Georgette Heyer used gossip and scandal-mongers well in her books to move the story along (think Crosby Drelincourt in ‘A Convenient Marriage’). There is always the ever present lurking fear amongst her characters of being labelled bad ton. And there are some mentions of the newspapers as a source of gossip. Serena, for example, in Bath Tangle misses all the London gossip when she is forced into seclusion while she is in mourning for her father. She has to rely on her aunt to write to her with all the salacious ‘crims cons’.
Newspapers did ‘protect’ the identity of their subjects by leaving out letters of their surnames. But, of course, filling in the blanks just added to the fun! Here are some examples of actual gossip columns of the 18th century:
An assignation at the White Hart at St. Albans between L— G——– and a certain great D–e, was disconcerted by the forcible intrusion of my lord’s gentlemen. (1769)
From this readers could easily identify the the Duke of Cumberland, and his lover, Lady Grosvenor.
In 1772 ‘Town and Country Magazine’ reported on a lengthy affair between Mrs L-fle and Lord H-n complete with information about when they first met, when they consummated their love and their friends and families.
‘Courtesans’ was a publication dedicated to exposing society’s ‘gold-diggers’. In it Mrs H-tt-nwas attacked for being expensive in dress, extravagant in the indulgence of her palate, violently addicted to wine and strong liquors which she often drinks to excess, not infrequently to intoxication.
And, of course, the broadsheets enjoyed mocking the badly dressed! Mrs T-wdry is desired not to be so fantastically whimsical in her dress…nothing is more disagreeable and ridiculous than to see a woman of her years affect the gay, youthful airs of their daughters. And, by the by, she is reminded that if she will be so preposterously gaudy and flaunting, that if there was little more economy observed in her dress, she would not be altogether the subject of so much laughter. Ouch!
So which, I wonder, of GH’s characters would merit their own mention in the scandal sheets?
Would it be the shocking news that Miss Wr-xt-n has ended her engagement to Mr R-v-nh-ll and that the lady will now marry Lord Br-mf-rd, while the gentleman has become engaged to his cousin Miss St-nt-n L-c-y?
Or perhaps the moment when the Duke of S-lf-rd was left high and dry on the dance-floor when Miss M-rl-w, clearly distressed, left him in the middle of a dance?
And how would they begin the report the story that Lord V-d-l, having fatally wounded a man in a duel has been forced to flee the country. However, instead of taking with him his new mistress, he has accidentally abducted her innocent sister, Miss Ch-ll-n-r?
How many column inches would it take to recount the twists and turns of the scandalous conduct of the Comte de S—nt V-r- in ‘These Old Shades’ or the Duke of –nd-v-r in ‘The Black Moth’?
One thing is for sure, however, gossip and celebrity are not new…and they never go out of fashion!