A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, by Sue Wilkes – A Review

A Visitors Guide to Jane Austen's England by Sue Wilkes 2014 From the desk of Katie Patchell 

How prevalent was the smuggling trade in England during the Regency? When exactly was the Season? What did men and women spend their day doing in the country and in Town? How did one go about posting a letter? Were spectacles a fashion statement or something to hide? What were bathrooms like in the Regency? And what exactly was the purpose of Colonel Brandon’s flannel under-waistcoat? These questions are asked and answered (alongside stories of daring escapades and humorous eccentricities) in Sue Wilkes’ latest Regency book, A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England.

Each of the seven chapters covers a different aspect of Regency life, and is filled with anecdotes and snippets from journals and travel guides of the period. This book includes the following topics:

Chapter Breakdown

  • Chapter 1—“Traveling”: hotels, inns, turnpikes, sea travel, private carriages, public coaches, and highwaymen
  • Chapter 2—“Gracious Living”: the Season, townhouses, bathrooms, indoor plumbing, candles, heating, beds, bedbugs, landscape, country homes, food, meal plans, a day in the life of a Regency woman, and the Prince Regent
  • Chapter 3—“The Latest Modes”: style changes of hair and dress (and the meanings behind them), dandies, wigs, underwear, gowns, breeches, hats, and boots
  • Chapter 4—“Money Matters”: entails, the expectations of daughters and eldest sons, the options for younger sons, the levels of schooling for young men and women, marriage laws, and servants
  • Chapter 5—“Shopping, ‘Lounging’, and Leisure”: shopping in London, buying dress material, a day in the life of a London lounger, pickpockets, books, clubs, gambling, Almack’s, music, culture, church services, menageries, duels, sports, and the mail service
  • Chapter 6—“The Perfect Partner”: the marriage market, dancing, flirting, the waltz, wedding preparations, and elopements
  • Chapter 7—“In Sickness and in Health”: cleanliness, dangerous cosmetics, teeth, physicians/operations (successful and unsuccessful), childbirth, mourning, Bath, sea-bathing, and Brighton

 Ladies Monthly Museum Aug 1798

This fashion plate for August 1798 shows a lady wearing a ‘Turban Head dress’ [figure on right], and a chair and stool of the period. Lady’s Monthly Museum Vol. 1, Verner & Hood, 1798. (Author’s collection)

Highlights include:

  • A Lioness’ attack on the mail coach (chapter 1)
  • Candles: a status symbol (Chapter 2)
  • An encounter between an earl and a highwayman, as if straight from one of Georgette Heyer’s novels (chapter 2)
  • The popular movement of ‘picturesque beauty’ that Mr. Tilney (Northanger Abbey) introduced Catherine to (Chapter 2)
  • George Austen’s income and Cassandra Leigh Austen’s connections (chapter 4)
  • The repercussions of jilting a fiancée (chapter 4)
  • Mary Davis, the woman thief disguised as a man (chapter 4)
  • The Repository of Arts (chapter 5)
  • The inner workings of men’s clubs and the rules of Almack’s (chapter 5)
  • Thomas Day and his extreme attempts to find (and create) the perfect wife (chapter 6)
  • ‘Resurrection men’ and their activities (chapter 7)
  • Mourning duration/stages for men and women (chapter 7)

Gilray - muslin dresses fire

‘Advantages’ of wearing muslin dresses (danger of fire). James Gillray, 1802.

(Library of Congress collection. LC-USZC4-8774)

As stated in the title, A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England is written as if to a first-time traveler in the Regency. The guidebook/how-to manual nature of this book made it an inviting read, and from the very first chapter (with its discussion of which type of transportation was most practical), I found myself reading it as if mentally preparing myself for stepping back through time into the Regency. While this guide covers some material that has been discussed in other non-fiction books, A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England gives details about the Regency that are not often covered in books written by Jane Austen or by modern Regency authors. Much of the information covered was unknown to me, and I loved learning the day-to-day details of Regency life that Jane Austen and her contemporaries would have known from a young age. I especially enjoyed reading the journal accounts, newspaper clippings, and stories that Sue Wilkes included.

lodgings to let

‘Lodgings to let’.  A young lady fends off an admirer. (Library of Congress collection, LC-USZC2-3806)

Sue Wilkes’ engaging, conversational style, and choice of topics/anecdotes made me see the Regency world in a fresh way—one that reminded me of how strikingly similar the people and societal concerns of the 1800s are to those in the 21st century. A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England covered just enough information to satisfy while providing the beginnings of new and exciting trails for future research. As the season of giving approaches and Christmas lists are made, shoppers can turn to A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England as a perfect gift for every Janeite friend and family member.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, by Sue Wilkes
Pen and Sword (2014)
Trade paperback & Ebook (176) pages
ISBN: 978-1781592649

Cover image courtesy of Pen and Sword © 2014; text Katie Patchell © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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