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Women’s Lives in Georgian England

The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England
Written by Amanda Vickery

What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? This lively book, based on letters, diaries, and account books of over one hundred middle class women, transforms our understanding of the position of women in Georgian England. These women were not confined in their homes but enjoyed expanding horizons and an array of emerging public arenas, the author shows.

Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (winner of the Longman History Today Prize in 1998) is an outstanding study of a crucial period in modern women’s history. Roy Porter described this book as “the most important thing in English feminist history in the last ten years.” While the writing style at times reminds one of a doctoral dissertation, the book does fill a niche often left underresearched. As one reader noted, “I appreciated this book because it broke me of my misconceptions about any kind of “romantic” life of the women of this “almost leisure” class, as another reviewer called it. They were at the mercy of their husbands, their social situation and fate. Very thought provoking for a Jane Austen fan like myself.”

What would the lives of these women- women like Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and even Austen, herself, to a lesser extent, have been like? Readers familiar with the feminist analysis of women’s lives in the late 18th to mid-19th century will find some of the commonplaces of that viewpoint called into question. Rife with personal examples, this history brings Georgian society to life through what Vickery identifies as the “terms set out in their own letters by genteel women.” The seven sections of the book are labeled: “Gentility”, “Love and Duty’, “Fortitude and Resignation” (which includes a noteworthy discussion on pregnancy), “Prudent Economy”, “Elegance”, “Civility and Vulgarity”, and “Propriety”. “Our battles were not necessarily theirs,” Vickery reminds us as she draws a fine profile of these women’s lives and their ways of finding meaning and pleasure amid the strictures of Georgian culture.

Yale Univ Press
ISBN: 0300080026;
Published: September 1999
List Price: $19.00 (paperback)

Ladies of the Grand Tour: British Women in Pursuit of Enlightenment and Adventure in Eighteenth-Century Europe
Written by Brian Dolan

Life in the eighteenth century for women was a strange mixture of education, enlightenment and restriction. The fact that some could travel so freely seems an anomaly given their general position in society legally – yet travel many did – and write about – they did too. Dolan has used mostly diaries and letters of female travellers for this large and well-researched book.

There is a lot of material which sheds new light (for me anyway) on the life of women travelling during this time but he tends to use the diaries and letters of those women who are already very well written about simply because there is such a wealth of material about them so Lady Bessborough, Lady Holland, Mary Montagu, Mary Wollstonecraft and Marianna Starke (to name the main ones) dominate the book. Perhaps there just isn’t the same wealth of material about travel undiscovered and so the main writers are returned to. These women have certainly been used to define this age.

The advantage of this book is it really does illustrate (and very well) the life of the traveller, the difficulties and how they travelled etc – without getting caught up in all the other issues that litter their diaries/letters – so you have travel unadulterated. He has also split the book up into nine topical chapters including travel of Education and Improvement, Fashionable Society and Foreign Affairs – and my favourite chapter – Sea Breezes and Sanity.

There are also a number of good illustrations used – although I rather question some of the captions used – For instance using Vermeer’s picture “Woman in Blue” – a picture of a woman reading a letter – to caption it “A woman absorbed in a letter from an absent lover…” seems to be both pushing the pathos and the aesthetic art interpretation a bit far…. couldn’t it just as easily have been a note from the grocer? …or her sister in the next town….or her mother?

Those niggles aside I think this is a great book to add depth to a library of anyone who is interested in this period.

HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060185430
1st edition, November 6, 2001
List Price: $27.00 (hardcover)

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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Art Imitating Life

 

Written By Arti of Ripple Effects

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art or…neither? After reading Claire Tomalin and Carol Shields on the life of Jane Austen, I am inclined to draw that conclusion. The often sanguine outlook of Austen’s works is deceptive. The seemingly jovial ending may lead some to assume they are reading the simplistic stories of a woman wrapped in romantic bliss all her life.

