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.
‘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.”
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.
‘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.
‘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!
‘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.”
‘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.
‘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.
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