A Report on Byronic-Tea-Drinking Experience

I was talking with Cristina about my writing and she asked me: Why do you write in the Regency era? Why not try writing a book set in our present? I wasn’t able to answer her. I couldn’t really think of why. So I thought and thought about it, and weeks later, I finally realized why I loved writing in the Regency era:

My reasons all boil down to: England’s culture during the Regency offers me a wide range of opportunities to spin up stories of high drama. And I thrive off of high drama and high emotions. “In early nineteenth-century London there was a striking contrast between the brittle politesse of social life and the violence that so frequently and suddenly impinged on it. This was the more obvious because of the then relatively small scale of the city.” MacCarthy captures my feelings exactly in Byron: Life and Legend. The “frequent clash of moods” exhilerates me as an author writing in this period.

I could swoon from all the ideas that flood into me, all the great scenarios that can stir to life in such a flamboyant and elegant high society that was itself full of so much drama. Captain Gronow writing of 1814 said: “At the present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack’s, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world. Of the three hundred officers of the Foot Guards, not more than half-a-dozen were honored with vouchers of admission to this exclusive temple of the beau monde; the gates were guarded by lady patronesses, whose smiles or frowns consigned men and women to happiness or despair.”   

According to The Regency Companion: “Exclusivity was Almack’s trademark. The Ladies Committee ruled with arrogant thoroughness. Every name scrutinized for membership was put to a grueling test of social suitability. Only the socially perfect need apply. Many peers of the realm were excluded, and though members had the privilege of taking a guest to the balls, their invited visitor had to pass rigid social tests too. These Patronesses issued a voucher to the chosen that entitled one to purchase a ticket.”  

What also fascinates me when I read biographies is how similar their world was to ours in terms of celebrities and tabloids. Newspapers in the Regency era reported celebrity gossip. For example, this is an excerpt from the Morning Post; it’s dated May 3, 1785, so it isn’t one from the Regency era, but similar enough to the other articles I read from the early nineteenth century:

Two presidencies have been of late given up, Lady Bridget Tollemache and the Duchess of Devonshire. The former over wit, and the latter of fashion and bon ton. Lady Bridget is succeeded by the Duchess of Gorden, and her Grace of Devon by the Countess of Salisbury, who is now supreme not only in article of dress, but in everything that depends on guste

And, ehm, just looking at the fashion of that time makes me want to write in the Regency era. The men in cravats and tight trousers. *Swoon*

To write in this era much research is needed. I can never be too sure of anything I write unless I’ve read it from a creditable resource. I usually have to double check things I’m unsure of with historians like M.M. Bennetts or my critique partner V.R. Christensen. So usually research is through books. But this time, I decided to do first hand research. Out of curiosity, after reading about how the poet Lord Byron had raw egg with his tea, I wanted to try it out myself

I tried it myself after much hesitation. It tasted creamy and a bit thick. It wasn’t all together bad until the yolk slipped into my mouth. I thought it had melted in the piping hot tea, but apparently not. Luckily I was by the sink by then and was able to spit it out. I have only one experience to summarize the finale of the Byronic-tea experience: Gross. Gross because of the yolk. And GROSS because of the aftereffect—it was only after I drank it that my sister tells me drinking raw egg for the first time will likely result in a stomach ache. It also makes you want to vomit, which, I deduce, is why Byron had this drink daily. He’s bulimic and an anorexic who also drank tons of water and vinegar every day in order to vomit. So maybe drinking Byronic-tea was not a very good idea. Ichk. But it was an interesting experience.

If anyone has any other research experiences I try out, feel free to leave a suggestion in your comment. And I would also like to ask the writers reading this post why you write in a certain time period, be it the medieval or the present era.

P.S. A shout out to our dear fellow blogger, Dr. Tom Bibey for the publication of his book, The Mandolin Case.

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39 Comments

Filed under Regency era, Writing

39 responses to “A Report on Byronic-Tea-Drinking Experience

  1. Research is important, I think, no matter what era one writes in. I’ve set mine in the middle ages (tons of research required) and present-day. I still have to research (albeit not as extensively as needed in historicals) b/c my stories are set in places I’ve never been. So research is critical to make the story believable. Again, that goes for any period, any genre.

    Kudos to you for being so thorough. Great post, June!