Reality is, that Austen could persevere, write and be published was already an incredible achievement considering the confining social environment she was in. Instead of embracing the normative female role in comfort, she chose to tread the road less traveled to become a writer despite the gloomy prospect of poor spinsterhood, enduring rejection even from her own mother. She wrote in secret and struggled in isolation. For a long period she battled depression. Upon her death, her beloved sister Cassandra could not attend her funeral because the presence of females at such events were not sanctioned, apparently for fear of any outbursts of emotion.

It is Austen’s imagination that empowers her to break free of her reality and to rise above her constraints. She has created her art from the palette of imagination, as Tomalin has lucidly observed:

“Hampshire is missing from the novels, and none of the Austens’ neighbours, exotic, wicked or merely amusing, makes recognizable appearance. The world of her imagination was separate and distinct from the world she inhabited.”

Austen’s contemporary, the renowned Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe has attested, it is the imagination, and not real-life experience, that gives rise to story-telling. A scene in the movie Becoming Jane (2007) has vividly illustrated this point.

In the famous little book, The Educated Imagination, a must-read for any literature student, the late great Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye states that :

“The world of literature is a world where there is no reality except that of the human imagination.”

Austen has great proficiency in the language of imagination. In her novels, she has created a world that never was, but one that makes her readers yearn for. There is no Mr. Darcy in real life, or Elizabeth Bennet for that matter, but we could well use them as the ideal types to measure by, or, to strive for.

What about the satirist in Austen? How can the social critic be extracted from reality? How can one write social commentaries devoid of real life input? Austen may have toiled in isolation for fear of social repercussion, she did not write in a vacuum. While her art did not imitate her life, Austen had the chance to sharpen her observation from the very public sitting-room of her home and those of her relatives and friends, an opportunity that was conducive to her novel writing, as Virginia Woolf has pointed out. Ever since her childhood, the Austen home was the hub of family readings and discussions. Her brothers grew up to be men well versed in the fields of the military, clergy, and business.
In her ingenious way, by satirizing the things that ought not to be, Austen is bringing out the world that ought to be. In Frye’s words:

“The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.”

If art imitates life, it would be just a reproduction; if life imitates art, well… ours would be one very wacky world. But life could well be the reason for creating art, channeling our imagination to build a sublime vision of the ideal.

 

Arti reviews movies, books, arts and entertainment on her blog Ripple Effects. She has pleasure in many things, in particular,
the work and wit of Jane Austen.

Visual: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh


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The Faces of Jane

Jane Austen's WorldJane Austen’s World
By Maggie Lane

Maggie Lane has done a wonderful job in this Austen collection. It is well set out, beautifully illustrated and a perfect introduction to Austen- especially for fans who have discovered her through the recent popularity of her books turned film and television series. It is a hardcover coffee table sized book- not something you take to bed with you- quite slim but packed full of good material. The book is divided into five chapters which cover everything from Jane Austen the person, to daily life in Regency England and the film adaptations. Each chapter is subdivided into smaller sections which are really just double page spreads on a particular subject. Don’t expect an in depth analysis of any particular subject but do expect a very competent summary. Lane includes a chronology of Austen’s life which is useful and easy to read. The only real objection I have is that many of the pictures used in here are not titled and it is difficult to find out where they are from- the illustrations index in the back is quite small and cluttered. For those of you who are thinking of buying this book second hand, watch out that you don’t confuse this book with Lane’s earlier work on Austen’s life. That is a smaller book and is more of a biography tracing her life and travels. In short- a really enjoyable book.

Hardcover – 144 pages (August 1997)
List Price: $20.00
Adams Media Corporation; ISBN: 1558507485

