While watching the PBS series Regency House Party for the umpteenth time (it’s comfort viewing for me), I was struck again by the character of the hermit, embodied in the handsome physique of one Zebedee Helm (even his name sounds romantic).
The young ladies of the house found him just as fascinating as I did, particularly Miss Francesca Martins, Mrs. Roger’s companion. Instead of spending her time in the house trying to find a respectable suitor, she spent most of her free time at the hermit’s hut. Suddenly it dawned on me: Why aren’t there more hermits in Regency romances?
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word hermit?
Someone a little smelly and dirty, a religious fanatic, or some ancient dude hiding in a cave like Obi Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie? Even Monty Python had a short sketch about two hermits agreeing at the beginning “there’s no point frigging your life in idleness and trivial chit-chats,” but the conversation quickly degenerates into gossiping about their hermit neighbors and their caves.
But according to the Regency House Party Companion, not all hermits lived in caves. Hermitages were not unusual on great estates, although it was more in vogue during the 18th century. Still, many did exist during the Regency period.
Hermitages could be anything from a small hut to something rather grand; the hermits themselves were also a varied lot. Some were genuine ascetics seeing an escape from the outside world (think Henry David Thoreau), while others saw it simply as a job—they earned their keep by playing the role of the ‘noble savage,’ sort of like a local tourist attraction for the guests. Others were simply hangers on, a Regency Kato Kaelin as it were. There’s something so sexy, intriguing, and strange about a man willingly eschewing society and living off the land.
The role of the Hermit offers so many possibilities. He could be the comic relief, or the wise old sage who gives the hero and heroine advice but what if he was the hero? Why limit yourself to the usual run of Earls, Marquesses and Dukes when you can have a sexy Hermit?
The hermit lends himself readily to the classic story of Beauty and the Beast, hiding from the outside world until the heroine’s love saves him. He could be an amnesiac soldier come back from the war on the Peninsula, seeking solace from the outside world. A Napoleonic spy sent to find out if the Lord of the Manor is passing secrets to the French? A French émigré who has escaped the shadow of the guillotine and is a little bitter? A scandalous rake on the run after killing someone in a duel? Our lonely heroine would be irresistibly drawn to him despite knowing that what she perceives as their difference in rank means they can never be together without risking society’s censure.
Hermits also lend themselves to the paranormal Regency. The Hermit could be a vampire a la Barnabas Collins, living off the land instead of humans as he atones for his crimes. Perhaps a sexy wizard like Merlin in Camelot (Think Joseph Fiennes) or a brother from another planet. He could be a crazed nabob from India come to put a curse on the English soldier who ruined his sister.
The possibilities are endless. What kind of hermit would you like to stumble upon in the wild?
Elizabeth Kerri Mahon loves to write about Scandalous Women & the men that loved them. Her first book, Scandalous Women, was published by Perigee Books in March 2011. Visit her at scandalouswoman.blogspot.com.