Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Friday, February 4, 2011

Undressing for Bed and Pleasure with Janet Mullany

Welcome back to History Undressed Janet Mullaney!  And congrats on your latest steamy Regency release.  History Undressed readers are in for a tantalizing post today...

Undressing for Bed and Pleasure
by Janet Mullany


Thanks for having me as a guest today! I’m here as part of a blog tour—or possibly more of a blog dawdle—for my release MR BISHOP AND THE ACTRESS, a Regency chicklit. It doesn’t have US release but you can buy it with free shipping at Book Depository or, if you comment today, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a signed copy. You can also win a book from my backlist if you join my mailing list—sign up at my website www.janetmullany.com, where you can read an excerpt and more about the book, and you can also find me on facebook to enter a contest there.


Since this blog has such a provocative name I wanted to talk about beds today and what people—wore—or didn’t wear—when they were in them. There’s a bed that features prominently in MR BISHOP AND THE ACTRESS. It belongs to the heroine, Mrs. Sophie Wallace, a gift from a former protector, and is one of her most treasured possessions:

The bed is huge and ancient, its posts dark with age and carved with leaves and flowers, the hangings a dark red silk. A bed made for sin.

Later in that scene, the hero, the very proper Mr. Harry Bishop, is charged with dismantling and moving the bed:

I bristle with offended male pride. “I assure you I am quite strong enough to deal with dismantling your bed, Mrs. Wallace.”

“Oh, certainly.” She strolls over to the window and props herself against the window ledge. “Pray proceed. The steps double as storage. You will find a mallet and a wedge there. There is not a single steel bolt or screw in the whole piece except for the curtain rails. It’s very well made.”


I walk around the bed silently cursing myself for my arrogance. I am not sure that even the brawn of my brother-in-law Thomas Shilling, a huge ex-pugilist of some twenty stone of muscle, or even two of him, if they existed, could dismantle this monstrosity of fornication. I shall be like the minnow that swims alongside a whale. Grimly I unbutton my coat.


How many other men have unbuttoned their coats (and more) in the presence of Mrs. Wallace and her bed?

In Regencyromancelandia everyone gets naked to make love. But did they really?

I drank bohea in Celia’s dressing room:
Warm from her bed, to me alone within.
Her night-gown fastened with a single pin:
Her night-clothes tumbled with resistless grace,
Her bright hair played careless round her face;
Reaching the kettle made her gown unpin,
She wore no waistcoat, and her shift was thin.


Photo by Sharon Burnston
http://www.sharonburnston.com/quiltedwaistcoat.html 
It was quite usual for women in the early eighteenth century to wear some sort of waistcoat as their night attire, and although Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1716 doesn't mention it, sexy Celia would almost certainly have been wearing a night cap. The waistcoat Celia has so daringly discarded would have been a sturdy garment like this one of quilted white linen from the mid-eighteenth century.You can read the whole poem, Town Eclogues: Tuesday; St. James's Coffee-House here.

You really didn't need to take your clothes off for any sort of sexual contact (drawers were to remain crotchless into the Edwardian period); if you did, you'd then have the problem of lacing oneself back into the stays, which were nearly all back-lacing, unless you'd had the foresight to wear side lacing or front lacing ones.

Confusingly, the Regency definition of “undress” wasn’t ours. According to historical costume expert Cathy Decker, during the Regency period, "Undress" meant simply casual, informal dress. It was also called "dishabille" or "deshabille," the French word for the same type of dress. Another clue is anything "negligently worn" or "à la négligé" is probably either undress or designed to resemble closely undress. Undress is the sort of dress to be worn from early morning to noon or perhaps as late as four or five, depending on the engagements one had. Compared to half dress and full dress, undress was usually more comfortable, more warm, more casual, and much cheaper in cost.

In other words, clothes to slop around in at home, rather than some sexy little nothings for the boudoir—the Regency equivalent of sweatpants.

Where it gets really interesting, of course, is that historically you would only undress completely in front of your inferiors--your personal servants. So should there be an added frisson here, on the rare occasions when one or both (or all!) participants got their clothes off, that rules were being broken, the social order turned upside down?

Nakedness, or its absence, implies a lot of emotions: vulnerability, trust, arousal. It also implies a certain level of power, and that’s something we’re all aware of in reading and writing erotic historical romance: who has the power, who drives the scene, and when and how does a power switch takes place.

What do you think?

****

Back Cover Book Blurb...

What could be more important than a lady's reputation? Although initially alarmed by their unconventional ways, strait-laced Harry Bishop is content in the service of Lord Shad and his family. But when he is sent to London to rescue Shad's wayward relation from debt and self-destruction, he also has the dubious honor of dealing with the man's illicit lover - troublesome actress Sophie Wallace. A man of dignity and decorum, Mr Bishop is desperate to disassociate himself from the scandalous Sophie. Unfortunately, avoiding her proves harder than he could ever have imagined and soon she's causing him all kinds of bother...

About the Author...

