To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale delved into Chelsea Library’s Costume Collection to bring us some more Regency gems.
La Belle Assemblée was a ladies magazine published between 1806-1837, founded by John Bell (1745-1831) who ran Bell’s Circulating Library. Holdings at Chelsea Library covers most of the period.
The magazine has fashion plates, celebrity profiles, sheet music, poetry, fiction, news items and some scientific articles. It was almost a cross between the modern day Vogue, Hello! and a broadsheet Sunday supplement.
Fanny Austen Knight, a relative of Jane Austen had a copy of the magazine, so Jane Austen would be likely to have been familiar with the title.
A chapter in Jane Austen In Style by Susan Watkin is called ‘A society of grace and manners’
‘Though she was not especially fond of listening to music, Jane Austen, like many of her female characters, took her piano playing seriously, and made time to practice every day. It was into these music books that she copied much of her music by hand.’
The close proximity and physical contact of the dancers shocked many when the Waltz first came into fashion. However, La Belle Assemblée published this sheet music for a Waltz, Fly Away Care in January 1812.
Each month the magazine published a Biographical sketch of Illustrious Ladies. This article was published in August 1811 refers to an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Lavinia Countess of Spencer (née Bingham) was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Lucan. She is described as
‘a lady no less distinguished for the family she has married into than for that which she is descended’
She married George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer. His sister Lady Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire and became a famed Whig hostess. The story of this difficult marriage was made into a film released in 2008, The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.
In Autumn 1811, La Belle Assemblée printed picture of the Prince of Wales conservatory at Carlton house, with brief description. Very Homes and Gardens!
La Belle Assemblée also wrote about the Drury Lane Theatre which opened in 1812.
Not only were there suggestions of fashionable places to see and be seen, but also what to wear.
So, if you fancy whiling away and hour or two as a Regency lady of leisure, pop into Chelsea Reference Library and sit in one our comfy chairs and ask for La Belle Assemblée (or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) They are fragile, so are kept in our store. Regrettably, tea and cucumber sandwiches without the crusts are not supplied!
Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian
Chelsea Reference Library