    C xx

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    • I agree with you, research is needed in any period. But I feel more comfortable with the Regency. It just might happen that I’ll need to do MORE research for the modern times.

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  2. Hi June, what a fun post. Researching a period or a place in my own writing usually results in something edible (or sometimes inedible, as my own blog will reveal)…and I always love to read other writers dalliances into the realm of research, especially when great how-to photos are included.
    Nicely done!
    Erika

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  3. Hello! And thanks for mentioning me. I was surprised by that. But to answer your question, because I get it in a double whammy… “Why do you write in the Victorian era?” AND “Why don’t you write something in the States?” Because, 1) I find a lot of similarities between our times and those. You don’t believe me? It’s true, I assure you. People struggled then with vanity and pride (not at all the same things, mind) and they struggled for love and happiness, for money, for freedom. Is it so different? Laws now make us freer, sometimes the social constraints, or, more commonly, our own vices confine us in ways just as hard to overcome. But also…and I say this carefully. I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to the modern views of sex and social liberty. I believe very strongly in a moral code that requires that every wrong action must result in an equal and opposite reaction. And so! Do you see? I tell my stories, very modern stories, set in contexts where the boundaries are clear; money, laws, liberties impinged upon, arranged marriages, fallen women, men in varying shades of grey. And black. I can’t write these stories in the states. The mid to late nineteenth century in America was dealing with other demons I don’t want to touch. I can’t. And I cannot relate to them either. I cannot and do not want to image what it was like to live during slavery, or Civil War, or Reconstruction, or in the Wild West, or any of that. So I write what I do, when I do, so that I can tell MY stories, MY experiences, but set in an atmosphere where people will better understand where I’m coming from without judging me so harshly for being the prude that I am.

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    • Sex and social liberty. I agree with you. Everything has been so liberalized that I don’t have as much fun writing in the modern era. I tried once and failed to write a contemporary romance. It’s just much more difficult to create that brittle atmosphere where high drama can occur. But maybe that’s because I’m so immersed with the Regency.

      You’re also right in saying that there are lots of similarities between then and now.

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  4. Oh, that sounds horrible. Really, really awful–“discovering” something quasi-solid and squidgy in one’s tea does not sound the least bit pleasant. Ugh.

    I write historicals because…I like to be transported, and nothing transports me like writing (reading and making clothes does the trick, to a lesser degree). And the eras I choose–they are tumultuous time periods of great changes that also happen to have excellent clothing. 🙂

    I also love the social customs and manners, as you mention–the duality of seething unrest or desire or anger brushed over with strokes of propriety. And of course the fact that people had better manners. And wore hats and gloves. And that they were able to be scathing without being crude. I do love clever banter and wit!

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    • Yah it was pretty gross. I still feel a bit icky inside.

      “And that they were able to be scathing without being crude.” Exactly! Wit was so valued back then. Right now it’s all about being short and concise.

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  5. I want to take on the scandal of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The turbulence of the early twentieth century. I’m fascinated with the transition of Victorian women to flappers. Handkerchiefs to cigarettes! So I write it to life.

    (Gross. Egg in tea?)

    – Corra 🙂

    The Victorian Heroine

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    • Sometimes I watch girls in skin-hugging clothes going off to clubs and I wonder, myself, how we got from Victorian gowns that covered ever inch of your body to clothes that left nothing to the imagination…

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  6. This is a great post. I especially love the apron and the tea cup.

    Personally, I love Regency Romances. I am especially intrigued by the juxtaposition of scandal and prudishness. How that era was somehow a segue from the racy 18th century, into the straitlaced Victorian years.

    What’s seriously alarming in Regency nowadays, though is the rising rate of title inflation. Why must everyone be a Duke?

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    • “juxtaposition of scandal and prudishness” Very well put. I think that is one of the essence of the Regency era that never fails to fascinate me!

      I believe I heard the very same issue raised once to. There were only a handful of Dukes–but from the romance novels one would expect that a Dukedom was a very very common title.

