Seldom have I so anticipated the publication of a book and The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World certainly does not disappoint. Part tongue in cheek “How To” guide for the young Regency gentleman or woman, part historical reference, this small volume is an invaluable resource for those only just discovering Austen and the Regency…and a delicious indulgence for those familiar with her life and works.
In this book, her first published work, author Margaret C. Sullivan gives us an insider’s look at what everyday life would have been like for Jane Austen’s characters. Like Austen, herself, subjects not in the realm of “two or three families in a country setting”, such as exceptionally high or low society, are not covered The four main sections are titled Jane Austen’s World & Welcome to It; A Quick Succession of Busy Nothings: Or Everyday Activities; Making Love [In the Traditional Sense]; and The Best Company; or Social Gatherings. Under these headings can be found subjects such as How to Become an Accomplished Lady, How to Run a Great House, How to Indicate Interest in a Gentleman Without Seeming Forward, How to Ride Sidesaddle, How to Throw a Dinner Party and How to Choose and Buy Clothing.
While the information found in these chapters is period correct and fascinating to the history lover, sharp eyed Austen readers will notice that each instance is taken directly from one of Austen’s books or personal life. Side bars and incidental pages include historical information on all subjects from entailments and franking to education and elopements. Detailed instructions are also given for a variety of Regency amusements from writing letters (crossed and re-crossed) to making a filigree basket as well as how to play the many different card games mentioned in the novels.
Throughout the book, drawings by Kathryn Rathke punctuate the text and highlight various articles and projects. The chapter on fashion and dressing is particularly interesting with illustrations and descriptions of several Regency ensembles for different occasions (including underpinnings) as well as menswear and hairstyles.
The thorough appendix includes a biography of Austen and summaries of her novels, further reading lists, helpful websites, a listing of each film adaptation to date, as well as a glossary of common Regency terms and an exhaustive index (perfect for those late night questions) This small volume makes a great gift for yourself, an Austen loving friend, or the Regency novelist in your life. It’s a terrific resource for quickly finding answers to late night questions and most of all, presented in such a charming and conversational tone, that you can’t help sitting down and reading it from cover to cover, once you start.
If you are looking for a treatise on Regency Life and Fashion, try Jane Austen in Style. If you want an overview of the period and Austen’s life, try Jane Austen’s World. For a delightful read that will have you laughing and leave you with a better understanding of the world Jane Austen inhabited and loved, pick up a copy of The Jane Austen Handbook.
Amanda Grange, author of Mr. Darcy’s Diary, said it best, “The Jane Austen Handbook is indispensable reading for anyone who wants to know more about Jane Austen and her world: how a lady spent her leisure time, how she dealt with illnesses in the family, how she celebrated Christmas etc. It’s also worth its weight in gold for fledgling Regency authors because it answers all those niggling questions that suddenly appear from nowhere in the middle of chapter 3: my hero’s masquerading as a steward, but what exactly does a steward do? And last but not least, it’s a witty, engaging read that entertains as it informs.”
The author, Margaret C. Sullivan is the editrix of Austenblog.com and an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her favorite Jane Austen novel is Persuasion. Margaret has written Austen inspired Regency fiction for over ten years. This is her first non-fiction book. Her latest story, There Must be Murder, a continuation of Northanger Abbey, is being written for the Jane Austen Centre. Visit the online magazine each month for a new chapter of this delightful mystery set in Bath.
The Jane Austen Hanbook is published by Quirk Books and available for purchase from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com; ISBN-10: 1594741719, RRP: £9.99.
Retail Price: £9.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books,US (1 May 2007)
Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom made hats, bonnets and reticules in the Regency style. She is a long time reader of Ms. Sullivan’s works and lifetime member of Team Tilney.