The Return of the Dandy

Dandy 2Nicola here. According to the newspapers there is a new breed of man
about town (whether that town is somewhere in Europe, the USA or Australasia.)
He is the dandy, discerning and well informed on fashionable style trends,
historical influences and the art of dressing. These men are devoted to matters
sartorial and they spend a lot of money on their clothes, several thousand pounds or dollars per
month. Selfridges in London has recently opened the world’s largest men’s shoe
department. Harvey Nichols, the designer department store, say that their male
customers spend 25% more on clothes than their female ones. Style icons like
David Beckham have made it acceptable for men to express themselves through
their style and their grooming. For these men, dress is a form of
self-expression, often as flamboyant as possible. And of course this is nothing

Origins and definitions

My OED has the word “dandy” first coming into use in the
1780s to describe a man
David Beckham who paid meticulous attention to his dress. It was
based on the earlier phrase “Jack ‘O Dandy.” Dandyism as a style was coined in
about 1820. Previously there had been fops, a term which originated in the 15th
century and implied someone who was a bit of a fool as well as being overdressed. The word “beau” also came
to be used to describe a rich, fashionable young man who was elegant in his
dress. Then there were the macaronis who took style to extremes and were
considered to exceed what was elegant and fashionable and tumble over into the

These days the term dandy has a certain effeminate
connotation but in the late 18th and 19th centuries it
had a far more masculine meaning. The dandy was not simply someone who was
interested in clothes. Dandyism was a lifestyle. It included refinement in
manners, a certain nonchalance and possibly an interest in gentlemanly pursuits
such as prize fighting. The dandy was urbane and elegant but he was also very
masculine. One of the dandies of the late 18th century was William Hopper, a
man who rejected a career in the church to become a gentleman pugilist. He was
known as “The Swell Bristolian,” swell of course being Regency cant for someone
who was wealthy and elegant. Captain Barclay, another dandy, was one of the
most celebrated athletes of his generation.

The King of the Dandies

DandiesThe quintessential dandy, of course, was Beau Brummell. He
became a leader of society. Brummell attended Eton, where he first drew
attention to himself by going against the wisdom of the day in declaring
cricket “foolish.” This view was sufficiently odd and original to establish him
as a wit and he was invited to all the best parties. Brummell was also an
arbiter of taste and fashion in books and furnishings as well as clothes. He
was a collector of china, snuffboxes and canes. His exquisite manners were part
of his appeal and when it came to clothes he designed them himself and made
sure they were well cut. Two of his maxims were “no one should ever take your
suit for new” and “always clean linen and plenty of it.”

Dandyism as practised by Brummell and his fellows was as
much to do with manner as dress. One of the observations made of Brummell was
that he matched the understated elegance of his clothes with the cool
understatement of his speech. He never showed emotion.

Despite the masculine connotations of dandyism, not everyone
admired it. One observer described the dandies in St James in less than
flattering terms: “Well-groomed but pompous, parading daily between Crockford’s
(gambling palace) and White’s Club, up one side and down the other.” This
promenade often took place in order to establish one’s status as a gentleman
and persuade tradesmen to grant credit.

There were also many caricatures of the dandy as a
ridiculous character in the contemporary cartoons. A satirical booklet of the
era mocked the many and varied ways in which one could tie a neck cloth whilst
“An Exquisite’s Diary” made fun of the trials and tribulations of being a
Dandy. Captain Gronow was vitriolic about them, criticising them as
“unspeakably odious… with nothing remarkable about them but their insolence…
They hated everybody and abused everybody…”

Literary Dandies

One of the most famous literary dandies is of course The
Scarlet Pimpernel. No one could be cooler
Scarlet Pimpernel under pressure, busy adjusting the
set of his coat at the same time as fighting off an attack by twenty
Frenchmen. The Scarlet Pimpernel is the ultimate swashbuckling hero and his
dandyism is an integral part of his disguise but at the same time he genuinely
does care about his appearance. And of course his wit and sangfroid is
legendary. There are also a number of dandies in Georgette Heyer’s books too; interestingly some are the true dandies such as The Earl of Worth in
Regency Buck who is a member of Beau Brummell’s set. Others take their
fashions to extremes and are figures of fun.

Ryan goslingAt the end of the Victorian era dandyism experienced a
resurgence in popularity with adherents such as Oscar Wilde. The current trend
seems to be mainly focussed on clothing; it would be good to see other aspects
of dandyism such as wit and especially beautiful manners making a comeback too!

Do you have a favourite historical or a fictional dandy? Or
is there a current day style icon you think is a dandy?

Series, book 2

Happy When Wench Anne asked the question, my reply was far too long, so I thought I'd blog a bit more about series, linked books, and worlds. (That's Charlie and Billy in Christmas garb, looking happy because they have lots of glitter-loot.)


Why write linked books?

As I said on Wednesday, my instinct toward series was there from the first, and I'm not sure why. I can't remember reading any. A series of books with the same protagonist or protagonists, yes, such an Angelique and the Lymond Chronicles, but not what we mean by a series today — a run of books, each about one member of a group.

The closest would be Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel books, which I discovered and fell in love with at a very early age. However, I've only now read up about her and the books, and discover the popularity of The Scarlet Pimpernel came about because she and her husband wrote a play based on it and it did well in the West End.  Now that's a form of promotion I'd not thought of! Sp

I was delighted to read that she had a very happy marriage.

