Jane Austen's England

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Overview

A cultural snapshot of everyday life in the world of Jane Austen

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 ...

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Jane Austen's England

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Overview

A cultural snapshot of everyday life in the world of Jane Austen

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 Drawing upon a rich array of contemporary sources, including many previously unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and personal letters, Roy and Lesley Adkins vividly portray the daily lives of ordinary people, discussing topics as diverse as birth,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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Jane Austen (1775-1817) died nearly two centuries ago, but she still remains arguably our most beloved novelist. That affection persists but the world in which she lived vanishes more with each passing year. This richly informative book rescues Austen's England by gathering previously unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and letters pertinent to almost every aspect of everyday life of the period. Its topics include everything from birth, education, work, sex practices, courtship, marriage, social activities, crime, punishment, and superstitions. Scores of windows into a lost era.

Publishers Weekly
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. (Aug.)
Library Journal
09/15/2013
In the England of novelist Jane Austen (1775–1817), the cost of postage was paid by the recipient of a letter—not the sender; almanacs sold well owing to the details they contained on when the moon would rise and set—important information for anyone traveling at night; and rhubarb "dried and powdered" was a popular home remedy for ailments ranging from earache to congestion. In this comprehensive book, coauthors Roy and Lesley Adkins (Nelson's Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World) discuss how people lived in England two centuries ago; their narrative describes daily life—marriage, birth, work, religion, entertainment, travel, illness, and death—for the different classes of English people. Through meticulous examination of diaries and letters, travelogs, journals, and newspapers as well as histories and local records, the authors document the accepted beliefs, common practices, and everyday activities of Austen's time. VERDICT This well-documented text is easily accessible and includes lengthy quotations from primary sources and numerous references to Austen's novels and letters that highlight the middle- and upper-class society she knew best. An excellent resource for Austen devotees interested in rich details of late 18th- and early 19th-century English life.—Kathryn Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-01
It wasn't all courtship, corsets and carriages--the grim reality behind a great author's world. Jane Austen (1775–1817) was more genius than realist, delicately creating a world richer in psychological insight than in documented reality. In this cultural history of Austen's era, Roy and Lesley Adkins (Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy, 2009, etc.) show the England that Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse never much discussed. It was a society where life was nasty, brutish, short and smelly. Standards for cooking, cleaning and personal hygiene were abysmal, and there was no running water. Not only did homes easily burn, but there was also no bathing as we know it. ("What dreadful hot weather we have!" Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra. "It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.") Chamber pots were emptied out of windows, people urinated on the street, toilet paper did not exist, and women had little (and some nothing) in the way of sanitary protection. Superstition prevailed over medicine; one diarist describes trying to cure a sty by rubbing it with the tail of a cat. No one in Austen's day had teeth like Emma Thompson or Colin Firth; some, like Dorothy Wordsworth, were toothless by the age of 30. The poor had it worse, especially children; provided they survived infancy, they were often consigned to a barbaric existence working in the mines or sweeping chimneys. Austen didn't write entirely in a vacuum, of course, and the Adkins' frequently point out just where her novels reflect the domestic and social world she knew, particularly as in regards to clothing, footwear and social customs. The authors let their facts tell the story, which is a wise choice given the often bland writing style. For fans of Austen and English history, a deeply informative picture of Regency life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670785841
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 8/15/2013
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 81,651
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Lesley and Roy Adkins are authors of eighteen widely acclaimed books on social history, naval history, and archaeology, including the bestselling Nelson’s Trafalgar and The War for All the Oceans. Their books have been translated into sixteen languages worldwide. They live near Exeter in Devon.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    A great introduction to the culture and customs of late 18th and

    A great introduction to the culture and customs of late 18th and early 19th century England. This book uses a wide array of contemporary sources including Jane Austen's personal letters to portray the everyday lives of the lower and middle classes. It covers many topics including marriage, birth, religion, and hygiene. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this era in English history.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2013

    Lesley and Roy Adkins are an excellent writing team (professiona

    Lesley and Roy Adkins are an excellent writing team (professional historians and writers with several fine books to their credit already. Now they provide us with an entertaining, authoritative source book on early 19th Century Britain that one can treasure for years. As a writer, I will often refer to it. My copy of their source book on ancient Rome is so worn from use that it is taped together. In this work, they illuminate an important time and place at the epicenter of the early Industrial Revolution, and the beginning of modern urban civilization as we know it today. From the first gaslight in the world in London (1816) to the early steam engines, from the way people dressed in Jane Austen's day to the way they walked and talked, this book satisfies just about any question a 21st Century reader could ask. A Wonderful and Entertaining Resource

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2014

    Recommend for people who enjoy societal history

    Very well researched.Includes numerous explanatory references to common phases used today which have little literal meaning to us.Very thorough.

    Sometimes difficult to read. Written in historical documentational form,so sometimes dull. Must have knowledge of English monetary system to understand many passages.Obviously written for British rather than American readers due to word choices and phasing.

    Very scarey when related to current societal changes in America. We obviously didn't learn from the past or are ignorant of our own history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2013

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