Glamour in Glass: Anachronism in dining

Would you like to know about the giant anachronism that spans two chapters in Glamour in Glass?

I thought you would. While I was researching Without a Summer, the next book in the series, I discovered an interesting thing. I’d done the seating arrangements wrong in Glamour in Glass. And not just a little wrong. Completely, totally wrong.

But no one had caught it. I’d given it to several people who knew the Regency, and none of them spotted it. My copy-editor didn’t notice. My editor didn’t. No one noticed the wrongness.

At the point that I noticed, the book was typeset and to fix the problem, I would have needed to restructure the entire chapter. I was worried that doing so would introduce other mistakes. Since I knew I wasn’t going to get to look at the final, I chose to let it stand and promised myself that I would “out” the mistake to you so that no one else who writes Regency books does the same thing.

The mistake?

I gave them assigned seating. That’s Victorian. I had the men escort the ladies in. Also Victorian.

In the Regency, the ladies all lined up together, in order of precedence, and went in to the dining room. The hostess sat at the foot of the table. Everyone else sat wherever they wanted to.

Then the men followed them in, in order of precedence. The host sat at the head of the table and everyone else sat where they wanted.

You can see it in Emma, in fact, when Mr. Churchill walks into the dining room, spies Emma and comes to sit next to her. There are other spots as well which make a lot more sense if I’m not trying to force Victorian seating logic on them.

I could handwave it away by saying that Glamour in Glass is an alternate history or that the Prince Regent was an eccentric and could do things as he liked, but the truth is that it’s an anachronism.

I gave them behavior from the wrong time.

Now I’m curious… Did you spot it before I pointed it out?

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16 thoughts on “Glamour in Glass: Anachronism in dining”

  1. Not a Regency expert, but “sit anywhere you like” is so counter-intuitive to a modern reader as to require a honking big explanation. Especially at a dinner with royalty. Sometimes leaving the anachronism in is better.

  2. I think your secret was safe until you revealed it. Too engaging to have thought long on the matter.

  3. Jenny Williams

    I didn’t catch it because it seemed in all of Jane Austen’s books that people were sitting boy/girl/boy/girl a lot, and I thought that was by design, not by choice. The book works well this way. Maybe they were just before their time, eh?

  4. I agree with Chris; I think it would have jarred me to see it done accurately! And I think it’s fine to adopt either or both of the justifications you came up with. It never even occurred to me that any formal dinner like that, in -any- time period, would be so disorganized about seating as the reality. And I think the seating arrangements added a lot to those chapters that would have had annoying repercussions for you if you’d had to rethink the whole thing.

  5. I didn’t notice because my own superficial research supported this arrangement. I had noticed in my own research how often the entire nineteenth century is lumped together, with Victorian, Regency, and other fashions and rules all squished together and tumbled up. It’s very provoking as a writer, especially when one of the books I was reading was a “Writer’s Guide.”

    1. Please let me know which book that is that lumped it all together – I’d like to add to my list of “books regarding the Regency period one should avoid at all costs” :). (see my comment about the infamous “What Charles Dickens Ate and Jane Austen Wore”)

      1. “What Charles Dickens Ate” was one, and “The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England” was the other, being two of exactly four books that my library has about the Regency in general. I will allow that “What Charles Dickens Ate” was not made to inform, but rather as a reference as one was reading, and was a little more okay to be lumpish. But I found that it did not give enough detail to illuminate what I did not already know, and was therefore unhelpful.

        1. I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to find useful book reference for the Regency (other than the Napoleonic Wars/Waterloo). There seems to be a very conspicuous gap between the earlier Georgians and the Victorians. (To be fair, I may not have plumbed the /entire/ depths of Amazon.) It was so frustrating that I stopped looking for a while.

  6. Denise Beucler

    I did not notice it, and since I’m working on a comedy of manners in the same era…. Thank you, Thank you! I predict MUCH more research in my future, once the draft is done.

  7. I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but I suspect I might have caught at least parts of it if I was paying enough attention – the women in order of rank part, and MAYBE even the assigned seating thing, although I doubt it – but the women all going in first and then the men, I wouldn’t have, I think because I’ve read too much Austen fan fiction that has men claiming the dinner dance in order to escort the woman to dinner so they can talk…

    But hey – there’s a lot of bad information out there, and you’ve clearly succeeded far more than most… (I am annoyed that “What Charles Dickens Ate and Jane Austen Wore” (or vice versa whatever it’s called) is still recommended online because it is one of the most notoriously bad at combining eras – and I suspect it has led some authors of lesser books to make a ton of mistakes while thinking they had checked sources!)

    But back to my possibly having been able to catch it – I must offer the disclaimer that I wrote a term paper length pathfinder/annotated bibliography when I was in grad school on works regarding Regency period culture 🙂

  8. Agreeing with Chris Gerrib’s comment about how how jarring the “sit anywhere you like” arrangement would be to the modern reader. I think that the hardest part for me would be understanding how there could be a strict order of precedence, and all that that implies.
    Does everyone at the party walk around assessing where they are in the ranking to make sure they stand in the right place in the dinner line? Or does the precedence get sorted out as everyone queues?
    Would there be arguments over precedence in the dinner line-up?
    I find it interesting that descending order of precedence would mean in theory that the highest get to choose where they sit, but the lower get to choose whom they sit with. In practice, this is probably another factor in favor of heighty-types associating closely with one another, to ensure
    Most of all, I’m fascinated that we are able to retain these sorts of details in the historical record.

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