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Recommended Reading: Books on Regency Life

Composite image of publications on Regency life
There’s plenty to read about life in the Regency era. We’ve selected a sample.

The stories in Jane Austen’s books may seem confined to a few families or towns, but current events did find their way in, often as asides: the war with France, the behavior of militias, the abolition movement. 

A few weeks ago we gave you a quick historical timeline of major events in Austen’s lifetime.  For a deeper dive on what it was like to live in the Regency era, these publications are a good place to start.

regencybooks-morrison‘The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern’ by Robert Morrison

At the top of the list, and not only because author Robert Morrison will be speaking at next summer’s Jane Austen Summer Program, “The Regency Years” delves into the goings-on of the times: politics, war, entertainment, sexual mores, and er, more. In a review, The Washington Post said Morrison “thrillingly describes the Battle of Waterloo, tracks the War of 1812 in North America and offers a global tour d’horizon of Britain’s colonies in Canada, India and Australia. But he doesn’t neglect the arts and sciences.”

regencybooks-worldmagRegency World Magazine

This magazine devoted to all things Austen and Regency is published every two months and recently celebrated its 100th issue. Every issue is chock full of Austen-related news and events, as well as book reviews, history lessons, quizzes and more. Although it is published in England, it is delivered worldwide. 

 

regencybooks-england‘Jane Austen’s England: Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods’ by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins 

We so equate Austen with the Regency era that it’s easy to forget that Austen was born 36 years before it started, so it is nice to look at the broader period. The Adkins follow a somewhat chronological order of the lives of folks in that era, starting with marriage, going through child-rearing, work, illness and finally death, with vivid examples gleaned from letters and other documents.

regencybooks-ate‘What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England’ by Daniel Pool

While “Jane Austen’s England” starts in the Georgian era, Daniel Pool’s book covers the post-Regency Victorian era as well. More of a companion to novels by Austen, the Brontës and Dickens, than a slice of Regency or Victorian life, “What Jane Austen Ate” will set you straight on when to use “My Lord” vs. “Your Grace” or give you the low-down on money matters — you can bet your sovereigns on that!

regencybooks-world‘Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels’ by Deirdre Le Faye 

This list would be incomplete without Austen scholar Deirdre Le Faye’s work.  One thing that sets it apart is that it devotes one chapter to each of Austen’s novels — including the unfinished “Sanditon” and “The Watsons.”

regencybooks-slang‘Regency Slang Revealed: Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue & Later Versions’ by Louise Allen

After a long day’s work, one likes nothing better than to put one’s trotters up and rest one’s napper on the pillow, peepers closed.

If you think that was just gibberish, you might want to get your dandles (hands) on Louise Allen’s book and get versed in the slang of Jane Austen’s day. 

regencybooks-miseries‘The Miseries of Human Life’ by James Beresford

This compilation of miseries reads like a 19th-century Tumblr post: hilarious annoyances — miseries — that just make life sometimes unbearable. It’s available for free on Google Books, so you too can experience what irritated people back then and come to the conclusion that those Regency folks, they’re just like us.

All books are available on Amazon.com. Support JASP through smile.amazon.com.

amazon holiday

 

Political parties in the Regency Era

As you read Claire Tomalin’s biography, you may see a few mentions of how Jane Austen grew up in Tory country. So what does that mean? Here is a very brief look at the political parties in Jane Austen’s time:

Major parties

Tory

The Tories were mostly wealthy landowners content to keep most policies the same, as those policies ensured their power and wealth. According to “The Regency Years,” written by JASP 2020 speaker Robert Morrison, the Tories as a political party were anti-French, anti-slavery, anti-Catholic and anti-reform. They were the majority party and held on to their power throughout Jane’s lifetime.

Whig

Members of the Whig party were also aristocratic and affluent, although they did occasionally oppose Tories on some key issues. Whigs were particularly critical of the prince and would protect those who openly criticized him. They supported allowing Catholics some religious freedoms, a free press and reforming Parliament, and opposed slavery.

As both of the major political parties opposed slavery, it should not come as a great surprise that England outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and then abolished slavery in 1833.

‘Argus’ by James Gillray, published by W. Renegal, hand-coloured etching, published 15 May 1780. © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Other groups

Only wealthy land-owning men older than 21 had the right to vote, so not everyone felt represented by the two parties in power. Instead, some organized into small groups or factions to champion certain causes. Here are just a few:

Quakers and Evangelicals

Although they were mostly seen as a religious groups, Quakers and evangelicals both supported prison reform.

Philosophical Radicals

This group comprised individuals who favored radical ideas such as doing away with religion altogether.

Luddites

According to “Jane Austen’s England,” by Roy and Leslie Adkins, the Luddites were a radical group opposed to the early stages of the industrial revolution, sometimes going so far as to attack the knitting frames in factories.

To learn more about the political issues facing Jane Austen’s world, check out:

The Regency Years,” by Robert Morrison and “Jane Austen’s England,” by Roy Adkins and Leslie Adkins.

A Halloween peek at Jane Austen’s letters

My Post (5).pngHalloween is upon us!   To celebrate the holiday, we searched through Jane Austen’s letters looking for words such as “ghost,” “fright” and “dead” — and found plenty of humorous examples. Here’s a sampling:

July 3, 1813, to brother Frank

It must be real enjoyment to you, since you are obliged to leave England, to be where you are, seeing something of a new Country, & one that has been so distinguished as Sweden. – You must have great pleasure in it. …  Gustavus Vaza, & Charles 12th & Christiana, & Linneus – do their Ghosts rise up before you? – I have a great respect for former Sweden. 

Sept. 15, 1813, to sister Cassandra

Fanny and the two little girls are gone to take Places for to-night at Covent Garden; “Clandestine Marriage” and “Midas.” The latter will be a fine show for L. and M. [Lizzie and Marianne]. They revelled last night in “Don Juan,” whom we left in hell at half-past 11. We had scaramouch and a ghost, and were delighted. 

May 24, 1813, to Cassandra

I should like to see Miss Burdett very well, but that I am rather frightened by hearing that she wishes to be introduced to me. If I am a wild beast, I cannot help it. It is not my own fault.

Oct. 27, 1798, to Cassandra

Mrs. Hall of Sherborne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.

Jan. 8, 1801, to Cassandra

Mr. Payne has been dead long enough for Henry to be out of mourning for him before his last visit, though we knew nothing of it till about that time. Why he died, or of what complaint, or to what Noblemen he bequeathed his four daughters in marriage, we have not heard.

Sept. 8, 1816, to Cassandra

Sir Tho. Miller is dead. I treat you with a dead Baronet in almost every letter.