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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

"What is a toxophilite?" — guest post from Maria Grace

Every year for Austen in August, Maria Grace blesses us with a little learnin'; in addition to taking part in our Janeite Convos every year, she's taught us a bit about ice cream in the Regency era, told us just how bad Regency widows had it, and gave us a peek at marriage settlement contracts. She's even broke down the manipulations of Lady Susan, and made us think twice about the much-loved Mr Bennet. And more. So much more
Today she's back with the first of a 3-part series on women and archery in Regency times. We've all marveled over the archery scenes in nearly every Austen adaptation, and pretended we were crack shots ourselves, right? No? Just me? Well then, anyway — click through to find out more about this fascinating Regency pastime, and make sure to stop back by later today, when you'll get a chance to win a prize pack of Maria's books!

What is a toxophilite?

Apparently we're not the only ones obsessed with our medieval past. Check out what it looked like in Jane Austen's day.

As the Georgian period drew to a close, an increasing fascination with the medieval past led to a revival of the English archery tradition. (Sounds nothing like what we do today, does it? SCA friends, I’m looking at you!) The privileged gentry class, not required to work for their livings, had time to indulge in pastimes like sporting activities. And indulge they did.

While most sporting activities effectively barred women from participation—exertion, sweating, running and all the odd postures that might be necessary were decidedly unladylike— archery was not only considered an acceptable pastime, but an activity where women could show off their grace and ‘feminine form’ without risk of being considered vulgar. (Vulgarity was considered the kiss of death in polite society.)

From a Young Lady's Book, 1829

 “The acceptability of women practicing and watching archery was rooted in their presence adding to the pastime’s aesthetics. This was something frequently remarked upon by observers: ‘The beauties in the circle of carriages which surrounded the enclosure upon the Heath, out-numbered and out-shone those of any assembly we ever saw.’ … As one writer put it, archery could not fail to display ‘the graces of the female form, in a considerable degree’. …
The male archers no doubt admired and enjoyed such elegant and graceful female forms. Parallels can be drawn here with the new public cultural venues that were being built in many towns of the period and which were notorious as forums for sexual spectatorship and courtship. Indeed, this was part of the very raison d’ĂȘtre of the assembly rooms, pleasure gardens, theatres and halls.…
Archery, complete with the romantic associations of Cupid and his bow and arrows, offered men and women an opportunity to meet, view and enjoy their social equals.” 
(Johnes, 2004)
Is anyone surprised that period observers would have to tie women as athletes back to the all consuming task of finding a proper husband?

Find references HERE

Read more about Regency era archery HERE
Discover more about Regency era amusements HERE

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
Click here to return to the master list of Austen in August posts!


  1. Fascinating. She always has the most random points of interest!

  2. I am not surprised at all that this is how they described it. After reading the Hunger Games books, I decided to give archery a try. I was surprised by just how difficult it was to pull back the string. Perhaps it's just because I'm not very strong but I didn't expect it to require so much effort.

  3. Thanks for this interesting post Maria, I enjoyed it a lot. Looking forward to more.

  4. I knew that archery was a fad during this time period, but I didn't realize it was rooted in a renewed interest in the medieval past. I can see why it caught on, especially when fashion later returned to tight waistlines that could easily be seen when the women were shooting.

  5. I like archery. It is a sport I like now. I am glad women were allowed a chance to participate.

  6. Thank you for sharing information. Wonderful blog & good post for history coursework .

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