Jane Austen, who was born in 1775, lived through a time of great upheaval. England was on the brink of the Industrial Revolution which would change life as everyone knew it. France was on the verge of a revolution and soon, both countries would be at war with each other; a war that would continue for most of Austen’s life, until her death in 1817.
Instead of writing about turmoil and conflict, Austen’s books are known for their serenity and peacefulness. “Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on”, she wrote to her neice Anna. Someone once told me she was half-way through Emma and nothing had happened yet. That’s the point! Austen’s novels are about people, not events. Thus, her work retains a timeless quality. People are the same no matter what century you are in.
The Regency period (which corresponds with the Federalist and Empire periods in the United States and France, respectively), the time in which Jane Austen spent most of her adult life, and where her novels are set, officially begain in 1811 when George IV was named regent in place of his insane father, George III. England was at war with France and soon the United States. Though commonly dated from around 1800 until George IV was crowned King, in 1820, the Regency was an era of opulence and and often ease, for those, like Jane, living in the middle- upper classes.
Sharon Wagoner has created a wonderful site, The Georgian Index, full of fascinating tidbits and period gossip about members of the royal family, fashion, entertainment and more. For a more in depth look at historical events of the period, try Anne Woodley’s vast site, The Regency Collection. Anne is also the founder of the Regency Web Ring, a list of over 100 sites devoted to all aspects of the time period. The Regency Collection includes information on nearly every aspect of life as Austen would have known it, from marriage laws to the Napoleonic Campaigns, to Austen and related fiction to period illustrations, accounts and even recipes! For even more recipes and period food information, try Laura Wallace’s page, Food and Drink in Regency England.
Originally printed in the JASNA-NY Newsletter, Summer 2002. Reprinted and modified with permission from the author, Laura Sauer, of Austentation: Regency Accessories.