengthy but actually seem relatively straightforward. You can find a thorough explanation of them, with illustrations, at Historic Card Games.

Pope Joan

Something about the name of this game makes me feel like I’d be getting away with something sacrilegious if I were to play it. Or that I’m making light of something that could lead to my eternal damnation. Hmm.

Pope Joan is considered a Victorian card game because of its widespread popularity during that time, but we know it was played as early as 1732, courtesy the Oxford English Dictionary. Dickens even referred to it as an “old fashioned card party” in Chaper 6 of The Pickwick Papers.

Up to eight players may play, using a standard 52-card deck, but also a circular playing board resembling that of Roly-Poly or E-O. The board is divided into eight compartments: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Pope 9, Game, Intrigue (trump Queen + Jack), and Matrimony (trump King + Queen). Each player “dresses” each compartment with two counters, which could be anything from farthings to guineas. The object is to win counters by playing out cards corresponding to the labelled compartments on the board, and to be the first to run out of cards. The rules are again lengthy but manageable, and expertly explained by Dave Parlett at Historic Card Games.

Pope Joan board, courtesy Ruby Lane Antiques of River Oaks, Houston, TX.

Pope Joan board, courtesy Ruby Lane Antiques of River Oaks, Houston, TX.

Pope Joan board detail, courtesy Ruby Lane Antiques of River Oaks, Houston, TX

Pope Joan board detail, courtesy Ruby Lane Antiques of River Oaks, Houston, TX

Speculation

All of the card game rule sites state “several” may play Speculation, so that could possibly mean as many as your table will seat. Honestly, play for this game is the simplest of all I’ve study so far. Each player begins the game with the same number of markers – fish – from which to ante at the beginning of each hand.

Fish markers for the game of Speculation. They are also called chips. I swear this is not my attempt at a bad pun.

Fish markers for the game of Speculation. They are also called chips. I swear this is not my attempt at a bad pun.

Players are each dealt three cards, face down; after all have cards, the dealer turns the next one face up to determine the trump suit. This card belongs to the dealer (if he turns over an Ace, he’s won, and play ends before it began). If it is a high enough trump, players may offer to buy it. Players then turn over their cards, one at a time in progression around the table from the dealer’s left. If a higher trump card is revealed, the possessor may sell or keep it, and any player may make him an offer. Players may also offer to buy or trade for any face-down cards, sight unseen, at any time.

All trading and auctioning is done in pursuit of acquiring the highest trump card. Cards rank from Ace high to 2 low. The game ends when all cards have been revealed or when somebody turns the Ace; the owner of the highest trump wins the pot.

Jane Austen wrote of Speculation in Mansfield Park:

In the evening it was found, according to the predetermination of Mrs. Grant and her sister, that after making up the whist-table there would remain sufficient for a round game, and everybody being as perfectly complying and without a choice as on such occasions they always are, speculation was decided on almost as soon as whist; and Lady Bertram soon found herself in the critical situation of being applied to for her own choice between the games, and being required either to draw a card for whist or not. She hesitated.
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Chapter 25

Speculation card deck.

Speculation card deck.

Vingt-et-un (also, Vingt-un, Twenty-One, or Pontoon)

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds ¦ WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends. Pictured, Georgian gamblers.

Any number of people may play; a standard 52-card deck is used, although with six or more players, two decks would be combined. Money or markers are used for wagering. The value of the cards is the same as their pip, with face cards worth ten; the Ace can be worth one or eleven, player’s choice. The dealer gives each player two cards, and the player may hold with these or add as many as he wishes. The object of the game is to form a hand whose total value is at or near twenty-one, without going over.

Whist

Whist arose from the game Ruff and Honours – how great a name is that?! – as reported by Charles Cotton in The Compleat Gamester, 1674. It is a plain-trick game without bidding, with four players in fixed partnerships of two and seated across the table from each other; it is strictly forbidden for partners to “talk across the table” or remark on their cards or play in any way. Cards rank from Ace highest to Two lowest, with trumps determined by the final card laid down by the dealer after having dispensed the rest of the cards. He placed the trump card in the middle of the table and play then began to the dealer’s left. The first player may lead any card in his hand, with play proceeding clockwise order, following suit of the card led. A player with no card of that suit may discard (play a card of another suit) or play a trump. The trick is won by the highest card of the lead suit or by trump. The winner of the trick leads the next round, and play continues until all thirteen tricks are played. When finished, the score is recorded. Think Spades or Pinochle today.

Two-Penny Whist by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 11 January 1796, National Portrait Gallery.

Two-Penny Whist by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 11 January 1796, National Portrait Gallery.

