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The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London

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Caricatured for extravagance, vanity, glamorous celebrity and, all too often, embroiled in scandal and gossip, 18th-century London's fashionable society had a well-deserved reputation for frivolity. But to be fashionable in 1700s London meant more than simply being well dressed. Fashion denoted membership of a new type of society - the beau monde, a world where status was Caricatured for extravagance, vanity, glamorous celebrity and, all too often, embroiled in scandal and gossip, 18th-century London's fashionable society had a well-deserved reputation for frivolity. But to be fashionable in 1700s London meant more than simply being well dressed. Fashion denoted membership of a new type of society - the beau monde, a world where status was no longer determined by coronets and countryseats alone but by the more nebulous qualification of metropolitan 'fashion'. Conspicuous consumption and display were crucial: the right address, the right dinner guests, the right possessions, the right jewels, the right seat at the opera. The Beau Monde leads us on a tour of this exciting new world, from court and parliament to London's parks, pleasure grounds, and private homes. From brash displays of diamond jewelry to the subtle complexities of political intrigue, we see how membership of the new elite was won, maintained - and sometimes lost. On the way, we meet a rich and colorful cast of characters, from the newly ennobled peer learning the ropes and the imposter trying to gain entry by means of clever fakery, to the exile banned for sexual indiscretion. Above all, as the story unfolds, we learn that being a Fashionable was about far more than simply being 'modish'. By the end of the century, it had become nothing less than the key to power and exclusivity in a changed world.


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Caricatured for extravagance, vanity, glamorous celebrity and, all too often, embroiled in scandal and gossip, 18th-century London's fashionable society had a well-deserved reputation for frivolity. But to be fashionable in 1700s London meant more than simply being well dressed. Fashion denoted membership of a new type of society - the beau monde, a world where status was Caricatured for extravagance, vanity, glamorous celebrity and, all too often, embroiled in scandal and gossip, 18th-century London's fashionable society had a well-deserved reputation for frivolity. But to be fashionable in 1700s London meant more than simply being well dressed. Fashion denoted membership of a new type of society - the beau monde, a world where status was no longer determined by coronets and countryseats alone but by the more nebulous qualification of metropolitan 'fashion'. Conspicuous consumption and display were crucial: the right address, the right dinner guests, the right possessions, the right jewels, the right seat at the opera. The Beau Monde leads us on a tour of this exciting new world, from court and parliament to London's parks, pleasure grounds, and private homes. From brash displays of diamond jewelry to the subtle complexities of political intrigue, we see how membership of the new elite was won, maintained - and sometimes lost. On the way, we meet a rich and colorful cast of characters, from the newly ennobled peer learning the ropes and the imposter trying to gain entry by means of clever fakery, to the exile banned for sexual indiscretion. Above all, as the story unfolds, we learn that being a Fashionable was about far more than simply being 'modish'. By the end of the century, it had become nothing less than the key to power and exclusivity in a changed world.

30 review for The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alexis Hall

    So this is … um, scholarly, which is not remotely a complaint but I might have been slightly dazzled by the waistcoat on the front. I think I'm used to slightly more personalised accounts of history, but Greig (for perfectly sensible reasons) has chosen to eschew this in favour of something closer to ethnography. Essentially, this an exploration of the quite self-conscious creation, and maintenance, of a privileged elite, and its intersections with fashion, politics and economics. While Greig ju So this is … um, scholarly, which is not remotely a complaint but I might have been slightly dazzled by the waistcoat on the front. I think I'm used to slightly more personalised accounts of history, but Greig (for perfectly sensible reasons) has chosen to eschew this in favour of something closer to ethnography. Essentially, this an exploration of the quite self-conscious creation, and maintenance, of a privileged elite, and its intersections with fashion, politics and economics. While Greig judiciously avoids relevancy-hunting, and views with suspicion easy correspondences between Georgian high society and modern day celebrity culture, she nevertheless paints a picture of what is essentially a quite deliberate re-branding exercise on the part of the aristocracy. It's, honestly, pretty fascinating stuff, and Grieg writes engagingly, drawing from an interesting selection of letters, diaries, memorandum books and accounting records. The chapters I found most interesting where the ones that focused on politics, the role of women, and social exiles (which includes some pretty exciting tales of Georgian conmen). What The Beau Monde it isn't, however, is sex, and scandal, and Georgians behaving badly. Which tends to be what I'm looking for in a history book. Also Grieg's relationship with the term 'beau monde' seems peculiarly troubled - there's a little essay on the origin and development of term at the back of the book, which struck me a slightly artificial and unhelpful attempt to isolate language from culture. Particularly strange in a book that is all about the development, and the power, of culture.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Turner

