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A Spinster Too Shy to Speak Seeks the Help of Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

Mrs Finnegan is the celebrated housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE who offers advice on love, life and SILK dresses (sometimes)

Will I always be the bridesmaid and never the bride?
I struggle to converse with gentlemen at social occasions, even about the weather, inclement or not.  Not a word can I form as a reply until the gentlemen retreats. I fear he must assume that I am rude or just very dull.  I do have  conversation and can be witty, but only with my friends.

Unless I can overcome my shyness and engage in interesting conversation with suitable gentleman I fear I will remain a spinster.

Bashful Bessy from Bexhill

Mrs Finnegan replies

You are LABOURING under a serious delusion

A conversation with friends is an amiable and equal discussion about MATTERS of mutual interest.

A conversation with a possible suitor is your opportunity to ALLOW him to talk about anything HE LIKES and for you to be ENTHRALLED with every word that falls from his lips.

You do NOT have to be interesting yourself – in fact that is best AVOIDED.

Your responses should be short and formed as A QUESTION. The best method is to repeat what the gentleman has just said.

For example, AN APPRORPRIATE reply to a general comment about the weather could be:

Yes, it has been inclement. Has that inconvenienced your travels/your hunting interests?
Yes, it has been unseasonably warm. (Warmth is always unseasonable in Britain). I wonder has it caused any problems for your estate/your horses/the country at large?

Men are always MORE comfortable talking about difficulties than discussing the things that make them happy.

If subjected to a lengthy discourse on a specific subject wait for a pause and then ECHO what has already been said. For example, if the gentleman was speaking about investments in the canals you can say something like:

You mentioned that dividends have been reduced, but I’m not sure I fully understand why.

That format works for ANY subject. It shows that you have been listening and that you know LESS than the gentleman. Never ever REVEAL that you know more even if you are a financial genius consulted by the Bank of England and have personally SUPERVISED navigation works across the county.

All of the above is to be delivered with a demure smile. As a woman you have a natural aversion to simpering, but gentlemen expect it so you may as well add a little here

Do not be AFRAID of blushing – it suits most complexions and is a sign of your modesty, one of the VIRTUES that is deemed essential in women and undesirable in MEN.

Do not be afraid of SILENCES – especially your own.

Remember that a gentleman is looking for three qualities in a PROSPECTIVE bride:

  • An unblemished reputation
  • A pleasing countenance
  • A dowry

The first two can be DISPENSED with…

My dear you are PERFECT marriage material. I predict wedding bells within a year at which time you can write to me with real problems.

Yours in cordial and sororal sincerity
Mrs Finnegan


O disaster!
O banging doors and broken plaster!

A rhyming couplet to convey the atmosphere RAGING in the house at present. Tremble and be GLAD you are not here.

Mrs Hankey is upset. Mrs Hankey is in a temper. Mrs Hankey is best avoided.
Mrs Hankey can tell you in her OWN words what has happened. My poor pen is scarce able for the task. Here’s an extract from yesterday’s diary.

I could pull Mrs Guppy’s eyes out! 
The vixen, having instructed me to buy yards and yards of purple silk, now declares she cannot make my dress because she has a commission from Lady Percival who is newly arrived in town.

I pity the servant who does not do exactly as she is told today for I am in a brittle temper.

A calamity that is an unmistakable reminder that affairs of this life are not of our ordering, even if you are Mrs Hankey, because there are always going to be Lady Percival’s POPPING up.

Mrs Guppy is all apologies. Am I not important enough?   

Mrs Hankey PROBABLY doesn’t want an answer

Thomson is worth ten times Lord Percival who it is well known as an utter wastrel, and everyone who is anyone is aware of that.     

And everyone who is anyone will see Mrs Guppy’s dress on the back of Lady Percival. And if MORAL superiority was needed to get you a silk dress…(I’ll leave you, dear reader, to finish that thought)

So what could possibly be Mrs Guppy’s motives? This business gives me pause to suspect Lizzie is not perhaps the friend that she pretends to be. After all, she recommended Mrs Guppy.  I suppose Lizzie, or I should say Lady Frobisher – I must not forget HER wretched title – never has to contend with this kind of behaviour.

I will not countenance such a thing. I will not! But why did Mrs Guppy do it?
What was she thinking of?

Her FUTURE as a dressmaker?

I must stop thinking in this vein, it is very bad for my skin and the wrinkles on my forehead. However, it is a fact that I am now burdened with this horrible purple silk, having quite changed my mind about the colour since I find it to be ageing.  

