Category Archives: Books

Jane Austen’s Wardrobe – Hilary Davidson

Jane Austen’s Wardrobe – Hilary Davidson

This book is a beautiful object. The pages are thick, there are illustrations and photographs.

A few of the images

Dr Davidson went through Austen’s letters and then found examples of similar clothing and accessories (or in the case of the Brown Silk Pelisse – the real thing).

The book explores Austen’s garments and adornments by grouping together items in the way Regency clothing would have been stored, as a virtual wardrobe.

Introduction, page 9

Not only is there information on Austen’s clothes, but there is information on customs of the time, fabrics, laundry etc. It is truly fascinating.

A review

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The Regency Revolution – Robert Morrison

The Regency Revolution – Robert Morrison

I have two paper copies and one Kindle copy, so clearly I was keen to read it. It did still take me a while to get to it. This is the story/history of regency England.

Here’s the blurb …

The Regency began on 5 February 1811 when the Prince of Wales replaced his violently insane father George III as the sovereign de facto. It ended on 29 January 1820, when George III died and the Prince Regent became King as George IV. At the centre of the era is of course the Regent himself, who was vilified by the masses for his selfishness and corpulence. Around him surged a society defined by brilliant characters, momentous events, and stark contrasts; a society forced to confront a whole range of pressing new issues that signalled a decisive break from the past and that for the first time brought our modern world clearly into view.

This book is divided into five chapters with a prologue and epilogue;

  • Prologue – The Regent and the Regency
  • Chapter 1 – Crime, Punishment and the Pursuit of Freedom
  • Chapter 2 – Theatres of Entertainment
  • Chapter 3 – Sexual Pastimes, Pleasures, and Perversities
  • Chapter 4 – Expanding Empire and Waging War
  • Chapter 5 – Changing Landscapes and Ominous Signs
  • Epilogue – The Modern World

It is a fascinating book, without any obfuscating academic jargon. And it has some lovely illustrations (both colour and black and white).

Some of the quotes about Austen

Austen knew that our biggest hopes sometimes rest on the smallest events, and that tragedy can be played out not just on the national stage or a foreign battlefield but also is a drawing room conversation or on a country walk.

His [Byron] reputation as a handsome ,brooding, anti-social elite stands clearly behind Austen’s portrait of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

Austen was the great master of the technique that used social constraint to heighten rather than reduce sexual tension.

This book is great if you are interested in history, or Jane Austen, or Byron (not to mention Shelley and Mary Shelley).

Another review

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The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies – Alison Goodman

The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies – Alison Goodman

Check out my review here.

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Jane Austen Embroidery – Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin

Jane Austen Embroidery – Jennie Batchelor and Alison Larkin

This is a lovely book with beautiful illustrations and photography.

It is split into three sections; Clothes, Accessories, and Items for the Home, as well as an introduction.

The introduction is an essay on embroidery in Jane Austen’s time and some family recollections.

Jane could not resist telling her sister Cassandra, ‘she was the neatest worker of the party’

The rest of the introduction contains information about the Lady’s Magazine (from which all of the original patterns in this book are taken.

Each section has its own introduction with more information about Jane Austen and the Lady’s Magazine. These are really fascinating and are worth reading even if you’re not a stitcher.

The instructions and diagrams look good, I haven’t attempted anything yet, but I did read them and think they were comprehensive and easy to follow.

Most of the projects aren’t really things that I would make, but I would like to attempt the ‘Harvest Housewife’ and the ‘Glittering Gold and Green Workbag’ (although I think I would embroider something different – perhaps the ‘Fireflower Apron’pattern).

The Housewife is on this version of the cover
Work Bag
Fireflower Apron

The projects are made with silk thread, but there is a DMC conversion at the end if you prefer to stitch with cotton. There is also a list of resources and further reading suggestions. I am quite keen to read

  • 18th Century Embroidery Techniques – Gail Marsh (I have ordered a copy)
  • Jane Austen and Leisure – David Selwyn

Some of the others in the list I already own and need to reread (Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England – Amanda Vickery, and The Subversive Stitch – Roszika Parker)

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Fathers in Jane Austen – I P Duckfield

Fathers in Jane Austen – I P Duckfield

My local Jane Austen group chose to read this for one of our meetings – various people were assigned (or volunteered) to read particular chapters. I read the chapter on Emma.

Here’s the blurb …

The role of fathers and father figures in Jane Austen’s novels, showing how the destiny of the daughter is dependent upon the father’s character and foibles.