Jane Austen: Obstinate Heart

Jane Austen: Obstinate Heart
by Valerie Grosvenor Myer

I think Valerie Grovesnor Myer has made a good stab at trying to write to a biography of Austen and she succeeds relatively well. The only trouble is, Austen biographies are all drawn from the same material- very little new information has been turned up in recent years and so biographers are forced to reinterpret the old sources to find a new angle. That really is what this author has done- with only moderate success. Obstinate Heart has 24 chapters, mostly in chronological order. The complaint that this is more about Austen’s family than Austen herself bears through- especially in the first nine chapters. To make her book different, Myer has attempted to find biographical incidents from Austen’s own life to explain incidents in her novels. Not a bad thing to do- but I found it overpowering at time- as though she were just going from one incident to another- and sometimes I felt her examples used weren’t good ones. For instance she likened Jane Austens’ brother Edward’s adoption by the Knights to Fanny Price’s living with the Bertrams in Mansfield Park. Not at all the same situation. In the novel Fanny lived with the family but was never adopted by them. In real life, Edward adopted the new surname of Knight and eventually inherited a large estate and fortune from it. The situation reminds one more of Frank Churchill in Emma- Frank Weston is adopted by his aunt, Mrs Churchill, adopts her name and becomes her heir. That seems that is a much better example- why did Myer use this much less satisfactory one? Another ‘problem’ is that though she proves that she has read various books on Austen (for instance Deidre Le Faye’s collected letters of Austen) she doesn’t seem to have done much research on the history of the period. Myer cites a letter from Austen to her neice Fanny Knight in which she talks of the whole race of ‘Pagets’. Myer has clearly used the footnote which is in Le Faye’s edition of the letters to explain this remark about Austen’s dislike of the Pagets – explaining about Lord Paget’s (later Marquess of Anglesey) elopement with Lady Charlotte Wellesley. What both Le Faye and Myer miss is that the year before this elopement there was another High profile Paget elopement when Lord Paget’s brother eloped with Lady Boringdon. A little extra research on Myer’s part would have revealed this fact. I found the book interesting simply for Myer’s ‘new’ interpretation, but I wouldn’t pick it by choice. If you are looking for a really good biography of Jane – Park Honan’s is much better – or Claire Tomalin’s. (Both are available in our Giftshop) There are many other great books on the history of the time you could read. Maggie Lane is great and Deidre Le Faye’s collection of letters is fabulous. If this is all you can get hold of though, it would do in a pinch.

List Price: $13.95
Paperback – 288 pages (April 1998)
Arcade Publishing; ISBN: 1559704357

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.

Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk

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Women’s Lives in Georgian England


The Gentleman’s Daughter:

Women’s Lives in Georgian England
Written by Amanda Vickery

Women's Lives in Georgian England
What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? This lively book, based on letters, diaries, and account books of over one hundred middle class women, transforms our understanding of the position of women in Georgian England. These women were not confined in their homes but enjoyed expanding horizons and an array of emerging public arenas, the author shows.

Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (winner of the Longman History Today Prize in 1998) is an outstanding study of a crucial period in modern women’s history. Roy Porter described this book as “the most important thing in English feminist history in the last ten years.” While the writing style at times reminds one of a doctoral dissertation, the book does fill a niche often left underresearched. As one reader noted, “I appreciated this book because it broke me of my misconceptions about any kind of “romantic” life of the women of this “almost leisure” class, as another reviewer called it. They were at the mercy of their husbands, their social situation and fate. Very thought provoking for a Jane Austen fan like myself.”

What would the lives of these women- women like Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and even Austen, herself, to a lesser extent, have been like? Readers familiar with the feminist analysis of women’s lives in the late 18th to mid-19th century will find some of the commonplaces of that viewpoint called into question. Rife with personal examples, this history brings Georgian society to life through what Vickery identifies as the “terms set out in their own letters by genteel women.” The seven sections of the book are labeled: “Gentility”, “Love and Duty’, “Fortitude and Resignation” (which includes a noteworthy discussion on pregnancy), “Prudent Economy”, “Elegance”, “Civility and Vulgarity”, and “Propriety”. “Our battles were not necessarily theirs,” Vickery reminds us as she draws a fine profile of these women’s lives and their ways of finding meaning and pleasure amid the strictures of Georgian culture.


Yale Univ Press
ISBN: 0300080026;
Published: September 1999
List Price: $19.00 (paperback)

Ladies of the Grand Tour:

British Women in Pursuit of Enlightenment and Adventure in Eighteenth-Century Europe
Written by Brian Dolan


Ladies of the Grand Tour

Life in the eighteenth century for women was a strange mixture of education, enlightenment and restriction. The fact that some could travel so freely seems an anomaly given their general position in society legally – yet travel many did – and write about – they did too. Dolan has used mostly diaries and letters of female travellers for this large and well-researched book.

