‘Tis the Season
by Emma Jane Holloway
Even without airships, scoundrels, and mad inventors, young ladies of the nineteenth-century had a lot to cope with. They had to endure the Season.
This event was part of the high-society social calendar, which was loosely tied to the sittings of the British Parliament. Typically, dedicated Parliamentarians would return to London from their country houses sometime early in the New Year, but their families would show up around Easter. Then, for several glorious months, young men and women would be thrown into each other’s company in hopes that suitable marriages could be made. Of course, this only applied to those families with money or titles, preferably both. A young lady would have several Seasons to find a husband. After that, she was considered officially on the shelf, and many would have little social or financial support to call her own.
So, it was with hope and trepidation that a young lady first entered the marriage mart. The longed-for moment that marked the change from schoolgirl to young woman came when one was presented to the reigning monarch—in this case, Queen Victoria. This was an elaborate, invitation-only ceremony that usually happened around Easter. The importance of the presentation diminished over the century, but it was meant to be the sign that a young lady was admitted to Society and was fit to wed a gentleman. The current crop of debutantes was sure to receive invitations to balls, parties, and musicales and to be the focus of Society’s attention—and the prettiest (or richest) would be spoken for by the time the fashionable set retired from London for shooting parties in August.
As the Season drew near, the Lord Chamberlain carefully reviewed the list of eligible young women, striking those with any hint of scandal from the list. An invite was only the first requirement. A debutante also needed a sponsor, a lady who had herself been presented and could vouch for a young girl’s character. Usually this was a mother or aunt, but it could also be a friend of the family.
Outfitting a daughter for the Season could be ruinously expensive. There would be outfits for balls, visiting, going to the theatre, and riding, all of which had to be custom-made. There were also special clothes for the Presentation ceremony itself. The Lord Chamberlain issued a list of requirements for the proper attire, down to the dimensions of the dress’s train. There were also coaches who trained the debutantes in how to conduct themselves during the Presentation and curtsy for the queen. Apparently there was a trick to withdrawing gracefully from the Royal Presence without tripping over one’s train.
The Season shifted from London to the countryside once the weather got hot and then ended altogether when the hunting season began. The Glorious Twelfth, or August 12, marked the beginning of the grouse shooting. Anyone who mattered headed to Scotland for this. Then, later in the fall, folks returned to London for the Little Season—kind of a low-key version of the springtime festivities—before it was back to the country estates for Christmas. And then it was the New Year, and the whole cycle began again.
While to us it’s hard to imagine living by such a regimented calendar of comings and goings, it made sense to the people engaged in it. The House of Lords required the presence of the aristocracy. Once they were gathered together, alliances and connections could be forged and strengthened in a social setting. The economic fabric of the upper classes was maintained by carefully cultivated marriages. And in a time when the Thames could produce the Great Stink, it was no wonder the wealthy vacated the city during the hottest months, only to return once it cooled down again.
For the nobility, this social round was a smoothly operating clockwork of obligation and connection. For the merchants who supported this industry, it was a pretty piece of business. For the poor, it was an orgy of shameless conspicuous consumption.
And for the steampunk author, it is a rich vein of social history to explore, exploit, and maybe turn on its head in the interests of grand adventure.
About the Author:
Emma Jane Holloway is the author of The Baskerville Affairs series; A Study in Silks, A Study in Darkness, and A Study in Ashes.
About the Series:
Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society, but there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse . . .
In a Victorian era ruled by a Council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?
But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask . . .
About Emma Jane:
Further Discourses Available:
Visit my web page: http://www.emmajaneholloway.com/
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Read the first 50 pages here: http://sf-fantasy.suvudu.com/2013/09/50-page-fridays-emma-jane-holloway.html
Read the prequel short story and other free reads here: www.EmmaJaneHolloway.com
Watch the book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wq2oLLtmV0
Ever since childhood, Emma Jane Holloway refused to accept that history was nothing but facts prisoned behind the closed door of time. Why waste a perfectly good playground coloring within the timelines? Accordingly, her novels are filled with whimsical impossibilities and the occasional eye-blinking impertinence—but always in the service of grand adventure.
Struggling between the practical and the artistic—a family tradition, along with ghosts and a belief in the curative powers of shortbread—Emma Jane has a degree in literature and job in finance. She lives in the Pacific Northwest in a house crammed with books, musical instruments, and half-finished sewing projects. In the meantime, she’s published articles, essays, short stories, and enough novels to build a fort for her stuffed hedgehog.