Tag Archives: Austen letters

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


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.


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.


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 brief history of Jane Austen: A timeline for easy use

Jane Austen truly lived in interesting times — for her and the world around her. As you read Austen’s letters and Claire Tomalin’s Austen biography for the 2020 Jane Austen Summer Program, keep these years in mind.

For a closer look at Jane Austen’s lifetime, visit: https://www.janeausten.org/jane-austen-timeline.asp

To learn more about Georgian England, visit: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/georgians/

Welcome to ‘Jane Austen’s World’: An introduction to our 2020 JASP

Fall is just on the horizon and it’s time to start thinking about the 2020 Jane Austen Summer Program. Next June — that’s June 18-21, if you want to mark your calendars now — we’ll explore the theme “Jane Austen’s World,” including war, fashion, letters and the literary debates of her time.

Each year since 2013, we’ve explored one of Austen’s novels at JASP. This year will be a bit different: We’ll be reading the fourth edition of “Jane Austen’s Letters,” edited by Deirdre Le Faye, and Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography, “Jane Austen: A Life.” 

[You can support the Jane Austen Summer Program by buying the books via the Amazon Smile program. Just go to smile.amazon.com and choose the Jane Austen Summer Program as the organization to benefit from your purchase.]

Why these books? JASP co-founder Inger Brodey says: “Often readers think that they get a feeling for Austen the author from the general tone of Austen the narrator in her various novels. Yet, for anyone interested in Austen the author and woman herself, the best access we have to her life is through the letters that she wrote and through excellent biographies, like Claire Tomalin’s.”

Brodey continues: “In our JASPs, we like to incorporate aspects of material history and culture, and this year’s topic is a natural culmination of that aspect of our programming.  We will have several of our favorite historians back with us, including fashion historian Samantha Bullat and penmanship historian Benjamin Bartgis, as well as new faces, such as Robert Morrison, author of the new and exciting book “The Regency Years,” and Janine Barchas, the brilliant mind behind the “Will & Jane” exhibit at the Folger Theatre [in Washington, D.C., in 2016] and the [online exhibit] “What Jane Saw.” Brodey added that JASP is looking to build on last year’s successful creative writing workshop, which was hosted by Randall Kenan and “Unmarriageable” author Soniah Kamal

We asked Brodey what JASP attendees should be thinking about as they read Austen’s letters and Tomalin’s biography. She underscored their connections to the novels and historical events.  “I find it useful to print out and keep referencing a chronology of historical events and also the timeline for writing the novels,” she said. “Then when Austen is inquiring about hedgerows in a letter at the time she was writing ‘Mansfield Park,’ for example, it is more meaningful when you can think about why she wanted to know.”

Brodey had one last tip for readers: “Look for … her advice to other aspiring authors.  That’s one of the few times we hear her talk (fairly) directly about her art.”

JASP is pleased to introduce two new writers to the blog:

Robin Floyd is an educator at Wake County Public Schools who makes various fiber arts and enjoys learning about history and literature. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and two children.

Zeina Makky is a newspaper designer turned web developer, living and working in the D.C. area. Besides Jane Austen, Zeina’s passions include calligraphy, pop culture and chocolate.