There is a lot of material which sheds new light (for me anyway) on the life of women travelling during this time but he tends to use the diaries and letters of those women who are already very well written about simply because there is such a wealth of material about them so Lady Bessborough, Lady Holland, Mary Montagu, Mary Wollstonecraft and Marianna Starke (to name the main ones) dominate the book. Perhaps there just isn’t the same wealth of material about travel undiscovered and so the main writers are returned to. These women have certainly been used to define this age.

The advantage of this book is it really does illustrate (and very well) the life of the traveller, the difficulties and how they travelled etc – without getting caught up in all the other issues that litter their diaries/letters – so you have travel unadulterated. He has also split the book up into nine topical chapters including travel of Education and Improvement, Fashionable Society and Foreign Affairs – and my favourite chapter – Sea Breezes and Sanity.

There are also a number of good illustrations used – although I rather question some of the captions used – For instance using Vermeer’s picture “Woman in Blue” – a picture of a woman reading a letter – to caption it “A woman absorbed in a letter from an absent lover…” seems to be both pushing the pathos and the aesthetic art interpretation a bit far…. couldn’t it just as easily have been a note from the grocer? …or her sister in the next town….or her mother?

Those niggles aside I think this is a great book to add depth to a library of anyone who is interested in this period.


HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060185430
1st edition, November 6, 2001
List Price: $27.00 (hardcover)

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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A Time for War

Wellington: A personal History

Wellington: A Personal History
by Christopher Hibbert

Wellington: A personal History

Wellington is not an easy man to pin down in a biography, and quite a few people have tried to do so in the past. Hibbert makes a p good stab at this very difficult subject and the worst that could be said about his book is that it is the most recent of the Wellington biographies.

Why is Wellington such a difficult subject? Mostly because he had a long and very active career which spanned a broad range of activities. From a rather dreamy and unfocused youth, to an extremely focussed, and successful war hero, then finally as politician. Underlying this was a man of great contradiction. He had an innate sense of nobility and duty which led him to marry a woman he had not seen for nearly eleven years – yet he treated her appallingly during their marriage. His contradictory nature is also very evident in his career – he hated the very activity in which he made his name, war.

I think Hibbert makes a reasonable attempt at coming to grips with Wellington’s nature and its contradictions – but I often think the personal side of Wellington – most especially his treatment of his wife and family, are often left unsatisfactorily explained.

I see three reasons for that in Hibbert’s case. First, there is not enough room in 400 pages to fit in everything with sufficient explanation. Secondly, there are easier, more public and interesting things to dwell on, and finally I suppose, because it would fall too much into the realm of speculation. There is little documentary evidence apart from gossip, some letters between Wellington and his wife, and of course Wellington’s infamously indiscreet confessions to Mrs Abuthnot which were later published in her diaries.

I do feel that Hibbert catches much of the public side of Wellington, his love of women, his modesty and quietness and his kindness and loyalty to those loyal to him.

Hibbert has set the book out chronologically and makes an easy read of his subjects. He does muddle up the first and second marchionesses of Salisbury- Wellinton was friends with both. The first Marchioness (also known as Dow Sal) sent him the hunting uniform from her personal hunt. The Second Marchioness (Frances, also known as the Gascoigne heiress before her marriage) was also a good friend of the Duke’s.

Elizabeth Longford does do a better job of capturing the nature and contradictions of Wellington – but then she can claim some measure of relationship with him – the 1st Duke’s wife, Kitty, was a Pakenham which is the Longford family name. Longford’s biography does fill two substantial volumes. Phillip Guedella has also written a good biography about the man.

Wellington: A Personal History

by Christopher Hibbert

List Price: $18.00

ISBN: 0738201480

Perseus Press; 480 pages; June 1, 1999

Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815
Elizabeth Sparrow

The Secret Service in France

Though not an easy read, I did enjoy this book. The world of subterfuge is a truly murky place. Even with Elizabeth Sparrow’s relatively easy-going style it is, at times, difficult to unravel the complex relationships and payments, double crosses and so on.