Fathers in Jane Austen puts forward the view that fathers hold the key to the novels and the destinies of the daughters Austen portrays. Mr Bennet is completely detached (Pride and Prejudice); Mr Woodhouse is self-obsessed (Emma); Sir Walter Elliott is vain and profligate (Persuasion); Sir Thomas Bertram is emotionally anorexic (Mansfield) – these and other fathers leave their daughters exposed to destitution, seduction, financial ruin and unhappiness.

IP Duckfield shows that the heroines of Austen’s novels are caught in a trap made by their fathers’ failure to observe their parental duties, and argues that the fathers’ weaknesses lie at the heart of Austen’s novels.

Duckfield judges the fathers on three points (or at least he thinks Austen assesses them on three points):

  • Financial security
  • Education
  • Inculcating moral principles

So we can see someone like Mr Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice) is hopeless. He has made no provision for his daughters’ futures – once he is dead the Collins can kick them out as soon as they like. I don’t think he did much for their education (although he does have a good library and he seems to have let those who wanted to read what they liked). Given the way he spoke about his wife and younger daughters and Lydia’s flight I think we can say he didn’t do too well on the moral principles either.

Mr Woodhouse (from Emma) seems to fair a little bit better. She’s financially secure (although that is probably because Mr Knightley is taking care of their finances).

Mr Knightley […] being again at Hartfield on business with Mr Woodhouse […], as soon as Mr Woodhouse had been talked into what was necessary, told that he understood, and the papers swept away.

Chapter 3, Volume 2

He, Mr Woodhouse, has engaged Miss Taylor, so he is looking after the education of his daughters (or at least out-sourcing it). I am not sure how he scores on moral principles because I think Mr Knightley does that too. So he is fortunate in his friends, but does that make him a good father?

This is an interesting book, which provides another way of thinking about the novels. I have yet to read the remaining chapters, but plan to in the future.

A review from JASNA

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The Nonesuch – Georgette Heyer

The Nonesuch – Georgette Heyer

I love a good regency romance and Georgette Heyer is one of the best.

Here is a link to my book review blog with a review of The Nonesuch.

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Emma, Annotated by David M Shapard

Emma – Jane Austen, Annotated by David M Shapard

It has been an enormous length of time since I have written a blog post (7 years!). It’s not that I stopped reading everything relating to Jane Austen, or watching adaptations, etc. I think it was a time thing – it takes time to read the book, watch the movie and then write a review, but I am hoping that now I have made a start I will keep going.

I came across David M Shapard from Page Girl’s blog – she was doing a close reading of Sense and Sensibility definitely worth reading. As Emma is my favourite Austen, I thought I would start my re-reading with it. Such a joy to be back in Austen’s world.

Here’s the goodreads blurb …

From the editor of the popular Annotated Pride and Prejudice comes an annotated edition of Jane Austen’s Emma that makes her beloved tale of an endearingly inept matchmaker an even more satisfying read. Here is the complete text of the novel with more than 2,200 annotations on facing pages, including:
Explanations of historical context
-Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings
-Definitions and clarifications
-Literary comments and analysis
-Maps of places in the novel
-An introduction, bibliography, and detailed chronology of events
-Nearly 200 informative illustrations

Filled with fascinating information about everything from the social status of spinsters and illegitimate children to the shopping habits of fashionable ladies to English attitudes toward gypsies, David M. Shapard’s Annotated Emma brings Austen’s world into richer focus.

The annotations are fabulous, I have read Emma countless times, and there was still things that I learnt or hadn’t ever noticed.

I wouldn’t recommend reading the annotated version for your first reading (to be well-annotated means spoilers), but for subsequent readings definitely read this version. It was fascinating just noticing the evolution of words.

It is possibly geared more towards an American audience – I thought some of the things annotated were obvious, but perhaps only to English or commonwealth readers.

A review.

Re-reading Emma made me realise how isolated, and possibly, lonely Emma was. Her social circle is extremely limited; the Westons, Harriet, Mr Knightley, and the Eltons and the Bates (and she doesn’t like them). Also, there is not a lot to keep her busy; looking after her father and managing the house, no wonder she’s a bit of an imaginist.

And Mrs Elton is like an extreme form of Emma without the elegance and good breeding.

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Jane Austen’s Country Life – Deirdre Le Faye

Jane Austen's Country Life -

Jane Austen’s Country Life -Deirdre Le Faye

This is a beautiful book – thick pages and stunning illustrations. It is worth owning for the illustrations.