    A bit too academic in tone but overall well-researched and an interesting read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Éowyn

    Greig's book takes a look at the Beau Monde - the fashionable elite - ranging from the 'Glorious Revolution' up to the early part of the 19th century. The Beau Monde and The Season were instigated by the more important role of parliament following the deposition of James II by his daughter and her husband - William III & Mary II. The peerage would spend a good deal of their time in London attending parliament, and so so social 'Season' was born. It was interesting to see the extent to which poli Greig's book takes a look at the Beau Monde - the fashionable elite - ranging from the 'Glorious Revolution' up to the early part of the 19th century. The Beau Monde and The Season were instigated by the more important role of parliament following the deposition of James II by his daughter and her husband - William III & Mary II. The peerage would spend a good deal of their time in London attending parliament, and so so social 'Season' was born. It was interesting to see the extent to which politics permeated the fashionable society and the importance of 'gossip' and 'chit chat' which letters from wives to husbands can be full of. The book covers jewellery and dress, exile from the Beau Monde and fraudulent claims to membership, court attendance and much more. Particularly with the clothing and jewellery, I think this would really have been enhanced with coloured plates, but sadly all the illustrations are black and white. In her introduction, Greig states that this book has grown out of her doctoral thesis on the subject. It is a quite a scholarly read, but not completely inaccessible to the general reader.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    Goodness this was one confusing and boring read. The author used lots of sentences when one simple statement would have done. I found myself re-reading passages and was still no further enlightened. Shame as the subject matter sounded interesting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    QOH

    This is useful for learning about the true exclusivity of Georgian high society (spoiler-not-spoiler: romance authors get it all wrong). It's full of details and further sources that a writer could and should mine, if she gets past the dense prose (I'm a J.D. who has read more lyrical administrative rules) and the price tag (despite the pretty cover, expensive binding, and slick paper, it's too expensive for a converted thesis with a lot of black-and-white pictures). On the petty side... I was te This is useful for learning about the true exclusivity of Georgian high society (spoiler-not-spoiler: romance authors get it all wrong). It's full of details and further sources that a writer could and should mine, if she gets past the dense prose (I'm a J.D. who has read more lyrical administrative rules) and the price tag (despite the pretty cover, expensive binding, and slick paper, it's too expensive for a converted thesis with a lot of black-and-white pictures). On the petty side... I was tempted to remove a star when I saw that the author, whose degree is in the humanities, refers to herself as "Dr." in the bio blurb. In a book about high society, how very gauche.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Berry

