All Things Austen, by Kirstin Olsen – A Review

A Concise Encyclopeida of Austen's World, by Kirstin Olsen (2008)Did you know that a phaeton was one of the most dangerous carriages used in the Georgian and Regency period? Its tall design and overall lightness made it vulnerable to tipping, and may be one of the reasons why Jane Austen chose to use it in the carriage accident scene in her early novel Love and Friendship. Knowing this fact sheds a whole new light when we see one used again in Pride and Prejudice by the heiress Anne de Bourgh. Is Austen sending us another message by her selection of carriage? Unless the reader knows the difference between a phaeton, barouche or gig and their safety, they are missing out on important character analysis. 

All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World can clarify the puzzling bits about the Georgian and Regency world. Offering modern readers a great resource into Austen’s cultural, political and physical environments, this concise volume is arranged alphabetically by topic and cross referenced to actual passages in the third edition of the Oxford Illustrated Novels of Jane Austen. Readers can identify items or subjects mentioned in her text and discover their use or meanings in context to the times. With well over 70 topics ranging from social titles and rank, life in the military or taking the waters in Bath, each well researched and expertly described entry will give Jane Austen students and devotees a wealth of historical and cultural information. 

This new volume is actually a condensed version of All Things Austen: An Encyclopedia of Austen’s World, an extensive two volume set published in 2005. Author Kirstin Olsen has paired down her full encyclopedia by selecting key topics still supplying more than enough information to keep you well informed and reading for hours. Her meticulous research is written in a style accessible to the average reader, yet offering enough detail to intrigue the serious student. A perfect reference for Austen students, enthusiasts or Regency era writers, my only disappointment was in the quality and quantity of illustrations. She does offer reference call number to images viewable online at the Lewis Walpole Library to explore them in color and greater detail. Considering that this is a condensed edition, this is an excellent additional resource to readers with Internet access. Please do not be put off by the blatant error in the first line of the liner notes associating Willoughby with the novel Pride and Prejudice. Ms. Olsen obviously did not write them, and considering her monumental effort, this editing oversight should not disqualify this book’s greater benefits. 

5 out of 5 Regency stars 

All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World
By Kirstin Olsen
Trade paperback (425) pages
Greenwood World Publishing (2008)
ISBN: 978-1846450525

The Sunday Salon Badge

3 thoughts on “All Things Austen, by Kirstin Olsen – A Review

  1. Well, there are phaetons and then there are phaetons. ;-)

    The high-perch phaetons were dangerous, but they were faster and more maneuverable by a skilled driver. It’s unclear if any of Jane Austen’s characters drove such a vehicle. Georgette Heyer’s characters, on the other hand, were quite fond of them.

    Low phaetons (such as the one Mrs. Gardiner suggested she and Lizzy use to tour Pemberley at Christmas) were more like gigs or curricles, and I would imagine somewhat safer. Miss de Bourgh also drove a low phaeton, pulled by ponies. I can’t imagine her mother letting her drive a dangerous vehicle.

    Then there was the George IV phaeton. George IV drove a high-perch phaeton until he became too fat to easily climb into it. He had a lower, but still dashing, phaeton designed for his use:

    http://www.ohtm.org/1905phaeton.html

    Any vehicle with a high center of gravity (as many of the carriages of JA’s day were) will have a higher tendency to tip over, just like SUVs today.

    This comment has been brought to you by Period Pedants International, who remind you that a curricle is the prettiest equipage in the world! :-)

    Like

Comments are closed.