Here is the blurb …

Jane Austen lived for nearly all her life in two Hampshire villages: for 25 years in her birthplace of Steventon, and then for the last 8 years of her life in Chawton, during which she wrote and published her great novels. While there are plenty of books describing her periods of urban life in Bath, Southampton and London, and the summer holidays in Lyme Regis and other West Country seaside resorts, no book has given consideration to the rural background of her life. Her father was not only the rector of Steventon but a farmer there as well, managing a property of some 200 acres. Her brother Edward, in addition, was a large landowner, holding the three estates of Godmersham in Kent, Steventon and Chawton in Hampshire. Agriculture, in all its aspects, was even more important to Jane than clerical life or the naval careers of her younger brothers. This book fills a gap in the Austen family background, discussing the state of agriculture in general in the south of England during the wartime, conditions which lasted for most of Jane Austen’s life, and considering in particular the villages and their inhabitants, the weather conditions, field crops, farm and domestic animals, and the Austens’ household economy and rural way of life. Apart from these obvious sources, there are other Austen family manuscripts, as yet unpublished, which provide particular and unique information. Richly illustrated with contemporary depictions of country folk, landscapes and animals, Jane Austen’s Country Life conjures up a world which has vanished more than the familiar regency townscapes of Bath or London, but which is no less important to an understanding of this most treasured writer’s life and work.

There are seven chapters – Hampshire (as I mentioned in a previous post, I needed a map to understand the relationships between the places), A Year in the Country Side, The Hardships and Pleasures of Rural Life, Crops, Livestock and Pleasure-Grounds, Urban Interlude and Life at Godmersham and Chawton. This isn’t an academic book it is really to help a modern audience understand and appreciate life in Austen’s time. For example, peas at Christmas is quite an extravagance! Not something that I had thought about, but it reveals information about the characters that a contemporary reader would appreciate.

It was a very easy read and makes me want to go back and read Austen’s novels again taking notice of the time of year, the weather and the food.

More reviews …

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Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England – Roy and Lesley Adkins

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England - Roy & Lesley Adkins

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England – Roy & Lesley Adkins

I was browsing in The Lane Book Store and saw this book (they usually have a good selection of Jane Austen books). I had read about it, but wasn’t sure that I would like it. The Adkins are a husband and wife team who had previously written (amongst other things) Jack Tar Life in Nelson’s Navy. This book is along similar lines in fact I am sure some of the research for the former book was useful to the latter.

Here is the blurb …

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.

I think that I am quite knowledgeable about Jane Austen’s time, but that knowledge is centred on the gentry. I found this book fascinating. It was easy to read (none of that academic jargon) and each chapter covered a significant aspect of a person’s life: Wedding Bells, Breeding, Toddler to Teenager, Home and Hearth, etc.

I learnt about Bastardy Laws – apparently an unwed pregnant woman who was unable to maintain herself was bought before a magistrate and forced to name the father of her child. He then had to marry her (if he was unmarried) or support her financially or he was sent to gaol (can you imagine that marriage?) and  the Black Laws – it was a capital offence to enter a forest in disguise!

I learnt about the hard lives of chimney sweeps who often died of terrible cancers because soot is carcinogenic and they rarely had the opportunity to bathe not to mention getting stuck in a chimney and suffocating.

What this book really makes plain is how hard and depressing the lives of poor people were – work was physically hard and sometimes dangerous, food was costly and not very plentiful, housing was poor and sanitation almost non existent. Life would have been one long grind until you died (although if you were grateful enough in life you could hope for a reward in heaven).

I had to laugh at some of the medical ‘cures’ – one person had a sty and wiped the tail of his black cat across it! But, with the best of intentions, I suspect many patients doctors killed their patients. Blood poisoning (from Blood letting), infections (dirty hands and equipment) and strange drug concoctions.  Dentistry was awful – blacksmiths might remove your teeth! Painful teeth were generally just removed and the best type of dentures were real teeth – either from dead people (stolen by body snatchers) or from poor people willing to sell their teeth.

‘the new teeth should always be perfectly sound, and taken from a mouth which has the appearance of that of a person sound and healthy; not that I believe it possible to transplant an infection’. In order to avoid filing the tooth to the correct shape the ‘best remedy is to have several people ready, whose teeth in appearance are fit; for if the first will not answer, the second may’.

Life would have been miserable for the poor, but even the gentry would have found it uncomfortable; cold and smelly.

I think anyone interested in social history or Jane Austen’s time will find this book interesting.






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New Jane Austen Books


New Jane Austen Books

I’ve bought a few more Jane Austen Books …

Jane Austen Game Theorist – Michael Suk-Young Chwe

Among the Janeites – Deborah Yaffe

Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen – Sarah-Jane Downing

Why Jane Austen – Rachel M Brownstein

Now I just need to find the time to read them properly.

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