Today we welcome guest author Kate Rothwell to Heroes and Heartbreakers to talk about how similar today’s Internet culture can be to Regency society. Thanks, Kate!
The Internet is both vile and wonderful. Spend too much time online and that virtual life can feel far too real. It’s easy to fall into a tizzy based on some response to some comment on some loop. And how long does it take to recall that the usual response to an online “incident” is even less significant than the jolt of guilt you feel when you realize that you’ve loaded thirteen items on the twelve item check-out line. (Okay, maybe I’m the only one who neurotically counts her items.)
In other words, the online incident means next to nothing.
I bet historical romance readers can shake off a tizzy based on trivialities faster than other people because they’re familiar with a world concerned with heartbreak and fear over minutia. I’m talking about that society based on something outsiders wouldn’t understand: the world of the traditional Regency. I don’t mean the kind of Regency-set novel with kidnappings or French spies or any sort of plot concerned with real life and death matters, such as death. I mean books set in the rarified world of balls and calls, that Jane Austen portrayed as “the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush.”
How might a lack of response on a blog translate into code of the Traditional Regency? I’d say it’s not The Cut Direct. In a novel that lack of notice would be more benign than that. Maybe not getting anyone to answer your witty comment is similar to discovering that you’re a wallflower. If you’re in first Season, you’re pained and hurt at this discovery. If you’ve been through three Seasons, you’ve probably found some other wallflowers or pleasant chaperones to sit with. Scooting back to the internet world: those fellow wallflowers would be your own small community where you have online pals. You might not be the crème de la crème, but you’re fine, thanks.
Still in our world, let’s say you write something great in your blog and make an effort to throw it out to the world—you know, putting up a link at twitter, face-book etc—and still no one comments. That is slightly worse than discovering no one’s paying attention to you. It’s not quite as harsh as a sneer or cut in trad Regency terms.
Perhaps that unnoticed blog post after calling attention to it is equivalent to mentioning a new topic to a dinner companion and your attempt at conversation is ignored or passed over with no real attention. Perhaps the gentleman even turns to address the woman seated at his other side without response to your witticism beyond a brief polite smile.
A thumbs down on a website, or any statement answering you that starts with *sigh* eye roll—now that would be the cut direct. The internet can’t be as passive as that other society, nor as polite. The “f**k you!” in today’s comment section would be a lady making a tsking sound in the ballroom.
Here’s the main point: in those novels, people live and die with these stupid moments. An outsider doesn’t get it. Even I, who’ve read hundreds of those traditional Regencies occasionally roll my eyes when someone goes into a decline and sheds tears because she didn’t get the voucher to Almack’s. But I should hardly feel scorn for the poor darling—I feel a dismay when I lose followers on Twitter.
And of course, speaking of rejections, I whine and reach for the chocolate when I get a “not for us, thanks” letter from an editor. At least for me there are other outlets. There is only one Almack’s (at least in that fictional world). No wonder the poor dears shed tears and shred their handkerchiefs. I can just click to another publisher’s site. Or actually get off the internet and have a life.
The reverse effect is true in the trivial world: tiny events can also create outsized joy. Someone actually bothers to retweet my comment or add my blog feed to her google-whatever. Translating into Regency-ese I am asked to dance by an eligible gentleman. At last, others can see that I am worthy of attention. The relief is stupendous!
I think we can agree that there are degrees of commentators too, ranging from our usual fellow wall-flowers to the top-of-the-trees elite. For instance that time that Nora Roberts commented at my blog? Wow. Beau-freaking-Brummel asked me for a dance. (The Nora comments were years ago, by the way. I am now playing the role of the old lady in black lace and mittens sitting by the fire screen and boring my grandchildren with stories about the time the incomparable Mr. Brummel smiled at her.)
How about when I get a fan letter. Hmm. That would be similar to hearing someone call me a diamond of the first water or some similar sort of compliment about my speaking eyes, right? And if I was a best-selling author, the compliments would likely get stale, you betcha. Just as those women who are sought after and fawned on in the novels begin to resent the attention, I suppose a best-selling author or celebrity wouldn’t actually hear the true compliments any long.
Now that I’ve started trying to find correlations, I can’t stop. Do you see— whoops. No, wait.
I’m not going to ask you what you have seen as trivial yet powerful on the internet. I shan’t ask catch anyone’s eye and silently beg for a dance when there’s a chance he might turn away. It’s so mortifying. I will simply stand by this attractive potted palm, fan myself and smile into the middle distance as if amused. If by chance you do add a remark, I will ever so gratefully accept your attentions.
Kate Rothwell writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. She lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can out more about her at KateRothwell.com and SummerDevon.com.