There’s plenty that Bridgerton gets wrong about the Regency – in the first half-hour alone, we have young women referred to as “the Right Honourable” rather than “the Honourable”. One area where it almost gets things right, though, is just how much sex everyone is having.
According to The Secret History of Georgian London by Dan Cruickshanks, during the Georgian period one in five women in London was earning a living by working as a prostitute.
That book – yes, I’ve read it – is nonsense. The numbers just don’t add up. There never are enough men looking for paid nookie to support 20% of the female population. Not as prostitutes that is.
There’s a lingering perception today that before the Sixties, sex was something that gentlemen did, to their shame, with wenchy types, and that grand women had to suffer through when they became wives. Of course, this is largely untrue. Humans have always been humans, and we’ve always had the same urges. Admittedly the advent of contraception made life somewhat easier for those who wanted to indulge in extramarital bonking without becoming a parent, but it’s a complete fallacy that sex didn’t exist before 1969.
The auctioning of virginity was commonplace. The famous courtesan Charlotte Hayes, who lived and worked in London in the mid-1700s, a little before Bridgerton is set, sold her virginity for £9,000.
Well, no, not really. The sale of virginity when going on the game was indeed a part of going on the game. But that’s a useful illustration of something important about the age. Virginity was considered important. In fact, for a woman about to get married for the first time it was essential in most classes. For humans have always been humans and paternity of children mattered. Thus the complaints of a woman being “ruined” if promised marriage if and then she does and the marriage doesn’t arrive.
That vibrancy of sex life being celebrated did exist, sure. But among those who had been married already – among the women that is – and usually after they’d dropped a sprog or two.
Much more interesting than just the claim that the past was randy like the present are the observations about how it differed in the expression of the randiness.