Janet Mullany was raised in England by half of an amateur string quartet and now lives near Washington, DC. Persecuted from an early age for reading too long in the bathroom, she still loves books and is an avid and eclectic reader. She has worked as an archaeologist, classical music radio announcer, arts publicist, and for a small press.

19 comments:

Pam Rosenthal said...

Great post. We're all too likely to project our own assumptions about nudity and sex back to earlier times.

Lovely looking blog, too. Thanks for bringing me here.

And I'm thrilled that the book is out. Can't wait!

Diane Gaston said...

I guess this is one of those historically inaccurate conventions that we adopt for the modern audience. It certainly doesn't ring my bells to think of my Regency heroes in a nightshirt and cap.

I actually think it must have been a lot of trouble to undress then, too. Might have even spoiled the moment....

I love the idea of "undress" as the Regency equivalent of sweatpants!!!

I love your books, Janet, and this one promises to be a good as the rest!

Christi Barth said...

I LOVE the line 'monstrosity of fornication'. All I've ever wanted is a four poster with thick velvet curtains, high enough to require a step. Wow, do I live in the wrong era!

Janet Mullany said...

@Pam, Isn't this a gorgeous-looking blog! Eliza and I met online and then in person when I realized who she was and that she was in my local chapter.

@Diane, it's a scary thing, isn't it, to realize the heroine might never see her hot hero naked...on the other hand, he would never see the stretch marks from her (his? or maybe not) secret baby.

@Christi, I'd love a bed like this too. It makes you understand why in earlier times the bed was on display as the best piece of furniture in the house.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Janet. I'd never heard of the whole vest thing, and I didn't know they were nightcaps either. This is what happens when you watch too many Austen adaptations.

Kate Dolan said...

I also add my thanks for directing me to this terrific blog. I had never heard of the waistcoat for bed but it makes perfect sense. And I do forget about those nightcaps. Whenever we camp at a reenactment, my husband sleeps in a modern stocking hat because I keep forgetting to make him a period one. It's not an attractive look in any day and age. I guess real heroes just generate enough heat that they don't need a nightcap and don't need to sleep in wool stockings, either.
And taking off clothing becomes more an act of submission if you are surrendering warmth and have to become dependent on someone else to provide it.

Theresa Ragan said...

I already love Mr. Harry Bishop! A minnow among the whales...great! You're so talented, Janet! Thanks for sharing such a fun blog.

Debra Holland said...

It was probably too cold for them to take everything off. :)

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks so much for guesting with us Janet!!! I always love your posts, you're so witty and entertaining!

Thank you ladies too for you comments and for enjoying the blog :)

I'm with Christi on the bed too! I've always wanted a four-poster... I knew about the nightcaps, simply from Dickens' books.

Can't wait to read this one Janet!!!

Artemis said...

It just amazes me that it was perfectly fine to undress in front of the servants but not your spouse. Prudes.

Jessica said...

Really interesting post, it is kind of odd for a modern reader to think of being naked in front of servants but not one's spouse . . . but I suppose it's odd for us to really comprehend having servants (or more likely being one) ;)

woodsrunnersdiary said...

An interesting post. Thanks for the image of the weskit.
http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/

Janet Mullany said...

@Elizabeth--hi again! I've always thought the women were dressed rather flimsily for night in the Austen adaptations. Brrr!

@Kate, I've been camping and worn a hat at night. Sometimes it's the only way to preserve body heat.

@Theresa, Noodly sister, thanks, and I hope you enjoy the book.

@Debra, another Noodly sister, there's also the issue of urgency!

@Eliza, thanks again for having me come in and undress! Isn't it strange though that invariably in Dickens nightcaps are comic accessories, but I suppose they were viewed as a necessity.

@Artemis, @Jessica, when you think about it lovers being naked together would be fearful new territory--no rank, no assumptions of power, and a powerful reminder of birth and death, entering and leaving the world in a state of nakedness.

@woodsrunnersdiary--if you google Woman's quilted waistcoat, white linen c. 1740-80 you'll find an article about it.

Heather Hiestand said...

Thank you for the post! It's great to see the research behind the page.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Hi, Janet!Nightcaps, daycaps---all our poor heroines' glossy curls would have been covered. It really is so interesting to look at the fear--or whatever it is-- men had of women's hair through the ages to make up such rules about hiding it. But that's another topic entirely. :)I can't wait to read this book!

Delle Jacobs said...

Great post, Janet! I think we often forget our Regency heroes and heroines didn't have the central heat that keeps us so comfortable in our houses today. Bedwarmers were a necessity in winter. I have a childhood memory of my family returning to our frigid house late at night after two weeks in Louisiana around Christmas time. Dad fired up the coal furnace, but we shivered in our icy beds for what seemed like hours before we could finally fall asleep.

Margay said...

Well, that's certainly a thought-provoking post!

Eliza Knight said...

And the winner is.... Maggie!

Stephanie Dray said...

I think you have such a lovely writing voice, Janet.