Sometimes, there’s this question that goes around on the Internet: if you could time travel to anywhere (anywhen?) in the past or future, where would you go? For me, that statement has to be qualified. First of all, would I go there to stay? That would be a very different deal than just going for a visit and being able to come home whenever I want. If it was to stay, umm, that would rule out anytime pretty much prior to the mid-twentieth century – in fact, I don’t think I’d want to go at all. You see, I think the greatest inventions of recent-ish history is not the Internet, or even plastics – but antibiotics and anaesthesia. I would not want to live in a time or place in the past where those are unavailable. And the future, who knows what it’ll hold, so I’m not going to go there (besides, I’ll get there eventually anyway, so what’s the point of wasting a perfectly good time travel ticket?).
However, if I could go just for a visit – like going camping or something, for a couple of weeks or even months in the summer – there is no doubt where I’d go: the Regency. Hop back exactly two hundred years, to Europe – England first, I think, and then Germany (where it wasn’t called the Regency Period, it was just, well, the beginning of the 1800s).
Why? Well, obviously: it’s when my most favourite writers were active. It was Jane Austen’s birthday just a couple of days ago (in case you’re wondering, she would have been 239). I kind of missed her birthday, even though the AustenBlog sent me the post about it on Tuesday. Another thing I missed this whole entire year was that it was the bicentennial of the publication of Mansfield Park (ah, the blog entries that could have written on the topic!). Once I got away from studying Austen and into studying fairy tales, I got out of the loop; there’s all kinds of things that whizzed by me.
And yes, speaking of fairy tales, that’s my other favourite, of course: the teens of the 19th century saw the first edition of the Children’s and Household Tales, aka Grimms’ Fairy Tales. So just think, if I was hanging around Europe two hundred years ago, I could go meet all those awesome writers. However, I think I’d leave the visit to the Grimm family for a decade or so later – in 1814 Germany was still under the occupation of Napoleon’s armies. The 1830s would probably be a better time to go hang out with the German folktale collectors.
I guess that predilection for Austen and fairy tales makes me a Romantic, literarily speaking (is that a word?). I am a romantic in regular life, too – a dyed-in-the-wool lover of weddings and happily-ever-afters – but not quite in the standard mold. A lot of what goes by “romance” in today’s world makes me cringe and/or roll my eyes – pink frilly stuff, ugh. I still haven’t quite figured out the exact connection between “romance” in the weddings-and-happily-ever-after sense and “Romanticism” in the historic-cultural era sense – they’re two different beasts, although one developed from the other, methinks. In fact, there could be a whole other Master’s thesis in the exploration of that particular question, but that’s another topic for another day.
Suffice to say, I’m a romantic and a Romantic – and I’d love to go visit that time and see what it was really like. Dirty and dark for the most part, no doubt, but still, I’d love to check it out. And maybe learn to dance a country dance or two (the waltz was still brand-new and somewhat scandalous, at least in England), drink tea with a raised pinky, and perhaps sit around the Grimms’ parlour and listen to Dortchen Wild tell a fairy tale that Wilhelm Grimm then carefully writes down (between admiring glances cast in her direction – he married her, later on. Now that’s romantic).
Life, the Universe, and Time Travel to the Regency. Where would you go, if you could?