Posted on

Jane Austen On-line: Life in Regency England

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.

Posted on

Jane Austen On-line: Period Fashion and Patterns

Ackerman Plate
Ackerman Plate
Ackerman Plate

Everyone is familiar with the Empire waists and Grecian sillouette of the early 19th century. The classic styles and light fabrics were, no doubt, a relief from the heavily embroidered fashions of previous centuries. This simplification, which began during the French Revolution, transformed the fashion industry. Waists were raised to just below the bosom; sleeves were shortened and puffed; skirts became narrowed and elegant. Clean lines had come into vogue.

While these elements fluctuated during the next twenty years, the look remained much the same. Fabrics such as cotton prints and muslin replaced rich brocades and velvets. White was the color of choice. The desired effect was “Girlhood Innocence.” Cathy Decker, a fashion historian, has collected many original fashion plates from the early 1800’s, and has made them available for viewing on her website, The Regency Fashion Page.

Costume designers for the recent Austen films have carefully studied period plates to provide viewers with a smorgasbord of historically accurate ensembles. One of the most famous designers, twice Oscar-nominated Jenny Beaven, created fashions for both Sense and Sensibility and A&E’s Emma. Dinah Collins’ gowns in Pride and Prejudice are stunning, though the necklines are a little low for the projected time period. Alexandra Byrne, costume designer for Persuasion, gets the most praise for period correctness. Her fashions, from the opulence of the titled elite to the humblest fisherman’s wife, appear close to perfect.

In 1996, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion vied for the Best Costume Design BAFTA. Similar to an Oscar, the BAFTA is awarded by the British Academy of Film and Television Awards. Persuasion won.

With all these sources of inspiration, it’s easy to desire your own Regency ensemble. The hardest part is deciding how to get started. Jessamyn Reeves-Brown has created a fascinating page full of links to resources, tips, fashion plates and historical information. Jennie Chancey, a noted seamstress, designed what many call the easiest Regency gown pattern. Her site, Sense and Sensibility Creations, is a treasure-trove of information, help and links. Her patterns can be purchased from the site. One other site, Austentation, focuses on Regency fashion accessories– hats, bonnets and reticules. They supply a list of most of the Regency gown patterns available, along with other period costumes, seamstresses, supply sources and historical information.

Originally printed in the JASNA-NY Newsletter, Spring 2002.
Reprinted and modified with permission from the author.
For a complete study of Jane Austen film fashion, read Jennie Chancey’s article at Celluloid Wrappers.

Posted on

Jane Austen On-line: Austen Resources On the Net

There is nothing like curling up with a good book. Still, for convenience and research’s sake, e-texts, on-line libraries and searchable databases are a wonderful resource. Wondering just how many times the word ‘Pride’ is used in Pride and Prejudice? Looking for a particular phrase, but can only remember a few words of the original? Trying to find those last few pieces of Juvenilia or the canceled chapters of Persuasion? Searching for a sequel to your favorite Austen novel? Try some of the excellent sites listed below.

While most people have easy access to Jane Austen’s six major novels, there are many other minor works that receive much less attention. These include incomplete manuscripts (Sanditon, The Watsons– both of which have been completed several times over by other authors, and the early ‘canceled’ final chapters of Persuasion.), Juvenilia (stories Jane Austen wrote while still a child, including Henry and Eliza, Lesley Castle, The History of England and Love and Friendship) and her prayers, poetry and light verse. Jane Austen was an accomplished writer with many more works to her credit than most people are aware of.

By the same token, many fans have already read everything they can lay their hands on and are yearning for more. What then? The Republic of Pemberley, in addition to running their numerous message boards has created a forum for reviewing and listing printed sequels, prequels and other Austen related books as well as providing space for fans to post their own stories. On any given day you can log on to their ‘Bits of Ivory Board’ (named for Austen’s quote comparing her work to a small detailed painting on a ‘bit of ivory two inches high’) and find scores of different Austen continuations currently being written. Also included is an archive of previously written, complete stories arranged by novel association.

One last source of Jane Austen’s works are the various films and adaptations. While there are a myriad of sites available, both official and fan-based many of them have been collected into lists making searching easier. We host one such collection as well as a list of reviews and behind the scenes information on each film. Eras of Elegance also boasts one of the most complete and interesting collections of Austen movie facts, pictures and merchandise. It’s definitely worth a look! One last resort is the Internet Movie Database. It contains information, links, merchandise info and pictures from nearly every movie ever made!


Posted on

Jane Austen On-Line: Begin your Search

In this age of technology and high-speed access, it is possible to find nearly anyone and anything on-line. When a recent internet search using the phrase “Jane Austen” revealed more than 124,000 related websites, it was clear to see that Jane Austen was not only on the web, but there to stay. With literally thousands of sites to choose from – pages created by everyone from novice fans to museums, organizations and official academic research sites, it may be a bit daunting to know where to start. These next four articles will attempt to categorize some of the many websites available profiling this author and review some of the best sites relating to Jane Austen’s biography, her works, Regency fashions and that time period.

One of the most entertaining and certainly the most popular place to start a search for Jane Austen related information is the Republic of Pemberley. This site- or rather, community- was created in 1996 by a small group of hard-core Janeites. Moved to it’s own server in 1998, they have continued to maintain and update a “Haven in a world programmed to misunderstand obsession with things Austen.” They currently run over 20 message boards (on all topics including each of the novels, the movies, history, sequels, advice and the “Bits of Ivory” board- a place to post your own continuations of the books, such as a recent Uppercross Chronicles, detailing the lives of the next generation of Wentworths and Musgroves), a chat room, a widely respected and inclusive Jane Austen research site, and an incredibly detailed list of links. Pemberley serves about 125,000 visitors and averages around 6,000,000 page views a month. They continue to be volunteer operated and funded by donations.

Other places to visit when looking for Jane Austen related information are The Chawton House Museum and The Chawton House Library, which hosts the Centre for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing . While both these websites provide a wealth of information to the researcher, they also have the added charm of being real places that you can visit while in England. Both sites provide pages of historical and biographical material, along with links, directions and photographs. Other Jane Austen biography pages include: Henry Churchyard’s Jane Austen Information Page, hosted by the Republic of Pemberley, James Dawe’s Jane Austen Page, and of course, The Everything Austen Webring (a group of interconnected sites featuring Jane Austen). Also available on-line are pages for the various Jane Austen Societies around the world -most of which are linked from the JASNA website.

After you’ve explored these sites, try Mitsuharu Matsuoka’s page of Jane Austen links. Her constantly updated site is a treasure trove of Austen resources! Start surfing!

Originally printed in the JASNA-NY Newsletter, Summer 2001. Reprinted and modified with permission from the author, Laura Sauer.