In conclusion, for your further reading pleasure – and to get a glimpse into contemporaneous gambling – trek over to Susanna Ives‘s internet home to read a Sad Tale of Gambling Woe from 1804.

 

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds ¦ WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig

Rig (noun)

Fun, game, diversion, or trick.

This week’s word is all about diversion, so what better way to illustrate it than with a bit of . . . amusement? We’re in the throes of the holiday crush, so do have a bit of a break and have some enjoyment with this quiz!

(Bonus – Anyone catch the meaning of the graphic above? It’s the first game!)

Which Austen Heroine Are You?

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds. WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Rig.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Maggotty

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Maggotty

This week’s word is brought to you by the process of chasing rabbits. Or, more accurately, dancing rabbits.

Rabbits that lead you to reevaluate everything you thought you knew about a subject. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, either.

Maggotty (adjective)

Whimsical, capricious.

I’ve always loved the phrase “maggot in the brain.” I’ve read it in countless novels, usually to introduce some hair-brained (or hare-brained, ha!) scheme by a main character. The results range from comedic situations to ill-conceived consequences to compromise-ruination-marriage. Remember poor Jane after her mother’s scheme to go on horseback to Netherfield?

Lizzy tends sick Jane at Netherfield after her mother's maggotty idea to ride in the rain.

Lizzy tends sick Jane at Netherfield after her mother’s maggotty idea to ride in the rain. From the A&E/BBC 1995 adaptation.

(Side note: do not Google maggot in the brain, ever.)

I’ve also read of “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot,” an English country dance from Palmer’s Pocket Playford, 1695. It’s the dance of choice for beauty and elegance in Jane Austen adaptations, featuring in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma from 1996.

~He's touching me. ~She's touching me.

~He’s touching me.
~She’s touching me.

So when I came across maggotty in the Vulgar Dictionary, it was no stretch to picture a maggot in the brain as a whimsical or fanciful idea. And perhaps the change in movements in a Maggot could be labeled capricious, and the act of dancing can certainly be fanciful and playful. I confess I can’t wait to describe a relative’s idea or story as maggotty over Thanksgiving dinner next week.

I had thought to describe the steps of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot, show a diagram, and then close with a YouTube clip from one of the movies mentioned above.

However.

I came across a website with the fantastic name of Capering and Kickery, and the post entitled Real Regency Dancers Don’t Turn Single: Ten Tips for Judging Authenticity. I suddenly had a very bad feeling, and my mouth went dry as I prepared to have a bubble or two burst. I was not prepared for the shattering of romantic dreams and Colin Firth dance moves. Of course, I take very little at face value and always seek corroboration or refutation . . . and it saddens my heart a bit to say what we read (and we authors write) about Regency dancing is possibly more fictionalized than it should be. It has long been an understood that what makes it to the small and big screens often bears little resemblance to its original.

In short, on screen (and what we picture in our mind’s eyes whilst reading novels), we see couples move gracefully through sedate, almost regal dances, the camera capturing meaningful glances and well-placed dialogue. In reality, those were the dances of an entirely different era altogether, one hundred years prior. Regency dances were lively, progressive, and serious business. And there were plenty of contemporary dances being written and published for the Regency set: Thomas Wilson, Dancing Master, published over fifty collections of dances between 1808 and 1846. Moldy oldies from the late 1600s were not necessarily good ton.

At Capering and Kicking, Susan de Guardiola makes the argument that Real Regency Dancers:

  1. Don’t Walk (you’re not dancing if you’re not sucking wind)
  2. Mind Their Curves (no stiff arms and rigid ‘W’ elbows here)
  3. Don’t Turn Single (couples only in the figures, if you please)
  4. Are Au Courant (that Maggot is sooo 17th Century)
  5. Do It In Threes (because three is better than two, and never one; see #3)
  6. Really Reel (kick up those heels, missy!)
  7. Vary Their Attitudes (waltzing was not simply one-two-three-repeat)
  8. Work Their Way Down (wait your turn to dance, and mind the queue!)
  9. Are Totally Square (quadrilles rule, minuets drool)
  10. Name That Tune (dances and music weren’t linked, unlike the Electric Slide or the Whip/Nae Nae)

Ms. de Guardiola does cite Captain Gronow, who was and is so notoriously unreliable that I’m not even going to provide a link to anything about him, but her other sources are spot on – contemporary, varied, and helpful. Follow that link above to read her reasons and research behind each point.

I now have a maggotty idea floating around my head: I need to rethink and re-choreograph dance scenes that I write to reflect a Regency mindset, rather than casting them with my 21st century tendency toward nostalgia. Regency dancers had plenty of current material from which to choose; they may have thought of them, or heard talk of them from dowagers and doddering aunts, but they had no need of their grandmother’s Maggot.

