An authoritative account of everyday life in Regency England, the backdrop of Austen’s beloved novels, from the authors of the forthcoming Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History (March 2018)
Jane Austen, arguably the greatest novelist of the English language, wrote brilliantly about the gentry and aristocracy of two centuries ago in her accounts of young women looking for love. Jane Austen’s England explores the customs and culture of the real England of her everyday existence depicted in her classic novels as well as those by Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Drawing upon a rich array of contemporary sources, including many previously unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and personal letters, Roy and Lesley Adkins vividly portray the daily lives of ordinary people, discussing topics as diverse as birth, marriage, religion, sexual practices, hygiene, highwaymen, and superstitions.
From chores like fetching water to healing with medicinal leeches, from selling wives in the marketplace to buying smuggled gin, from the hardships faced by young boys and girls in the mines to the familiar sight of corpses swinging on gibbets, Jane Austen’s England offers an authoritative and gripping account that is sometimes humorous, often shocking, but always entertaining.
This encyclopedic and entertaining volume will suit readers who daydream about going back in time to walk alongside literary figures such as Austen. The Adkinses (Nelson's Trafalgar), a husband and wife archeology team, dive into Austen's world to provide a fuller view of Regency life, covering everything from the smallest domestic details to the broadest legal codes. The writers also strive to illuminate voices from all classes, though they obviously rely a great deal on members of literate society, such as clergyman Reverend James Woodforde and governess Nelly Weeton. Austen, too, wends her way through the volume, and there are quotes and examples from her novels and correspondence. While familiarity with her work will surely enhance reader delight, knowledge of the primary sources isn't necessary. The writing moves at a breezy pace, though it occasionally becomes bogged down by the multitude of examples, and at other times becomes dizzying, as readers leapfrog among topics (for example, from cosmetics to tooth powder to bodily functions). Though the book might have benefitted from deeper analysis overall, readers will still appreciate its exciting sweep.