    A bit disappointed with this book, it read too much like a thesis and had far too much details about how jewellery was made and used etc. It would be ideal for research of the period for a novel so I'll keep it on my bookshelf, but it wasn't a book I wanted to read purely for pleasure. A bit disappointed with this book, it read too much like a thesis and had far too much details about how jewellery was made and used etc. It would be ideal for research of the period for a novel so I'll keep it on my bookshelf, but it wasn't a book I wanted to read purely for pleasure.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    Several recent histories have popularized Georgian England as “The Age of Scandal” with members of the beau monde starring in colorful “stories of gambling, adultery, high spending, and fast living” (p. 30). Author, lecturer in 18th-century British history, and historical consultant Hannah Greig takes an alternate approach in The Beau Monde. By focusing on the fortunes of the beau monde as a whole, rather than concentrating on the biographies of a few individuals, such as the Duchess of Devonshi Several recent histories have popularized Georgian England as “The Age of Scandal” with members of the beau monde starring in colorful “stories of gambling, adultery, high spending, and fast living” (p. 30). Author, lecturer in 18th-century British history, and historical consultant Hannah Greig takes an alternate approach in The Beau Monde. By focusing on the fortunes of the beau monde as a whole, rather than concentrating on the biographies of a few individuals, such as the Duchess of Devonshire, she seeks to present the culture as “a new manifestation of social distinction and a new form of social leadership, one oriented to the changing conditions and contexts of the period.” (p. 31) After ousting James II from the throne with the support of the English nobility, William III began a series of wars that required him to summon parliament regularly to secure funds for his war chest. Beginning in 1689, the titled nobility came to London for the yearly meeting of parliament and the London season was born. "In particular, the establishment of, and emphasis on, the London season brought fundamental alterations to the routines and responsibilities inherent in elite life. The level of investment made by titled personnel in metropolitan life in the 1700s (in terms of time, money, property, and culture) was unprecedented. Although pleasure seeking was unquestionably a major attraction of metropolitan life, it was politics, and the elite’s unshakeable belief in their right to govern, that made the season’s siren call so compelling.” (p. 233) Ms. Greig has done a thorough job of synthesizing manuscripts, family papers, newspapers, periodicals, and published works to explore the “world of fashion.” Chapter titles such as “Leading the fashion,” “The court and fashionable display,” and “Politics and the fashionable life” emphasize the importance of fashion in beau monde society. In the 18th-century fashion was aligned to social position and denoted “whatever prevails among the great” (33) rather than our modern concept focused on constantly changing trends and supermodels. A man of fashion was much more than a well-dressed man. He was nearly always a member of the peerage. Expensive clothing and jewelry, an elaborately furnished townhouse in the West End, luxurious carriages, and regular attendance at the opera and select private parties declared a person’s rank and importance. While there were members of the beau monde who were not aristocrats, these were rare exceptions rather than the rule. A chapter titled “Life in the town” describes the pleasure gardens and theaters used by the beau monde as public venues for parading their distinction to one another, rather than mingling with other levels of society. “Beauties” examines Georgian standards of physical attractiveness and the extra-physical characteristics that beau monde notables were required to possess. For example, Elizabeth and Maria Gunning were famous beauties but, as lower class interlopers who were merely physically attractive, they had the potential to upset the power structures of the beau monde. For this reason, “social beauty” became the fashionable ideal: grace, morality, virtue, manners, and politeness. One of my favorite chapters “Exile and fraud” tells stories of aristocrats who were banished from fashionable society and outsiders who attempted to pass themselves off as members of the beau monde. Unsurprisingly, exile was reserved for female transgressors of the unwritten codes governing the metropolitan elite; adultery did not result in exile, but an adulterous pregnancy did. As for fraud, this was typically an attempt to pass forged checks or gain expensive goods on credit by masquerading as a duke or earl. The Beau Monde is fascinating and comprehensive: I found it difficult to choose examples for this review. Readers interested in history and culture will find an abundance of detail to relish. The opulent jacket photograph of a gentleman’s full dress suit promises to attract bookstore and online browsers alike. Forty black and white illustrations are expertly placed and include cartoons and sketches, formal portraits, architectural drawings, and photographs of clothing and diamond jewelry. The author has also included an appendix detailing linguistic research about usage of the phrase “beau monde” in the 1700s. I enjoyed this essay’s focus on media: books, periodicals, plays, and poetry grappling with “the perplexing nature of the beau monde’s key characteristics and membership” (p. 250). With a touch of humor, the author admits that a painstaking linguistic approach does not “represent the most dramatic form of historical detection nor does it generate the ingredients for a gripping narrative exposition” (244) but her readers are fairly warned in the introduction that she intends to stay away from rollicking histories of high living. Seventy-five pages of endnotes and bibliography provide sources for all things beau monde. Ms. Greig’s work is an absorbing cultural and political history of aristocratic Georgian England. --------------------------------------------- I received one review copy from Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Janice Liedl

    This is a great academic history of 18th century London elites. Greig's work is focused on the fashionable sorts in British society who form what we might also know as "the ton". Her coverage is the long eighteenth century, from the 1690s to the end of the Georgian period, but mostly for the eighteenth century proper. The titled leaders of English society flocked to the metropolis for politics (the season coincides with parliament's sittings), the court (Greig shows that the royal family were not This is a great academic history of 18th century London elites. Greig's work is focused on the fashionable sorts in British society who form what we might also know as "the ton". Her coverage is the long eighteenth century, from the 1690s to the end of the Georgian period, but mostly for the eighteenth century proper. The titled leaders of English society flocked to the metropolis for politics (the season coincides with parliament's sittings), the court (Greig shows that the royal family were not as irrelevant as earlier historians have sometimes asserted) and to see and be seen. Drawing on diaries, household accounts and correspondence, Greig delves into a fascinating world of how jewels, opera boxes and personal connections were traded and drawn upon. This focus on the society provides a smart and nuanced picture of how English aristocrats manoeuvred their way in the competitive world of conspicuous consumption. Plus, there's a fabulous chapter on Vauxhall, Ranelagh and the other pleasurable destinations of the period! It is an academic work so it's not an easy, breezy read, but the prose flows nicely for all that. There are many illustrations that are particularly useful for understanding the fashions of the period. The book may frustrate readers who come hoping to see one individual family's story illuminated throughout the period or a more purely political, gender or economic history of the beau monde. But I was quite impressed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Judith

