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  • Writer's pictureNina Jarrett

Caffeine in the Regency 🫘 Did they know it was a drug?

As Book 4 of Inconvenient Brides is making its way through editing and approaches its release day, I thought I would share some of the journey in writing it.


By now, you may be aware that there is a sleepless young woman residing at Saunton Park. Based on the emails I have been receiving, many of you already guessed why young Jane Davis is suffering from insomnia.


All of this might raise the question—were they aware of the potential problems associated with caffeine in the Regency?


In other words, if Jane Davis can't sleep, would there have been any contemporary method to associate it with her new coffee habit?


So down the research rabbit hole I tumbled.


The obvious place to begin was to look up the word "addiction" in an etymology dictionary to discover the history of the word. This was not promising, because according to etymonline.com the word existed, but not in the sense that it described a craving for drugs.

 

The sense of "compulsion and need to take a drug as a result of prior use of it" is by 1906, in reference to opium (there is an isolated instance from 1779 with reference to tobacco).


- Excerpt from etymonline.com

 

Oh, no! Had my story idea collapsed before it had begun?

But, no, that did not make sense. They had troubles with laudanum and opium during the Regency.


They must have been aware that some substances caused problems, so I would just have to keep searching.


Thomas Rowlandson drew this illustration, The English Dance of Death, which depicts arsenic, mercury, opium (bottom right) and gunpowder at the feet of the skeletal figure.


So the concept of addiction and/or overdosing had been noticed.


Now I just needed to confirm that someone had observed that caffeine caused sleep deprivation.


Which was when a quote from Jane Austen rescued the book.

 

"Have you ever mentioned the leaving off tea to Mrs. K.? Eliza has just spoken of it again. The benefit she has found from it in sleeping has been very great."


- Jane, in a letter to her sister, Cassandra.

 

From there I was able to confirm that there were people who could observe the effects of tea and coffee through personal experience, even if the medicos had not formally recognized the problem.


Oh, Jane, you were one of the clever ones!


So Sleepless in Saunton was saved and coming this July you can find out if Jane will finally realize why she can no longer sleep, and meet a new hero, Barclay Thompson. Architect, father and widower, he is having his own troubles with resting at night. And, you will also meet Tatiana, a little girl who is determined to be happy and not afraid to take action when adults are acting stupid.

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