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The Family Library

Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards a table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others; all that his library afforded.
“And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever look into.”
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.|
“I am astonished,” said Miss Bingley, “that my father should have left so small a collection of books. — What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr Darcy!”
“It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”
“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”
“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”
Pride and Prejudice

A Gentleman's Library from Ackermann's Repository of the Arts

Jane Austen grew up in a bookish family. Rev. