DON’T be afraid to faint
These days, fainting with shock due to a crude or vulgar comment would be regarded as an overreaction and evidence of being far too sensitive. But in the Regency era, it was, the historians tell us, actually quite a common occurrence. Moreover, fainting was considered an appropriate, even understandable, reaction for a lady to have when confronted with foul language or even bad manners. Indeed, such events could – and very often were – seen as a case of the vapours’, requiring gentlemen to help a lady onto a fainting couch and then pass a small jar of vapours under her nose to revive her.
Such shows of weakness were not to be frowned upon, and even the most mature of ladies would feel no shame in ‘coming over all faint’. Similarly, showing ‘poor nerves’ was seen as a normal reaction to stress at that time, while today we would regard anyone displaying such behavior as overreacting and even acting in a child-like manner. Consider Mrs. Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, for example. The matriarch of the family is shown to regularly be in need of a lie-down and ‘the vapors’, often fainting at the slightest hint of stress or bad news.
In reality, however, the women of the Regency era weren’t quite so over-sensitive and thin-skinned. Instead, they would often have a good reason for feeling faint. Backboards and tight-fitting corsets made breathing difficult and could, understandably, also cause light-headedness. And even if the ladies of Regency England were overly-sensitive, according to some academic studies, this was only to be expected. Women like Mrs. Bennett would have grown up stifled by rules and unable to assert their independence. Is it any wonder that they act in a childlike manner and have ‘attacks of the nerves’ so regularly that such behavior came to be expected of the ladies of the time?