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Managing Propriety for the Regency: Jane Austen Reads the Book.

Studies in Romanticism 2009, Summer, 48, 2

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IN FEBRUARY OF 1813, IN AN EFFORT TO PUBLICLY EMBARRASS HER ESTRANGED husband and exert pressure on him to allow her greater access to their daughter, Princess Caroline made good a long-standing threat to publish the proceedings of the 1806 "Delicate Investigation" into accusations of adultery made by her former friend Lady Douglas. The publication of the Commission Report, together with a letter addressed to the Regent from the Princess, although almost certainly written by her attorney, Henry Brougham, was as much an attack by Whigs on their former supporter and his new Tory allies as it was a public airing of dirty linen. But, as a publication of domestic affairs, it accomplished a number of interestingly mingled tasks. On the one hand, it garnered a great deal of public sympathy for the wronged Princess, whose choices, although not always wise, had certainly been no worse than her husband's, and who had never been treated by him as the public believed she ought to have been. It also exonerated her from what had been the linchpin of the Prince's case against her and hopes for a royal divorce: the accusation that she had engaged in adulterous affairs and that her adopted son Willy Austin was in fact her illegitimate child (the evidence strongly suggested that Lady Douglas' testimony, on which the accusation chiefly rested, had been fabricated out of spite, but the Princess' advisors, among them Lord Eldon and Spencer Perceval, had concluded that she could not be prosecuted for perjury because the Commission was not a court of law, although it effectively functioned as one). At the same time, "the Book," as it was known, because of the lurid and not always refuted testimony of members of the Princess' household, at the very least described a pattern of conduct that was inconsistent with the public perception of how a princess, or indeed any lady, should comport herself. The Princess was reported to have entertained men without adequate chaperonage; she dressed revealingly, was "too familiar," (1) especially with Naval officers, allowed herself to be laughed at and talked about by the servants (Perceval, "Deposition of Robert Bidgood" 32). If she did not actually engage in sex with the men with whom she had been accused (and she almost certainly did with at least some of them), there was no question that she had behaved very badly. If the Commissioners could not convict her of adultery, they could effectively convict her, ex parte, of being an incorrigible--if not very polished--flirt.

Managing Propriety for the Regency: Jane Austen Reads the Book.
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 June 2009
  • Publisher: Boston University
  • Print Length: 36 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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