In Jane Austen’s novels, we discover the plight of younger sons who because of the English primogeniture laws, could not inherit their father’s estate and must find their own way in the world. Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey come immediately to mind. This father to first son inheritance tradition is the axis of the social structure of British society and is tightly bound to its restrictions. Historian Rory Muir explores this dilemma and the courses available to younger sons in his new history book, Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England. Using Austen’s characters, her own family, and historical figures as examples, we are taken on a journey through the era to discover what options were available to younger sons of “good families” to find an acceptable profession and earn an independent living.
A portrait of Jane Austen’s England told through the career paths of younger sons—men of good family but small fortune.
In Regency England, the eldest son usually inherited almost everything while his younger brothers, left with little inheritance, had to make a crucial decision: what should they do to make an independent living? Rory Muir weaves together the stories of many obscure and well-known young men, shedding light on an overlooked aspect of Regency society. This is the first scholarly yet accessible exploration of the lifestyle and prospects of these younger sons. Continue reading
From the desk of Tracy Hickman:
The subtitle for Robert Morrison’s history of Regency Great Britain, “during which Jane Austen writes, Napoleon fights, Byron makes love, and Britain becomes modern,” hints at the variety and diversity within its pages. In contrast to Jane Austen’s tightly focused fiction, famously self-described as “three or four families in a country village,” Morrison widens his lens to present extensive information and detail about Regency life that illuminates not only Austen’s world but our current time.
Morrison begins with a brief sketch of George Augustus Frederick, eldest son of George III and Queen Charlotte, in the book’s prologue. “The deep contradictions in the Regent’s character both energized and undermined him and were evident from an early age.” (3) With a string of mistresses, a secret and unlawful marriage to a Roman Catholic widow, an officially sanctioned marriage that was an abysmal failure, and the financial means to indulge every whim and fleeting inclination, the Regent was a constant feature of gossip and scandal during his lifetime. In 1812 he assumed the full authority of the crown, making him “not only the most powerful man in Britain but also the man at the head of the wealthiest, strongest, most ambitious, vibrant and productive country in the world.” (6)
This print by George Cruikshank, was published on December 4, 1819, and is entitled “Loyal Address’s & Radical Petetions, or the R____ts most gracious answer to both sides of the question at once.” (48)
From the desk of Stephanie Barron:
PARANOIA RUNS DEEP
From the moment I saw the title of Sue Wilkes’s latest book, Regency Spies (Pen & Sword Books, 2015), I was desperate to get my hot little hands on a copy. In a distant chapter of my life I was trained in espionage by the CIA, and I have a habit of inventing spies in my Jane Austen novels—most of them working nefariously on behalf of Bonaparte, but a few ready to die for King and Country. There’s a paucity of scholarly data on tradecraft, recruitment, and spy running during Jane Austen’s heydey, as Lauren Willig’s fictional Eloise discovers in the absorbing adventures of the Pink Carnation. A century ago, Baroness Orczy handed us the consuming history of the Scarlet Pimpernel and forever transformed our sense of the French Revolution. (Can there be any pleasure greater than tucking oneself up in bed with a soothing drink and a copy of one of these books on a stormy night?) Patrick O’Brian channeled the Secret Funds of the Admiralty’s Sir Joseph Banks into the hands of his irascible polymath Stephen Maturin, who collected intelligence wherever his voyages with Jack Aubrey took him; but O’Brian failed to detail his sources at the back of his marvelous novels.
Perhaps, like me, he had none.
So I was eager to discover what Ms. Wilkes had to share with the world.