      …I’m guilty myself. The hero is the son of a Duke. haha. I guess authors know how susceptible we female readers are to men who are very high in the peerage system

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      • HOWEVER! ….Many of the books I’ve read with Dukes in ’em hardly captured the greatness and responsibility that comes with such a grand title. I realized this by reading the bio of the Duchess of Devonshire

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  7. Blegh! Egg yolk.
    On the bright side though, what adorable china!
    And I’m with you all the way about writing inthe Regency era. Once you find where your writing fits, stick to your guns! If it works, it works and you will be happier for it 🙂

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    • yes, i will most likely stick to my guns! But my mom says…Who knows? When I’m old I just might switch over to another time period. And even another genre.

      But I doubt it’ll be anytime soon. I’m still as obsessed with the Regency era as I was eight years ago

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  8. Noelle Pierce

    I’m with Impossibility and V-R here. I like having the social mores to contend with, especially when I look at human emotions…and hormones. I can’t write in present day because I cannot consistently come up with scenarios where love isn’t boring. I found love myself, but our “story” would have no real conflict, and, really, where’s the fun in that? And the whole sexual freedom thing, like V-R said–I just can’t make it work in contemporary. Maybe one day I’ll give it a try. In a novella. Or short story. But I don’t think I could keep it going for a single-title-length novel.

    Raw egg in anything=*shudder*

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    • Like yourself, I’ve only succeeded in writing a short contemporary. I love reading contemporary romances though, so it’s funny how I could never write more than two chapters. And even the ones I do write read as awfully awkward.

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  9. A raw egg in a cup of tea?!? I would have never even thought! A very brave experiment of you to conduct, June. I adore the Regency era, too. Most of my favourite books are written in that time. There’s room to create so much trouble for the dear, beloved characters.

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  10. M M Bennetts

    The Regency seques into the Victorian era through reaction to various things like the sexual shenanigans of the likes of the Prince Regent, Byron, et al. But also, there is a rising tide of moral uprightness which has its roots in the abolition of the slave trade as led by Wilberforce, the rise in Methodism, the visible and terrifying effects of sexual incontinence because of syphilis and also because of the association of marital infidelity with the French Revolution. So before you ever get close to the Victorian era, you have this reaction as seen in things like have the abolishment of the pillory for women, the reformation of the Apprenticeship Acts of 1598, the separation of debtors and felons in prison for the first time…

    Byron was certainly aware of himself as a physical being. And he was one of the first known celebrity dieters. I’m not certain if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

    I’ve eaten a great deal of the food from the period…taken from recipes of the early 19th century and earlier. Some of it’s great; some of it’s vile. And I draw the line at eels, particularly jellied eels. That is not going to happen.

    I also refuse to submit to ingesting any amount of lead.

    Oh, and Almack’s. They liked you to believe they were that picky. They weren’t. They were a great deal naughtier than that. One favourite trick of the patronesses was to give vouchers to a husband and not to a wife, or vice versa. And whilst you might receive vouchers–you still had to purchase your admission tickets for each separate ball. Cheeky females!

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    • While writing this I was curious myself as to why YOU chose to write in this era. Wow, there really WAS so much happening in the Regency.

      Oh that is cruel, to give a voucher to the husband or the wife only. Why would they do such a thing?

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  11. You know, as you write about it, now I totally understand why you write in the period. It DOES sound like a whole lot of fun. 🙂 I didn’t know much about the Regency era and all the high drama you talk about. And it allows you try to try fun experiments like this one. Hahaha. Raw egg, oh, hope your stomach didn’t ache too much!

    You know it reminded me how when we used to do the restoration era (wait is this the same time? pardon my lack of historic knowledge!) in acting class. The women wore corsets and the men, vests and ties, and those high socks. We had to play all the different statuses, noble, servant, king, etc. I remember we had to spend an entire class period as these characters on a makeshift set, improvise and stay in character the whole time! It was so much fun. I’d imagine its sort of like the same thing for you, except in writing form.

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    • Hmmm I think the restoration era was a century or two before the Regency. Evidence of this is because you mentioned “high socks” and by the Regency era that had gone out of fashion…methinks.

      I’m am soooooooooo glad that you can see why I love to write in this era.

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  12. Lua

    I thrive off of high drama and high emotions as well! 🙂 When it’s about drama in fiction, the more the merrier haha!
    It is fascinating how little has changed from that time to ours about the gossips and tabloids. It shows there are some things that will simply never change because it’s in human nature. And yes- the fashion alone can make me fall in love with that era!
    BUT June! Ahh- tea with raw eggs?! Yolk slipping and everything… I’m not a fan of eggs even when they are cooked, so this one can make me run for my life 🙂 But I envy your bravery!!

