Adventures for Regency Enthusiasts: The Country House After Dark

Have you ever wondered

  • how dark it was in an 18th century country house after sunset?
  • what you can see in a room lit only by candles?
  • how it feels to enter a room illuminated by several crystal chandeliers?

You could arrange an experiment at your home by lighting some candles at night. But this wouldn’t quite reproduce the lighting conditions of a country house, as there are less gildings, reflecting mirrors and chandeliers in the average apartment of our times.

chateauI thus set out to experience a historic house after nightfall. My central question: What are the lighting conditions and how can a Historical Novel Writer depict them properly in a novel?
Let me take you to the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a grand chateau in France. We will wander its rooms and enjoy its park adorned with thousands of torches.

5 reasons why darkness is troublesome

entrance hall1. When daylight fades, the rooms become immersed in shades of blue. The servants light candles and close the shutters. Every work that needs to be done in proper light had better be finished. Candles are expensive. Often, one candle has to be shared by several persons.

2. In rooms lit only by a few candles, dark shadows are lurking everywhere. It takes the eye several moments to adjust to the level of light of each room and to see who and what is inside.

2. In rooms lit only by a few candles, dark shadows are lurking everywhere. It takes the eye several moments to adjust to the level of light of each room and to see who and what is inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Only a few steps away from the flare of a chandelier lightness fades, and it would be impossible to read or write.

3. Only a few steps away from the flare of a chandelier lightness fades, and it would be impossible to read or write.

 

 

4. This is the dressing table of a gentleman. The illumination is so poor you can hardly make out the hairstyle of the whig. Grooming oneself in these lighting conditions is difficult. The valet will be required to hold up a candlestick so his master can satisfy himself that his hairstyle is perfect and his attire crease-free.

4. This is the dressing table of a gentleman. The illumination is so poor you can hardly make out the hairstyle of the whig. Grooming oneself in these lighting conditions is difficult. The valet will be required to hold up a candlestick so his master can satisfy himself that his hairstyle is perfect and his attire crease-free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Darkness absorbs colours. A pastel-coloured dress is turned into a pale shape. Ladies must claim the gentlemen’s attention by wearing bright, strong colours.

5. Darkness absorbs colours. A pastel-coloured dress is turned into a pale shape. Ladies must claim the gentlemen’s attention by wearing bright, strong colours.

 

Let there be light!

candle mirror

This photo illustrates the effect of a mirror reflecting candlelight: The candles in front of the mirror are multiplied and their light sparkles in the gilded frame.

 

 

 

The most impressive way to light a room is by crystal chandeliers. The candlelight is reflected and refracted by thousands of crystal pieces. As it takes many chandeliers and candles to create the festive effect you see on the photo, brightness was only for the rich. Upon entering a room ablaze with the light of crystal chandeliers, one looks inevitably up towards the light, at the same time taking in the grandeur of the chandelier and the ornate ceiling.

The most impressive way to light a room is by crystal chandeliers. The candlelight is reflected and refracted by thousands of crystal pieces. As it takes many chandeliers and candles to create the festive effect you see on the photo, brightness was only for the rich. Upon entering a room ablaze with the light of crystal chandeliers, one looks inevitably up towards the light, at the same time taking in the grandeur of the chandelier and the ornate ceiling.

Park and Garden after dark

park (2)Let’s leave the house and enjoy the park adorned with torches.

When the sun has set, the blue hour begins. In a Regency Novel, the hero takes the heroine for a romantic walk in the park.
In reality, myriads of midges emerge from the sh rubberies.

 

The blue hour soon turns into a darkness even torchlight can’t penetrate.

 

eingangThe view of a grand house set in festive light is amazing. It is suited to make your heroine fall head over heels in love with the owner of this grandeur.

 

Lessons learned

Visiting a historic house in the evening is a unique experience. It allows you to experience the lighting conditions of the late 18th century. Based on this, you can create authentic scenes after dark both inside and outside.

 

Discover more Adventures for Regency-Enthusiasts here.

 

Notes

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is located 55 km southeast of Paris. It offers visits by candlelight every Saturday evening from May to October.

Address: Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, 77950 Maincy, France; http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/

6 thoughts on “Adventures for Regency Enthusiasts: The Country House After Dark

  1. The Sir John Soane Museum in London can be visited in the evening once a month when it is lit by candles. In the Judges Lodgings in Presteigine they have oil lamps upstairs and open jet gas lighting in the kitchen. As well as the light levels of the past the different types of lighting such as oil lamps have their own aroma and in the case of the gas jets a hissing sound.
    The oil lamps cast a nice soft light, which I believe that electric light was regarded as unfavourable to ladies complexions.

  2. Your posts on the realities of life in the Georgian and Regency era are always fascinating and this one is particularly interesting. It is these little things we don’t think about. And of course the poor went to bed not long after the sun.

    • Thank you for bringing up lighting condditions for other classes. The poor indeed had to live more in accordance with the natural light sources. The candles they had were the cheap ones made of tallow. They were smelly.

      Thank you for dropping by.

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