Please welcome the author and editrix of AustenBlog Margaret Sullivan today. She has graciously consented to share some thoughts on her newly re-issued The Jane Austen Handbook, a lighthearted how-to book for every Regency Miss in the making.
Thanks to Laurel Ann for the opportunity to do a guest post on Austenprose about The Jane Austen Handbook. The book is part of Quirk Books’ handbooks line, which includes a Batman Handbook, a Spiderman Handbook, and some other subjects tied into popular culture–so on that level it’s pretty cool that Quirk chose Jane Austen as the subject of their first literary handbook. The idea behind the Handbook is a straight-faced presentation of a rather silly and fun premise: that should one find oneself sucked through a time warp into one of Jane Austen’s novels, and fortunate enough to be a genteel lady of the gentry rather than a scullery maid, one would be able to use the (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) advice in the Handbook to handle any situation that might arise. Sort of like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Janeite Edition. Don’t Panic!
There have been some great new reviews for the Handbook which I’ve enjoyed reading, but a question came up back when the book was first released in 2007 which has come up again with the re-release: would an average 21st-century woman really want to live in Regency England?
Well, sure! you cry. Men in breeches! Pretty gowns and bonnets! Dances every night! Polite manners! Tea! Did we mention men in breeches, and if not, Men in breeches!
And this, say the critics, is precisely the problem. We’ve read these lighthearted novels that never mention the hard lives of servants, or the fact that Napoleon’s army was rampaging across the European continent, or that a lot of the great fortunes and big houses were purchased with money acquired from the sale and labor of human beings, or that there were a lot of really poor people in England who had really horrible lives. To encourage young women to fantasize about being Mrs. Darcy in some sanitized Disneyesque Regencyland is doing them a disservice, as women in Regency England weren’t educated except for showy “accomplishments,” and they had no freedom and no way to achieve self-determination. She went from her father’s house to her husband’s house and probably died in childbed as she produced her fifteenth baby.
Well, gee, I don’t know about you, Gentle Readers, but my mellow is harshed.
Nope, didn’t work. Continue reading