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    • We are drama queens at heart, I see.

      I think the gossip and tabloid bit is what fascinates me the most. It makes writing in this world so fun. And I agree with you 100% the fashion alone makes you fall in love with the era!!!!

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  13. I loved this post June! 😉 I understand what you mean about the Regency world, although I’m kind of a Victorian girl with my thing for the Industrial Revolution. And, after all, the important thing is that the story is good, because in this case it will be universal and timeless.

    As for the egg tea: oh my! I think you were very very brave to try it. I know I couldn’t! And I think you are probably right about the reasons why Byron drank it. And thank you, I didn’t know those facts about his life. Bulimic! Ew!

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    • Oh yes you are definately a Victorian girl! I can tell from your many fascinating posts. I always wanted to write a Victorian romance since my favorite book is Jane Eyre. But whenever I write I end up seeing the Regency era in my head….

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  14. Kim

    I think I have the exact same black teapot! I’m actually going to a tea-shop in a couple of days with my sister to buy teacups (plus saucers of course) and, I’m not sure if the term is correct, ‘gourmet’ tea leaves. Will be positively great.

    Now, back to writing (trying to get over a bout of self-doubt, ergh)!!

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    • I need to go visit a tea shop. That is actually the only set I have–that one cup and saucer.

      Oh gosh, I saw this antique tea set once. It was dated sometime in the late 19th century. (Imagine how many lips must have touched the rim–ichk) But it would have been so awesome to have bought it…. However, I had no money.

      To overcome writerly self-doubt, the best thing to do is….just write! most of my confidence as a writer came from having completed a story. It became stronger as I revised again and again. Because it was during this time that I began truly falling in love with my characters. And once you’re in love–no matter what anyone says, you know you’re story is a gem. So yes. Completing a story is the best cure to self-doubt

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  15. “I was talking with Cristina about my writing and she asked me: Why do you write in the Regency era? Why not try writing a book set in our present?”
    I get that question too – by all the non-fantasy-lovers. What can I say… I prefer to make up a world as I please than trying to tell something about this one!
    Also, when I started writing, I wrote fantasy because I could invent without having to do research! 😀 Lazy, I know… then I finished school, years passed, I started writing screenplays and discovered a love of history. Of course I started researching the Middle Ages, as most fantasy is Middle Ages based, but I’ve found interesting stories also during the time of Louis XIV, for example. I’m not doing the transition to historical novels yet, because I know I need to research a lot more to write historical novels – besides creating worlds and cultures is much more fun! But it’s more grounded in our actual history now! 😀
    Happy writing!
    Barb

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    • I too thought that it would be easier to write fantasy because no research is needed. But like yourself I learned how wrong that was. I have a writer friend who writes fantasy and I realized that it just might be even more difficult to write a fantasy because you’re creating a world of your own and that requires a creation of its history and culture… and in order to create that realistically you need to have a thorough knowledge of the history of other countries

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      • I discovered world-building is trickier than I thought when I read Orson Scott Card’s book on writing sci-fi and fantasy. But by then I had so many stories about those worlds, it was “easy” to put together the puzzle! 😉 It does take years, though… as much as researching a real historical period! 🙂 But that’s the fun of it… it’s FICTION! 😀

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  16. I love research, but omgoodness! You took it to a new personal level!!! I couldn’t try tea and raw egg. (And I’m English.)

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  17. Hats off to your gutsy spirit, for trying out an experiment like that, June! I would have turned tail if it were me :).

    I love history myself, and my first novel is set 4,000 years ago, and another one is brewing inside my head that will be set in the 16th century India. There is something inexplicable about history – perhaps like you say, the romance that the distance from us lends the time period and the scope for imagination – that gets me going…

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    • I agree with you. I think the fact that the time period in which we’ve set our stories in is so distant from our own time that it does offer us more scope. The present time, because we live in it, seems all too ordinary for me, though I’m sure it’s not.

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  18. Hey junebugger,

    Old Doc B is gonna be on the radio, WNCW 88.7 tommorrow 6/26/2010 at 12:00 noon. Check out my blog post today.

    All the best,

    Dr. B

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