Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan

Let's get something straight right from the start.  Yes, I've always thought how cool it would be to live in Jane Austen's time.  Haven't we all?  There is that little piece of me that thinks it would be fun to be able to get up in the morning, read my "mail" (stack of letters), go for a walk or visit, read a book, do some needlepoint, or travel to nearby family and friends.  I say this, then reality sets in.  Honestly?  I think I'd get bored.  Why?  Because I'm a product of my generation, filled with gadgets and gizmos aplenty, and an ever-growing list of things that always need to be accomplished.  (Have I mentioned that I still haven't taken my taxes in to be filed?)

Although a little down time in Jane Austen's time sounds glorious, romantic, and even glamorous, I know enough about that time period to know that it would be grating on this 2011 gal.  If wealthy or at least of means, a woman had serious restrictions on what she could or couldn't do, and who she could or couldn't see.  Much of this information is highlighted, but in a very fun, proper sort of way in The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan.

For any serious Janeite, I would highly recommend having a copy of this cute little handbook.  The information and details are a nice reference point to the period, and to Jane Austen's novels in particular.  As set up, it is separated into four sections:
  1. Jane Austen's World and Welcome to It
  2. A Quick Succession of Busy Nothings; or, Everyday Activities
  3. Making Love
  4. The Best Company; or, Social Gatherings
Each section outlines things as they were in Jane Austen's time, but also chronicle the possible living situations of her most famous characters.  For instance, have you ever wondered what Mr. Darcy's 10,000 pounds a year translated into?
"Some experts suggest simply multiplying the amount by fifty; thus, Mr. Darcy's ten thousand a year becomes a half million pounds, or close to a million dollars...Economist J. Bradford DeLong suggests that straight multiplication does not give the whole story...Dr. DeLong's calculations place the modern equivalent of Mr. Darcy's income at $6 million per year."  (27)
Regardless of the sum, that's a whole lot of money!  It's easy to see how setting Mr. Wickham back on the straight and narrow with Lydia might have been a big wad of cash, but nothing in the overall picture of his income and worth.

Regency Letter (via Jane Austen's World)
The book also contains information about how to be a lady, how to spend one's day, and what to wear.  Some of the information was pretty interesting, such as how they wrote letters.  I realized that they tried to utilize every spare space on a piece of paper, but I don't know that I understood how intricately they wrote over top of every line, in just about every direction.  The picture I'm including only shows about 1/3 of what they could cover in one letter, sometimes criss-crossing the original in a diagonal as well as horizontal, vertical, etc. 

There are lots of other details shared in this cute handbook that made it an easy read.  I highly recommend this as a fun gift for any Jane Austen fan on your gift list.  It is well organized, with a nice Table of Contents, Index, and list of terms defined in the back. The language is informative, without being stuffy and boring.  And the pictures included in the book are well done and fit with the information of the book. On my edition the hardback cover is well made, and the size is smaller than even a paperback book.  Honestly, I really would recommend this Regency England guidebook for anyone who reads and loves Jane Austen's time period. 

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England comes out today!  Thank you to Quirk Books for the opportunity to read and review this great little handbook.


  1. You might get bored, but don't you get bored on occasion in modern times, too? Personally I've never wanted to live in Austen's time, but I don't think it would be too bad... assuming you were rich, of course.

  2. Sounds cute and interesting!

  3. Heidenkind--Too true. I do get bored now too, but I alleviate it with technology! I'd be in big trouble then. My guess is that any time period wouldn't be so bad if you were rich. :)

    Gretchen--It's a fun little handbook. For a little book of instructions and background, I sat and read it in one sitting!

  4. I often wonder about things like what type of lifestyle a stated income would allow, and I'd like to know the nitty-gritty about everyday life in Jane's time as well. I think this is a good I'll look for just for fun.