    While this book is not light reading, it provides essential cultural background to the 1700s and early 1800s of "fashionable" society of England. Grieg explores what was meant, at that time, by "fashionable" or "ton" or "beau monde", noting that this is difficult to define as who (and what) was fashionable or a member of the beau mode was a somewhat fluid concept and even contemporaries raised the question of its definition. Greig includes much discussion of women's role(s) in the beau monde and While this book is not light reading, it provides essential cultural background to the 1700s and early 1800s of "fashionable" society of England. Grieg explores what was meant, at that time, by "fashionable" or "ton" or "beau monde", noting that this is difficult to define as who (and what) was fashionable or a member of the beau mode was a somewhat fluid concept and even contemporaries raised the question of its definition. Greig includes much discussion of women's role(s) in the beau monde and how the "fashionable life" intersected with the court, politics, concepts of feminine beauty and renown (and disrepute), and how the rise of parliamentary meetings resulted, in part, in the growth of the "season" and the beau monde. As I said not an easy read, and not a life that I would enjoy: it was important to be seen and re-seen and again re-seen day and evening after day and evening. I found Grieg's comments on how some potential members of the beau monde realized they were not temperamentally suited for this hectic social life of gossip, scandal, intrigue, and one up(wo)manship.

  10. 5 out of 5

    sminismoni

    The entire time I was reading this book I thought "This is like a PhD thesis, not a history book". Then I read the preface, and as suspected, the author has converted a thesis into a published book. Unfortunately, the transition is not made well. There was too little editing - ten sentences made the same point only using different words. It smacked of "padding" to reach a thesis word count. Also, the subject matter is narrow - the author acknowledges this - but it makes for a lengthy book with o The entire time I was reading this book I thought "This is like a PhD thesis, not a history book". Then I read the preface, and as suspected, the author has converted a thesis into a published book. Unfortunately, the transition is not made well. There was too little editing - ten sentences made the same point only using different words. It smacked of "padding" to reach a thesis word count. Also, the subject matter is narrow - the author acknowledges this - but it makes for a lengthy book with only a few kew points to make. The author should have born the average reader in mind. That is not to say that I like my history "dumbed down". I like a more scholarly approach, but this was academic to the core, and not enjoyable non-fiction. +

  11. 4 out of 5

    Harlan Lewin

    Just finished this. Expressly non titillating. Shows that all the visiting, balls, operas, play, strolling in parks, was not only for enjoyment among the very small ruling class now centered in London during "The Season" but also (no great surprise) to network, pass information, test membership among the power brokers. Sometimes good description, often very repetitive, often indulges in a mildly annoying form of post modern vocabulary. Okay if you have a somewhat professional interest; not very Just finished this. Expressly non titillating. Shows that all the visiting, balls, operas, play, strolling in parks, was not only for enjoyment among the very small ruling class now centered in London during "The Season" but also (no great surprise) to network, pass information, test membership among the power brokers. Sometimes good description, often very repetitive, often indulges in a mildly annoying form of post modern vocabulary. Okay if you have a somewhat professional interest; not very enjoyable.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christina Dudley

    Thoroughly researched and well-illustrated history of the upper crust in the "Long 18th Century," from post-Civil-War to about 1810. Despite the gorgeous cover, it's much more of an academic read than popular nonfiction history, so it can get a little dry. Thoroughly researched and well-illustrated history of the upper crust in the "Long 18th Century," from post-Civil-War to about 1810. Despite the gorgeous cover, it's much more of an academic read than popular nonfiction history, so it can get a little dry.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    Read like a PhD thesis, but with tons of great info. I enjoyed it very much!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael Cayley

    A book about the London fashionable elite in Georgian times. Full of fascinating titbits, all part of the background to much 18th century fiction, but reads too much like a PhD thesis.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Erin Bedford

    for research

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lizzie Rogers

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  20. 5 out of 5

    Suffragette

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kirstie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nodianus

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Verity Salter

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zsuzsanna

  28. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zeba Clarke

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emma

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