I confess to a moment of dismay when I opened Regency Spies. As Georgette Heyer’s character Freddie Standen often observes, “I never knew a more complete take-in!” And as is so often the case with poor Freddie, the fault lay with me, not with Ms. Wilkes. I assumed that by Regency spies, she referred to dashing men in cravats and pantaloons, fencing the despicable minions of Napoleon on behalf of the Crown. In fact, Regency Spies is an impeccably researched and scholarly record of the informants recruited, generally by the British Home Office but also by local militias and constabularies, to report on the seditious conspiracies of their fellow Englishmen. Continue reading
From the desk of Lisa Galek:
If you’ve ever wondered how your favorite author celebrated Christmas in the 18th century—or just know someone who has—A Jane Austen Christmas: Celebrating the Season of Romance, Ribbons, and Mistletoe by Carlo DeVito is the perfect package to place under the tree this holiday.
A Jane Austen Christmas takes us through Jane’s life story but focuses only on events that happened around Christmastime. We begin with the holiday season of 1786, when Jane is only 11-years-old and spends time with her visiting cousin, Eliza, and ends with the Christmas of 1815 when Emma is published for the first time. On the way, we get to know more about Jane Austen and her family, read about holiday traditions in 18th-century England, and learn to make some delicious, Regency-era Christmas treats. Yum!
At first, I thought there might not be much to say about Jane Austen at Christmastime. Though all her novels mention Christmas, the season isn’t a big focus, except perhaps as a backdrop for Mr. Elton’s unwelcome proposal in Emma. But, the narrow seasonal scope of this book really makes it an easy-to-read guide to some of the important moments in Jane Austen’s life. Because the author is just touching on Christmas memories, the reader isn’t overwhelmed with tons of details about the author’s life story. We just get to focus on key events in her journey. Continue reading
Austenesque author Maria Grace has written five Regency-era novels inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, notably the Given Good Principles series and Remember the Past: …only as it gives you pleasure. Writing period accurate novels requires extensive research, so it seems only logical that Maria should turn her hand to nonfiction. Her latest book, A Jane Austen Christmas, focuses on Regency-era holiday traditions. Here is a preview and exclusive excerpt for your enjoyment.
PREVIEW (from the publisher’s description)
Many Christmas traditions and images of ‘old fashioned’ holidays are based on Victorian celebrations. Going back just a little further, to the beginning of the 19th century, the holiday Jane Austen knew would have looked distinctly odd to modern sensibilities.
How odd? Families rarely decorated Christmas trees. Festivities centered on socializing instead of gift-giving. Festivities focused on adults, with children largely consigned to the nursery. Holiday events, including balls, parties, dinners, and even weddings celebrations, started a week before Advent and extended all the way through to Twelfth Night in January.
Take a step into history with Maria Grace as she explores the traditions, celebrations, games and foods that made up Christmastide in Jane Austen’s era. Packed with information and rich with detail from period authors, Maria Grace transports the reader to a longed-for old fashioned Christmas.
From the desk of Tracy Hickman:
Jane Austen sequels thrive on what ifs. What if Darcy’s first proposal had been delivered in a more gentlemanly manner? What if Willoughby had decided to marry for love instead of money? Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, is a different kind of literary “what if” for her fans. The eleven chapters Austen penned in early 1817 introduce readers to a fictional seaside resort with as promising a set of characters as any of her other novels. As Antony Edmonds notes in the introduction to Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon:
“In spite of the fact that during its composition she was suffering from the painful and debilitating illness that killed her, there is little evidence of any diminution of her powers, and had the book been finished it is likely that it would have been the equal of her six famous novels.” (10)
While other authors have taken up the challenge of completing the unfinished story, Edmonds, a researcher and writer who has published numerous articles about the seaside town of Worthing and its literary associations, reveals the parallels between Jane Austen’s fictional town and the real one on the Sussex coast in England that she visited in 1805. As Edmonds explains, researchers have only recently known for certain that Jane Austen visited Worthing. Her letters mention the possibility of a visit, but no further reference is made of the trip. Confirmation of the visit was found in the diaries and letters of Jane Austen’s niece Fanny Knight. Jane Austen’s Worthing includes excerpts from these documents as well as seventy-five illustrations and maps that provide a detailed view of life in Regency Worthing. Continue reading
From the desk of Sarah Emsley:
Is it easier or harder to write if you’re also responsible for feeding and looking after your family? “Composition seems to be impossible, with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb,” Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in September 1816, after a period in which she managed the household at Chawton Cottage in Cassandra’s absence. Fortunately for Jane – and for us, as readers of her fiction – most of the time it was Cassandra who filled this role, freeing Jane to write. In her writing, she doesn’t mention food very often, yet Maggie Lane’s book Jane Austen and Food shows her references to it are significant because “she uses it to define the character and illustrate moral worth.” Jane Austen and Food was first published in 1995 by The Hambledon Press, and it’s newly available as an inexpensive e-book from Endeavour Press. It isn’t a cookbook, but a discussion of food in Austen’s letters and fiction.
