In this delightful history, literary scholar Morrison argues that England’s Regency period (1811–1820) was “perhaps the most extraordinary decade in all of British history,” and “marked the appearance of the modern world.” In support of this position, Morrison surveys the brief epoch from a variety of perspectives, asserting that it was characterized by many of the contradictions of the Prince Regent’s own personality. English society’s criminal underworld exploited vast economic and political inequities; many others, from the Luddites who smashed the machines that took their jobs, to the radical poet Percy Shelley, attempted to redress them. Pleasure-seekers savored new opportunities for shopping, dancing, gambling, drinking, and sports, and Lord Byron became both a revered literary artist and the icon of the nascent celebrity culture. As the libertinism of the 18th century gave way to the puritanism of the Victorian era, some English men and women experimented with new types of sexual identities, despite the social censure and even capital punishment they risked. At the decade’s end, England was a very different place than it had been at its beginning, and Morrison’s lively and engaging study not only illuminates these many and rapid changes, but convincingly argues that “its many legacies are still all around us.” (Apr.)
The Prince Regent…ruled over a period of extraordinary creativity and it is that progressive cultural legacy that Mr. Morrison commends to contemporary Britain and the rest of the world.
Ruth Scurr - Wall Street Journal
An enjoyable book full of anecdotes and scenarios of both the rich and famous, the poor and exploited alike.
Julie Peakman - History Today
The Regency Years should ignite new interest in an era replete with drama, innovation and, yes, the seeds of much that would catapult not only Britain, but the world, into modernity.
Rosemary Michaud - Post and Courier
The Regency Years has all the high spirits, the verve, and the narrative pace that Morrison celebrates in its most characteristic cultural productions. It offers a bracing, informative, and always entertaining introduction to the period.
Richard Cronin - Wordsworth Circle
Arguing that Britain truly started to become modern in the Regency era, this delightful book explains why it deserves to be better known.
Books of the Year Economist
Morrison showcases that relatively brief periodless than a decadeas an age of ‘remarkable diversity, upheaval, and elegance.'…Given such plenty, what more could one ask from a work of cultural history?
Michael Dirda - Washington Post
[A] zippy and vivid portrait of the Regency era.
Henry Hitchings - The Sunday Times
The Regency Years reads like a romance novel of its period without the novel but makes an entertaining nonfiction read with superior prose and dialogue.
Robert Davis - New York Journal of Books
Elegant, entertaining and frequently surprising.
Miranda Seymour - New York Times Book Review
The Regency Years investigates actors, artists, and prizefighters; heroes, criminals, harlots, and statesmen. It deals withamong other thingsbooks, battles, and scientific discoveries. Its unexpected conjunctions both illuminate a momentous decade of the early nineteenth century and shed unexpected light on our own time. Readers of this brilliant book will enjoy a rich experience, full of memorable surprises.
Nobody knows more about this extraordinary, enthralling decade in British history than Robert Morrison. In
The Regency Years he tells its story with a spirit and a panache that Regency writers like Lord Byron, or the pioneering sports journalist Pierce Egan, or the courtesan, memoirist, and fashionista Harriette Wilson might envy themselves. Twenty-first-century readers continue to be informed with wearisome regularity that Jane Austen and her novels were the products of a tranquil and stable and even slightly tedious world. Morrison offers indisputable evidence to the contrary, and in his pages readers will learn new things about the turbulence and the excitement, the restlessness and the radical energies of Austen’s historical moment. The Regency Years is a triumph of historical storytelling.
Robert Morrison is my ideal of what a scholar should belively and interesting, he makes the past relevant to today.
Morrison gathers a broad range of topics into a strong, cohesive and fast moving narrative. An excellent introduction for readers new to the period and a fresh take for Regency enthusiasts.
Superb…The Regency period lasted for less than a decade but, as Mr Morrison argues, 'its many legacies are still all around us.' It was also, as this book amply proves, marvellously entertaining.
The first book in three decades to focus on the Regency Period…A thoroughly entertaining…popular history that will please fans of British history and literature.
Kelly Blewett - Cincinatti Public Radio
Morrison’s well annotated and engagingly anecdotal book is a worthy romp through one of the most licentious, libertarian and obviously paradoxical decades in British history.
A lively new chronicle brings crisp focus to a significant decade in British history and culture.
Morrison (Queen's National Scholar/Queen's Univ., Kingston, Ontario;
The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey, 2010) declares that there has not been a study on the Regency in three decades, which is extraordinary given that it is a wildly popular era of study, a time when the quintessential elements of modern Britishness emerged. The short period between 1811 and 1820, when an incapacitated George III ceded to his son, the prince of Wales, brought enormous political turmoil: triumph over Napoleon at Waterloo, Irish famine, roiling Scottish politics, and the War of 1812 across the Atlantic. It also witnessed rich innovations in culture, such as the efflorescence of novelists Jane Austen and Walter Scott; the revolutionary work of poets John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; and the radical movements against the industrial inequities of Regency society. Morrison proceeds thematically, launching first into the country's poor systems of crime and punishment, as exemplified by the so-called "Bloody Code," which meted out the death penalty for more than 200 major and minor crimes, even to children. The author explores the era's expanding displays of sexual expression within stringent boundaries ("prudery brigades" would triumph during the later Victorian era) as well as underscoring the era's many sexual anxieties, some of which were symbolized in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Morrison also looks at the period's fresh inventions, technologies, and ideas to improve the human condition—e.g., the miner's safety lamp, a prototype for the computer, and the work of the first prison reformer (Elizabeth Fry) and environmental activist (John Clare). During this time, England continued to expand the empire, and internal unrest and economic despair prompted tens of thousands of citizens of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales to flee to Canada and the United States.
Morrison expertly encapsulates the brief, radical trends and movements of this era of "intense sociability."
The Regency Period in Britain (1811–20) represented a brief period of nine years during which King George III was considered unfit to rule because of his mental illness, and his son, George IV, ruled as Prince Regent in his place. Despite its short length, the Regency impacted style and culture, owing to the rise of literary figures and influence of overseas wars. Morrison (
The Regency Years) explores British culture, and the empire's larger influence as it's power extended through trade to other areas of the world. Of note, Morrison pays special attention to how the character and interests of the Prince Regent himself influenced these areas. Known for his affairs and with a large appetite and girth, as well as his love of theater and other cultural pursuits, the Prince Regent was loved by the nobles and lampooned by most everyone else. The author shows how his balance of cultural interests paired with a lack of interest in ruling made him such a polarizing figure. VERDICT An intriguing discussion on the finer and more fascinating aspects of the Regency period that will appeal to history buffs, particularly those curious about European and British history. —Stacy Shaw, Denver