Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style
Grade : A-

He joined the army, but didn’t fight in a war. He didn’t find the cure for a dreaded disease (he died of one). He didn’t produce any works of art and never even sat for a portrait. He wasn’t a saint, nor was he particularly wicked. He had his faults, but he had his share of virtues as well. He began in ordinary circumstances, rose in Royal favor very quickly, and for a short time he was the King of London Society. But his fall was as swift as his rise. He was Beau Brummell, the man who changed the way men dressed and whose influence is still felt today.

William “Billy” Brummell ran a boarding house where he met a number of influential people. He eventually became private secretary to Lord North and accumulated a tidy fortune in sinecures. Mr. Brummell invested well, was able to buy land and call himself a gentleman. Mr. Brummell and his wife had three children, Maria, William and the youngest, George who was to become famous as Beau Brummell. Beau and his brother William went to Eton where Beau was a popular character. Mr. Brummell died while Beau and his brother were still in school, and the will divided his money among all three children rather than leaving it all to the eldest. William bought land and became a member of the country gentry, Maria married well and Beau bought himself a commission in the most prestigious regiment in the Army – the 10th Hussars, whose Colonel-in-Chief was George, Prince of Wales.

Brummell didn’t stay in the army very long, but he used his time to make a number of high born friends. He had inherited quite a bit of money, and after he left the army, he bought a spectacular wardrobe, a house in a good London neighborhood, and soon became the most talked about man in town.

Ian Kelly paints a vivid picture of Brummell and his times. Beau Brummell had a good figure – we can extrapolate from some of his bills that he was roughly six feet tall and weighed about 180 pounds. He was vain about his long shapely legs – one of the reasons he favored tight pantaloons with no underwear to spoil the line. Brummell’s rules for clothing were simple: a man and his clothing must be impeccably clean, clothing should fit to perfection, and if a man is noticed for his clothing, he is not dressed well. Brummell used to take hours grooming and dressing himself and his friends would come and watch him while he did so. His grooming rituals were such that he could be considered the first metrosexual – 21st century men were not the first to discover exfoliation. Brummell spent most of his time at social functions, clubs and popular entertainments, and his quips were broadcast all over London. If he approved of a person, she was launched as a diamond, but if he cut someone – they might as well move to Manchester – all social hopes gone.

Brummell counted a number of the famous courtesans of the time as his friends, but evidently had no regular mistress. One of his best and dearest friends was Frederica, Duchess of York, and there is strong evidence that they may have been lovers. Was Brummell bisexual? He was attractive to men, but there is no evidence that he had affairs with any of the dandies who followed him. Sometime during his life Brummell contracted syphilis, which had a devastating effect on him in later years.

Brummell had no conception of the value of money. He gambled and lost heavily, which might not have been too bad, but he lost the favor of the Prince of Wales and eventually was forced to flee to France. Brummell lived there in increasing poverty till he died. At his funeral, there was only one mourner.

Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style gives an extraordinarily vivid picture of Regency society. It was a time when London was truly the center of the world, and for a short period, Beau was the center of London. The last chapters are almost unbearably poignant. Here was a man who lived for beauty, forced to live in cheap rooms. Here was a man who thrived on society, but who mostly was alone. Here was a man fanatical about grooming and cleanliness, now incontinent and drooling from syphilitic strokes. At least at the end, the nuns who cared for him were kind – they referred to him as the English gentleman.

Fans of Regency novels and the Regency period – do not miss this book. It is a fascinating look at an extraordinary era and a man whose name is still a byword for a stylish gentleman. When you see a man dressed impeccably in white tie and tails formal evening wear, he is following the rules set down by Beau Brummell.

Reviewed by Ellen Micheletti

Grade: A-

Book Type: Non Fiction

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : May 12, 2006

Publication Date: 2006

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  1. This author (Judith Ivory) used to appear frequently in “best of” lists for historical romance; and it seems that this…

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