Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) in PBS's Sanditon, premiering on KQED Jan. 12.

 Masterpiece PBS
Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) in PBS's Sanditon, premiering on KQED Jan. 12.  (Masterpiece PBS)

A Guide to Self-Care in Jane Austen's Time

A Guide to Self-Care in Jane Austen's Time

PBS's Sanditon, the television series based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austen, comes to KQED Sunday, Jan. 12. Since it's set in the Regency-era equivalent of a coastal spa, we asked Bay Area Austen expert Bianca Hernandez of the Drunk Austen podcast to give us a primer.

 

Self-care is no modern invention. The upcoming PBS Masterpiece adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon highlights the Regency-era craze around being health-conscious. And though some of the advice from the early 1800s doesn’t hold up (we frown on drinking lead nowadays), it does include some tips that can make nice additions to your routine.

Read on to get in the mood for a trip to a Regency seaside resort.

The cast take in the seaside air in PBS's 'Sanditon,' premiering Jan. 12 on KQED. (Masterpiece PBS)

Get to the sea

“The sea air and sea bathing together were neatly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every disorder, of the stomach, the lungs or the blood.”—‘Sanditon’

Though some of the advice from the era doesn’t age well, taking a vacation is a timeless, tried-and-true way to clear one’s mind. During the Regency era, places like Bath and Brighton were a must for those suffering from ailments like gout and leprosy.

Sea air was thought to be rejuvenating, and sea-bathing, as seen in Sanditon, was a real option for those in search of wellness. Though Sanditon itself is a fictional seaside resort, Brighton and Lyme were real seaside getaways during Austen’s time.

 “Depend upon it my dear, it is exactly a case for the sea. Saline air and immersion will be the very thing.” - Mr. Parker, ‘Sanditon’

But our Regency heroines wouldn’t bring a beach towel and flip-flops to the water—a bathing machine (yes, that was a real thing) would be rented. On the beach, a lady would board the small covered wagon-like contraption, and once the machine traveled deep enough into the water, the lady would emerge wearing a bathing outfit that covered everything from the neck down. Some sea-weathered assistants would then help the lady down a small ladder or set of stairs and safely into the sea.

While boarding a wagon to take you into the ocean may sound a little like ordering an Uber to go around the corner, taking an invigorating dip is always a nice option to make you feel alive.

Otis Molyneux (Jyuddah James), Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and Miss Lambe (Crystal Clarke) in PBS's 'Sanditon,' which premieres Jan. 12 on KQED. (Masterpiece PBS)

Drink up

If bathing isn’t your speed, you can set the mood by drinking some Bath water. And by that I mean water from the other famous Regency place of healing, Bath. (Did you think I meant water from a bathtub?)

The natural hot water that bubbles out from under the city has been heralded for its healing powers since the Romans were there nearly 2,000 years ago. You can still take a walk around the Roman baths should you visit the city today, and can drink the sulfurous water from their springs (though you won’t want to swim in them, since we now know their lead pipes work against the whole “healing” idea). Thankfully, safe mineral water can also be readily found on store shelves today.

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If you want a little more of a kick, you can reach for the wine, but take heed. In the unfinished Sanditon, Arthur Parker says he feels that wine in moderation benefits him (though it disagrees with him). Take his advice with a grain of salt, since he's one of Austen’s contradictory characters.

“The more wine I drink (in moderation) the better I am.”—Arthur Parker, ‘Sanditon’

Have a sweet tooth? Never fear: hot cocoa existed during the Regency era, though it would have been more like rich, spicy drinking chocolate than Swiss Miss. During a scene in Austen’s Sanditon, Charlotte Heywood witnesses Arthur Parker pour a strong batch of cocoa for himself while explaining how agreeable it is. Whether you make your cocoa strong or weak, there’s probably good reason why the drink has stayed popular (though no one can promise it does have health benefits).

Lady Denham (Anne Reid) in PBS's 'Sanditon,' premiering Jan. 12 on KQED. (Masterpiece PBS)

Cover up

Sunscreen as we know it didn’t exist during the Regency era, so that meant covering oneself to avoid sunburn. Luckily, having to cover up meant accessorizing!

If you're looking to accessorize the Regency way, parasols would have been the most basic way to keep oneself shielded from the sun during a 19th-century day. If you want your hands to be free, then a bonnet is the way to go.

Bonnets are also much more versatile as an accessorizing option. In the Regency era, one would add ribbons and trim to spruce up a bonnet, or merely customize it to match a favorite outfit. Remember, a lot of travel to Regency resorts was about being seen (and partially about curing whatever ill brought one there).

Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) and Sidney Parker (Theo James) in PBS's 'Sanditon.' (Masterpiece PBS)

Buy the shoes

When not taking part in social intrigue, matchmaking or healing, one in Austen's time would be very concerned about what to wear for the next ball. Dances were a prime time to either sneak a conversation with your paramour, or simply impress society.

In Sandition, Charlotte Heywood finds herself longing for a divine pair of blue shoes ahead of the first ball of the season. With encouragement, she purchases them so she can dance the night away in style.

Being seen as fashionable was a very important part of visiting Regency resort towns. While we don’t face the exact social pressures people at that time would have, perhaps there is a lesson in there about treating yourself to something you want.

Whether you decide to take a vacation, imbibe some hot cocoa or just buy yourself a fashionable accessory, there are some useful lessons to be learned from Regency customs.

'Sanditon' airs on KQED starting Jan. 12 at 9pm. Details here.

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