Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Acceptable Feminine Sports in Georgian England: #1. Archery

I am not much of a sports person. Alright, I'm hopeless at sports and I don't much care, so the limitations on physical activity for women in Georgian high society would not have bothered me much.  I would have been content to sit, shaded by my parasol, watching the young men prance about, displaying their feats of strength and sweating. Sports for women, such as they were, were established by necessity, such as being able to ride a horse well and gracefully, or sports in which women appeared elegant and poised. The loose, lighter clothing styles during this era enabled women to be much more active, and many of them must have longed to indulge in some seriously energetic physical activity. Many of Ackermann's fashion plates show women in "walking dress", or garments suitable for seaside strolls. Seawater baths were becoming popular, and many women, including Jane Austen, were fond of a brisk swim in the waves.

One particularly popular feminine sport was archery. Archery built up strength and promoted good posture. Moreover, women looked lovely while they pulled the bowstring back. In their long, white gowns, they conjured up the perfect classical image of Diana the Huntress. Many archery clubs sprang up during 1780s, and soon after, some began accepting women as members. One in particular, the Royal British Bowmen, was the first in that regard. A serious competitive group, the RBB viewed the presence of women as a deterrent to male members who were less devoted to improving skills and more inclined to drink and carouse. Archery societies such as these were excellent venues for upper-crust young men and women to meet and socialize. The Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma shows an archery scene, although Austen's book does not include it. It is a common activity, however, and in a movie, provides a much more interesting setting to this contentious dialogue than two talking heads on a park bench. Poor Emma is not hitting the mark on any level.

Sources: Adam Buck print, The Archers; Ackermann's Repository; Royal British Bowmen (link above); Currier & Ives lithograph, Indian Hunter; photos of wicker furniture.

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