She must have written this yesterday evening as she was still in such a stew at afternoon tea she THREW a scone across the room. I ducked and it went clean out the window and KNOCKED Master Peregrine’s hat off (retired riding master and, fortunately, the most pleasant of Brunswick Square gentlemen)

Master Peregrine before the scone incident

What shall I do with all that material? I could give it to Mrs Finnegan so that our maids would look distinctive, but perhaps that is not such a good idea since I aim to make this house one of excellence rather than eccentricity.   

Not a good idea at all. Maids in silk blacking the grate? Scrubbing steps? Drawing water from the well? Does Mrs Hankey have ANY idea of the work involved in running a household? On the other hand, a “house of excellence” might well have a housekeeper ARRAYED in purple silk. I’m sure the colour would work with my profile…

No, I will give it to Susan and I am sure she will find a good use for it. It will show what a kind and generous person I can be, although at this precise time I admit that I am feeling more angry than generous. 

Enough silk to cover a small field GONE to a slip of a girl!

Mention Susan and I am thrown into despair. When I appointed her as Martha’s maid, I instructed her to make friends with my daughter since they are of an age, and I believe she has done exactly that. However, Martha continues to be as recalcitrant as ever.

I will take tea with the girl and when I give her the material ask about her progress. Is Martha still harbouring thoughts of that dancing master? Only something new will wean her away from tender thoughts of a forbidden person, if it is indeed those tender thoughts, as I suspect, that are keeping her from venturing out. 

Him again

Poor dear Miss Martha. Has that man still got designs on her? Has she got designs on him? TWICE he passed by the house last night. He saw me looking out from my basement room and that made him QUICKEN his step.

Susan. Susan. Maybe I should be the ONE talking to her.

She is a woman of secrets herself. I went to North Laine to ENQUIRE at the house I saw her coming out of last week (and which she denied all knowledge of), but no one came to the door when I knocked.

I shall try again. On close inspection it appears a respectable dwelling with a neat FRONTAGE and clean windows.

Once I know what is WHAT Susan and I can talk about the Mistress and Miss Martha and the half acre of purple silk that will be left over after she MAKES a dress for herself.

I may well be able to find a buyer for it and might even OFFER to help with the dress. Nothing induces confidences between two women more quickly than sewing by candlelight while sharing a TOT of brandy to keep the fingers supple.

What OTHER news?

The Mistress is still pleased with the new cook who has not yet REPEATED one single dish since being here. Mrs Pole’s recipe book must be the size of a Staffordshire BARGE, but it means the kitchen budget is growing apace.

The butcher’s bill made me wince. It was as painful to read as being preached at by an enthusiastic curate who not only believes we are going to be consumed by Hell fire, but has also forgotten his watch.

I did query the large quantities of meat ordered, but was ASSURED by Mrs Pole that they were the EXACT amount needed.

Master Peregrine’s hat is almost as GOOD as new after Mrs Hankey’s scone throwing tantrum. I went over straight after as I could not trust his own housekeeper to remove the strawberry JAM without leaving a stain.

On the way back I witnessed a great LINE OF COACHES arrive for a grand dinner party at another house in Brunswick Square – just the kind of party Mrs Hankey wants to host.

I’m told that this was for a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw plenty as I stood at the corner. Now do not be SUSPECTING me of a pun, I entreat you, because I’ve been puzzling over it all day and STILL haven’t come up with one.

MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook working with a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers. This week a special thank you to Catherine Page and Julia Pattinson 

Want to discover more about the characters that appear in Mrs Finnegan’s Chronicles?
Do you want to know what they did LAST summer?
Or what happened at Christmas?
Then there was Master Peregrine’s dinner with Mrs Finnegan the ONLY guest
Click HERE for the full back story
(Susan, you definitely want to find out more about HER. To be fair, so does Mrs Finnegan)

NEVER MISS an instalment. Mrs Finnegan will make sure you get your own personal copy EVERY Tuesday. ENTIRELY FREE OF CHARGE. All you have to do is click HERE It will be delivered to your doorstep by coach (whatever the weather) or by possibly some other means

One comment on “A Spinster Too Shy to Speak Seeks the Help of Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper

  1. Pingback: Why is My Sister so very Awkward? Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper knows the answer | BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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This entry was posted on August 17, 2021 by in Mrs Finnegen ADVICE from the 1830 and tagged , , , , , .


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