I’ve always loved that line from her letters about composition and reading Jane Austen and Food helped me understand it better. I learned that “mutton” isn’t always just mutton, and that “rhubarb” isn’t what I think of like rhubarb. Mutton, says Lane, “seems to have become the generic word for meat – or for dinner itself.” She cites the example from Mansfield Park of Dr. Grant inviting Edmund Bertram “‘to eat his mutton with him the next day,’ without supposing, for a moment, that ‘the bill of fare’ as he calls it is actually mutton (in fact it’s turkey).” The rhubarb Austen refers to is “not the plant we think of, the stalks of which are eaten as fruit,” but “the medicinal rootstock of the species of rheum grown in China and Tibet,” imported in powdered form to be “used as a purgative by the overfed part of the population.” Lane points out that in Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland eventually realizes poisons are not as readily available as doses of rhubarb. Continue reading
From the desk of Shelley DeWees:
“In her novels Jane Austen brilliantly portrayed the lives of the middle and upper classes, but barely mentioned the cast of characters who constituted the bulk of the population. It would be left to the genius of the next generation, Charles Dickens, to write novels about the poor, the workers and the lower middle classes. His novel A Tale of Two Cities starts with celebrated words: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’ This is a succinct summary of Jane Austen’s England, on which we are about to eavesdrop.” p. xxvi
You’ve been warned. Should you wish to maintain the sanctity of your internal imagery of Jane Austen, turn back now, before you step into the not-so-forgiving light of real history. Do thoughts of frocks and frolicking and tea cakes and rainbows seen through the thin gauze of parasols really blow your skirt up? Wishing you could be amongst the ladies and gents of an Austen ball? Hoping against hope that somehow, magically, you could be transported into Jane’s idyllic agrarian life? Jane Austen’s England, in all its cool clarity and detail, is probably not where you should look for inspiration, and may, in fact, leave you reeling; your perfect imaginary life forever ruined! The humanity of it! Continue reading
Let’s face it. Life in a Jane Austen novel is a fantasy to us two-hundred years after they were originally set. Who wouldn’t want to wear a pretty silk frock, dance with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield ball or ride in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s barouche? But life in Jane Austen’s England was not all elegant country houses and fine carriages. It took an army of servants and working class people to make life comfortable for the landed gentry and aristocrats.
Authors and historians Lesley and Roy Adkins have taken us behind the green baize curtain in their new book Jane Austen’s England. Here we discover what life was really like for a gentleman’s daughter like Elizabeth Bennet or the Bertram’s of Mansfield Park and all of their servants.
In celebration of the launch of Jane Austen’s England, Lesley and Roy Adkins are visiting us today to share their inspiration to write their new snapshot of the Georgian-era. Leave a comment to qualify for a chance to win one of three copies available of their intriguing new book. Contest details are listed at the end of this blog. Good luck to all.
Welcome Lesley and Roy:
Thank you, Laurel Ann, for inviting us to an online Austenprose launch party of Jane Austen’s England. We raise our glasses to you all (filled with smuggled wine and port, of course, because Jane Austen’s England is at war with the French and such liquor from Europe is hard to obtain). Continue reading