Passion and Principle & The Regency Underworld

Passion and Principle:
The Loves and Lives of Regency Women
by Jane Aiken Hodge

There were three issues at stake when I tried to figure out just how I would rate this book excellent book by Hodge. The first is its accuracy, the second its subject matter, and the third is its readability. In the end I gave it a top score because it is so very readable, and very well researched indeed – I still hold some reservations about the subject matter which I will explain later.

First to general comments – I was surprised at just how good this book is – how good and how much fun too. I think Jane Aiken Hodge has really excelled herself. This book certainly shows up in stark comparison to the absolutely appallingly researched book by Venetia Murray which came out at the same time . Hodge, a successful author of many novels based in the extended Regency shows herself to be mistress of her chosen topic. She is clear and very balanced in her presentation. She knows the people she is writing about and I found her marvellous at highlighting what had been relatively obscure facts (How Lady Bessborough hid her illegitimate pregnancies for instance).

I also felt she did a marvellous job in presenting gossip for what it was, and trying to present a balanced picture of some of the obscure incidents – for instance her chapter on the daughters of King George. There was quite a bit of gossip at the time, and since, about secret marraiges and illegitimate children. I felt Hodge did an excellent job presenting the issues, the sources and so on.

The book has a short introduction chapter to set it in context to the period, it contains an excellent overview of women’s position in this period – legally, socially and politically. In it Hodge also explains her selection of women based on the ‘extended Regency’ – a common phrase which is used to cover the period of the Prince of Wales majority in 1780 until he became King in 1820. The Regency itself only lasted from 1811-1820 but this extended period allows Hodge to include greater range of interesting women.

Now I come to my reservations. This is a book written entirely from already published sources so don’t expect to find anything new revealed in here – mind you this isn’t always a bad thing . Hodge has used sources which most people would have great difficulty getting hold of themselves- so much of the information in here will be new to most readers. Hodge never attempts to re-write history, just collect a lot of relevant characters and make sense of them. Unfortunately it does mean that the subjects she chooses to rely on aren’t always the best ones- they usually happen to be the ones with most written on them. So the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Bessborough and their offpspring get a vast deal of discussion – but Lady Jersey, Lady Cowper and Princess Lieven who were dominant personalities in the actual regency period go almost entirely without mention. Now, like I said, this is just a reservation about the book – Hodge still has a great deal of material to deal with and she deals with it confidently.

This does end up being great resource for Regency fans who don’t want to carry around a whole stack of books but would like a quick easy reference. It has most of the main women you would come across at least mentioned if not in detail.

There have been numerous similar books as this published in the past – although most have predominantly eighteenth century personalities, E Beresford Chancellor and J Fyve have written a couple of the best of them but you’d need to track them down on a used book site. As further, but slightly different reading, Amanda Vickery has done a great book recently which is on everydaylife for Gentleman’s Daughters which I would highly recommend too.

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Trafalgar Square Publishing
Language: English
ISBN: 0719555515
Price: From £ 4.45

The Regency Underworld
by Donald A. Low

The seamier side of London in the early nineteenth century written with flare. This book was an enjoyable romp through the back streets, slums and ‘rookeries’ of London and the attempts by authorities to control them.

The book is packed full of detail of the people of the time including some of the more famous characters such as fences and theives and the methods they used to continue their trade. You can read about ‘Mudlarks and scuffle hunters’ of the river Thames, or if you prefer, the ‘resurrectionists’ who traded in dead bodies for medical students.

Low also draws deeply on literature of the time such as Pierce Egan’s “Life in London” which is chock full of authentic Regency-era slang. For instance Money could be referred to as “Blunt, rhino, flash the screens, sport the rhino, show the needful, post the pony, nap the rent, stump the pewter, tip the brads down with the dust only get into tip street.”

Some great illustrations and a fun trip into the life among the lower orders.

Publisher: Sutton Publishing
Language: English
ISBN: 0750940476
List Price: £8.99

Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.

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