The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Forget-me-not

© Worthing Museum - Fans Unfolded exhibition text

My ideas regarding fans and the making of this particular one had begun to take form even before a research trip I made to The Fan Museum, Greenwich in the late spring of 2018 (please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/stephaniesmart/single-post/2018/06/13/The-Fan-Museum---research-visit---fans) and likewise before I later attended the exhibition titled Fans Unfolded, at Worthing Museum. It had all begun in fact on the first visit I ever made to Worthing Museum at the end of the previous year. Then I'd spotted their gallery text showing The Language of Flowers (see below).


That flowers had once each been meant to symbolise a specific idea or emotion and had thereby been used like a language was an idea I'd heard of before but not worked with. I'd also heard of something similar regarding fans and handkerchiefs, that is, concerning the idea that holding one in a certain position had been meant to symbolise something and thereby pass on a message. You can read here about what else I later found in this regard relating to the art of handkerchief flirtation.

Mary Kitson, historian at The Fan Museum, has assured me however, that the idea that fans were used in this way is a myth, a fact backed up by Sotheby's here: https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/the-secret-language-of-fans but, as they state, the myth is a persistent one. And I was to hear it asked about by a contemporary audience member in a talk Mary gave at the Regency Town House which I organised as part of the process of the research for The Regency Wardrobe in October 2019.


But whatever the truth of the belief in such attributions the idea of fans and flowers and handkerchiefs and meaning were to become intertwined in my mind.

© Worthing Museum




The third point of the triangle I didn't know I was forming came from reading a particular letter from the Bevan and Dewar collection held by The Regency Town House, Hove. In fact it was just the first few lines and the tone of the letter (that is, what I read in and between the words) that put me in mind of the forget-me-not and saw me drawing all three together this flower, a fan design and a real Regeny era letter.




"My dearest Richard,

I thank you for your letter, and assure you I had not, even in thought, once accused you of neglect, and tho’ I shall always take the greatest delight in receiving a letter from you, when you feel in a humour to chat with me freely yet I should be sorry to think that you were induced to give up a walk, or anything pleasant from the idea, that I should require you to be punctual in your replies to my epistles - I am too confident of your affection to believe you are unmindful of me, but..." http://www.rth.org.uk/collections/bevan-dewar-letters/letters/1820 (exact date unknown)

It reads to me as if the authoress (the identity of the sender is in fact lost but I imagine it to be a woman) might have been chastised in a previous letter, or has otherwise, through some more indirect language, assumed herself in trouble for implying to him that he is forgetful of her. She reassures him of her belief in his constancy and yet I wonder if she isn't just as surely reassuring herself. And in so doing she is also expressing a universal anxiety (felt across time as well, presumably, as across continents) regarding the fragility of proffered affection and its sudden possible loss.

So here is the link I saw with the forget-me-no. That flower which, in comparison to those others on the list isn't only suggestive of its attributed meaning but is instead absolutely blatant about it. Not only do the three words that form its name make its symbolic attribution clear but even the fact that are hyphenated illustrates the point, joining them inextricably and forever as if by a rope. No one receiving a bunch of forget-me-nots could be in any doubt of the inferred wish of the sender.

So, I imagine our anonymous lady letter writer, in the 1820s, looking up from the piece of paper she has on her writing desk, pen still in hand, at the bunch of tiny blue flowers she picked that morning; wondering at her own subconscious leanings, and writing with a feeling of some anxiety even whilst she is claiming she is fine and untroubled.

Given how important letter writing was to our Regency era ancestors and how importatnt paper is to The Regency Wardrobe project, it's worth taking a moment to consider the paper that might have used for letter writing in the early 1800's. Whilst considering that question I even found websites showing how one might have folded a letter in that period, methods that whilst working on Forget-me-not I didn't know I would later find informative, that is, when it came to the making of the third ridicule in the collection which would house a very secret and well folded letter inside it.


I won't go into detail here but will simply include these four links to the best sites I found in this regard:


https://herreputationforaccomplishment.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/anatomy-of-a-regency-letter/


https://parkslibrarypreservation.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/how-to-post-a-letter-19th-century-style/


https://www.themorgan.org/blog/jane-austens-writing-technical-perspective


https://randombitsoffascination.com/2014/10/07/touch-quill-ink-regency-letter-writing/