I wish I still had my battered old edition with line drawings, but I can only offer Anthony Andrews in the role.

Each book in the pimpernel series has a different romantic couple, but as best I remember they are all built around the French Revolution and rescuing aristocrats so that the context is arguably a stronger link than the people and their relationships.

Here's a scarlet pimpernel flower.

Scarp © Copyright Tony Atkin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In the modern romantic series, the links are through friendship and family and the context can be quite different for each story.

Questions. Am I correct? Please feel free to argue with me.

What character-linked series from the first part of the 20th century have I missed? There must have been some.

Anyway, as I said on Wednesday, as soon as I settled to writing romance novels, back in 1977, I had series in mind, and now it's hard to imagine writing a completely independent novel. If I started one it would turn out to be the beginning of a new series! This is not, however, true of novellas. I don't know why, but I'm not bothered by writing stand-alone novellas, and not tempted to make them the beginning of a series. Perhaps it's a matter of length. As long as I'm not with the world too long, I can escape their seductive tendrils.

My mindset about linked books is odd, and I'm about to reveal another oddity.

My big confession.

I'm not particularly fond of reading linked books.

I was interested to see other people express the same. 111p

I read and adored those Heyer books, and they were nearly all stand-alones. Thinking about it, I've decided that there was was a tidiness to them, a completion; a beginning, a middle, and an end, and at the end off they went into the sunset. The rest was left to my imagination, and I did imagine the future for my favourite characters, so that they lived on actively in my mind.

Perhaps I feel a bit deprived by a linked book because I know I'll probably meet those people now and then in later books and learn how they're getting on. I'm not free to invent it all for myself.

More Questions.

Does that resonate with anyone, or am I just crazy? Is inventing ongoing stories for characters perhaps something only writers can do?

How do I reconcile this contradiction? Well in part by writing as I want to write, which seems to have worked out pretty well, and also because my characters seem so real to me, I really have no choice.


The picture? This is the High Street of Northallerton, Yorkshire, which Prudence Youlgrave and Catesby Burgoyne cross in the early pages of An Unlikely Countess. It's slightly relevant because setting is part of continuity of fictional worlds.

This photograph isn't 18th century, of course, but it's probably closer to that period than the modern view. The width is typical of towns along the Great North Road, and of course it was lined with inns.

Most are now shops, but they're still there, with their Georgian lines above the modern shop fronts, and often still with the high arch into the coach yard.

Fictional Worlds

Over the years I have come to think of my linked books not as a series, but as set in a world.

All the characters I've written as being alive in, say, 1816, are alive in 1815. Nearly all of them live in England in aristocratic circles. They go to London and other fashionable places. Many of the men are Members of Parliament, in the Commons or the Lords. Some of them are keen hunters  who are bound to be in Melton Mowbray for at least part of the hunting season. Some are patrons of the arts and sciences, and some are interested in industry and technology. It really doesn't matter if I give any of them a part in a book, either walk on or speaking. They're there anyway.

Of course 15 of my Regency-set books are in the Company of Rogues series, so they have the link of friendship, and sometimes family links as well, so I call it my Rogues World, but there are others. The Ashbys and Kyles of the trad. regencies, and also the Dark Angel and the Daffodil Dandy. Sax and Meg from Forbidden Magic, and yes, Knox the parrot. I don't look for them, but when I need a reference to some member of the ton, quite likely it will be one of them, an Easter egg, as Janice put it for the fans who know the books as well, and perhaps better, than I do.

The ongoing characters that grab us.

Which reminds me of Susan/DC's comment about Beth and Lucien in the Rogues books. "For example, I liked many of Jo's Company of Rogue books. I'm sure, however, that I missed important details of some of the books because I was on the lookout for references to Beth and Lucien, my favorite couple in the series." That interested me, but I think I know why, and why they appear quite often.

Most of the couples end up with their problems solved and their future comfortable. That is the gift I try to give them after throwing a great many problems at them. Beth and Lucien  have substantial differences, however, and their marriage will clearly be a work-in-prograss. Thus, it's interesting to see how they're managing, whereas visiting many of the other couples would simply be a matter of sitting down to a cup of tea and a bit of a chat. Auccover

On the appearance of past characters in books, I try to pass the test that their part in the book will change something in a meaningful way. Which happens in An Unlikely Countess. (Have to put a plug in for my March book.)

One more thing. Despite my love for writing linked books, it can become overwhelming, when the background cast of characters is huge, and there is a delight in starting with a blank slate. So I've taken to writing trilogies that start with completely new characters. But still in the World, remember.Alsfrontsm2

At the moment, that's my Malloren World, set in the 1760s. All the characters from 12 books, including the minor ones, are alive there, but when Robin, Earl of Huntersdown met Petra d'Averio in a French inn, they were both new to me. 

In that case, I knew the Malloren link, but when Catesby Burgoyne rescued a woman on the dark streets of Northallerton, Yorkshire, they were both new to me and without any Malloren connection at all. It's very liberating. My vague intent there was to have a trilogy of countesses, and I'm now writing A Scandalous Countess, but I didn't plan any tight connection. Then along came Peregrine Perriam….

Any impression that I am in control of my worlds is, well, a fiction!

I've put up a new excerpt from An Unlikely Countess here. I'll be back to say more about it, especially the adventure of checking out the locations when I was still living in the north.

Here are some northern sheep and lambs. I saw lambs in a field on Wednesday and knew spring was here!


Best wishes,