This book is well set out and the topic is utterly fascinating. While I found it difficult to untangle the threads the subject was compelling enough to make it worthwhile.

Ms. Sparrow has made the divisions in sections and chapters well. (Visit Amazon.com for a complete index.)While you can read the book from start to finish for a complete overview, if you have a specific interest in a time period or place it is easy to pick up and read for that period. That is what I ended up doing.

Perhaps only giving four out of five stars is underselling the book because the topic is difficult and Sparrow does do a great job making sense of it. A very impressive job actually – it just didn’t grab me by the throat the way some other books do.

I would definitely recommend this book for those with an interest in the British History of this period or for people with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars. Perhaps even for people who just want to know how to be sly and cunning – there are some great tips!

Pair this with one of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries for a fun, historical look into the world of Regency espionage.

Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815
Elizabeth Sparrow

List Price: $24.95

ISBN: 0851157645

Boydell & Brewer; 352 pages; February 2000)

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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The Janeites

Janeites

Janeites
This more than just a book on Jane Austen, this is a book on Jane Austen Fans. They are called ‘Janeite’s’ after Rudyard Kipling’s famous short story “The Janeites” about a group of soldiers recovering from injuries in the First World War – and the secret, almost Mason-like, society that has been formed in the world by her fans. If only this were true!

Deidre Lynch has collected together nine essays on Austen. The collection deals with the rise and fall of Jane’s popularity as an author with the public and with literary critics through the ages and in different countries. Some of these authors are at the foremost of Austen research. William Galperin, Chapter 4, is one of the names I recognise best from my past reading. His essay on Austen’s earliest readers is a fascinating historical perspective that blends in well with Claudia Johnson’s essay (chapter one in this book). Continue reading The Janeites

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The Mirror of Graces

“It is vain to expend large sums of money and large portions of time in the acquirement of accomplishments, unless some attention be also paid to the attainment of a certain grace in their exercise, which, though of a circumstance distinct from themselves, is the secret of their charms and pleasure-exciting quality.”
A Lady of Distinction
The Mirror of Graces, 1811

The Mirror of Graces
RL Shep, the publisher who had the foresight to reprint this wonderful book first published in 1811 deserves all the compliments in this world (and the next) for recognsing this book as a classic. It is at once hilarious to our modern eyes, and a startling insight into life of the well bred miss in Regency Times. Continue reading The Mirror of Graces

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The Prices of Officer’s Commissions

Officer's Commissions were costly

This print of an Officer of the 14th Light Dragoons displays the 'new' uniform of 1812.

Prices of Officer’s Commissions

The following is a table of the prices paid by Officers of the Army for their respective Ranks. The amounts clearly reflect the relative status held by the various branches of the service.

There were several different officer’s commissions. Ensign is the lowest rank held in the Infantry, while Coronets served in the Cavalry. In some Regiments, such as the Fusiliers, the lowest rank was a “Second Lieutenant,” with a purchase price of £450.

RANK Horse Guards Dragoons Foot Guards Infantry
Lieut.-Colonel £4950 4982/10/- £6700 £3500
Major £4050 £3882/10/- £6300 £2600
Captain £2950 £2782/10/- £3500 £1500
Lieutenant £1350 £ 997/10/- £1500 £ 550
Ensign/Coronet £1050 £ 735 £ 600 £ 400

NB: When an Officer wished to purchase a promotion to the next level of Rank, he would pay the difference. For example, an Ensign of the Regular Infantry, having already paid £400, would only pay an additional £150 to purchase a Lieutenancy worth £550

The illustration above shows an Officer of the 14th Light Dragoons and displays the ‘new’ uniform of 1812.

***

Jason Everett has been a re-enactor since 1982 with a group representing a red-coated Canadian regiment of the War of 1812. For the past five years he has been its Commanding Officer. Other interests include Modern Ballroom, and Regency Country Dancing.
Military Re-enactment Society of Canada / Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada

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