“Much obliged for the quadrilles, which I am grown to think pretty enough, though of course they are very inferior to the cotillions of my own day.”
Jane Austen to her niece Fanny Knight, in a letter dated February 20, 1816

I don’t know. I’m not sure if I can yet picture Regency balls as having more in common with the jig at the Meryton assembly than the Grimstock in the Lucas’s drawing room. Some things – anachronisms though they may be – are just too ingrained. And one of my favorite lines from a Pride and Prejudice adaptation was complete fiction and not in the book: when Miss Bingley remarks to Mr. Darcy, “I can’t help feeling that someone’s going to produce a piglet and make us chase it.” Sneering at the rowdiness of the country folk just fit (perhaps because the 2005 adaptation had an odd preoccupation with pigs of all sorts, but I digress).

I still think I’ll end with the lovely, though perhaps not historically accurate, ballroom scene from Pride and Prejudice. Just call me maggotty. And Because Colin.

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. All citations and credits for information in this post are highlighted, with links provided, in the body of the text.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Fice

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Fice

Three cheers for feisty heroines in Regency Romance, right?!

Umm…well….

You go, grrl. A woman driving a high perch phaeton by Thomas Rowlandson.

You go, grrl. A woman driving a high perch phaeton by Thomas Rowlandson.

Feisty is one of those potentially pesky anachronisms that look good on paper but don’t stand up to etymological scrutiny. Authors mean for their heroines to be courageous, spirited, lively, and bold, yet still cut a proper figure in society. They aren’t intimating their leading ladies are, in fact, late-Victorian era Americans who are “aggressive, exuberant, or touchy” lasses with a whiff of “stinking cur dog” who’ve time traveled back to Georgian England.

But that’s exactly what feisty means.

Elizabeth Stokes, Lady Bareknuckles

Elizabeth Stokes, Lady Bareknuckles

It’s an adjective from 1896 American English, and it’s not at all attractive or empowering when applied to a lady. In fact, feisty hails from fysting curre (stinking cur) from the 1520s, which in turns hails from the mid-15th Century Middle English fysten/fisten, meaning to break wind. It’s goes fully vulgar in both Danish (fise) and German (fistiz): a fart.

So that feisty heroine is a she-dog with room-clearing digestive issues.

Mary Read, lady pirate

Mary Read, lady pirate

But what about the argument that modern readers will apply the modern definition and admire that spunky daughter of an Earl who won’t bend to the will of man, mother, or Society? If the word really fits, and readers won’t be tripped up, should we chance it?

Consider the current, modern definition of feisty:

  1. Full of nervous energy; fidgety; touchy, quarrelsome; exuberantly frisky
  2. Having or showing a lively aggressiveness

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds

Despite the definition still being a bit unflattering, I think most people assume and associate feisty with positive connotations – the woman who won’t take no for an answer, fights for what she wants or those she loves, and won’t give up until all options are exhausted. Is feisty an auto-antonym (also known as contranym, antagonym, enantiodrome, or antilogy)? Does feisty have multiple meanings, with one defined as the opposite of its other meanings?

It seems likely. But Dame Helen Mirren DBE still says just say no.

Two phrases I hate in reference to female characters are ‘strong’ and ‘feisty.’ They really annoy me. It’s the most condescending thing. You say that about a three-year-old. It infantilises women.

I’m not completely sold that I ever want to be described as feisty, but I’m a wordy girl, so I’ll take plucky, intrepid, cheeky, or even mettlesome instead.

To be on the safe, historically correct side, here’s a contemporaneous Word of the Week with connections to feisty. Although a noun rather than adjective, it would be a comically-inspired addition to a plot line about the lady-of-a-certain-age character (but not so much the bold rosebud of a heroine). I’m looking at you, Lady Bertram.

Aunt Norris gives her opinion while Lady Bertram and her pug receive it, in Mansfield Park by the Indianapolis Opera.

Aunt Norris, Lady Bertram, and Pug, in Mansfield Park by the Indianapolis Opera.

Fice (noun)

A small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears; frequently by old ladies and charged to their lap-dogs. See also, fizzle.

Ye olde silent-but-deadly, by jove.

So what’s the moral of this post? I love a strong heroine, and they are not an historical anachronism. I believe every generation is full of women who know the rules and how to work them, or break them to build better ones, without causing utter chaos nor bringing degradation to all who know her. However, the next time you read a Regency Romance with a feisty heroine, I recommend using your best judgment when deciding if it’s an unforgiveable anachronism or misunderstood modern definition.

Just try not to picture her breaking wind.

Want some proof that history is positively rife with modern-in-any-age women (as well as bust a few myths about sexual mores and gender roles in the Georgian era)? Have a gander: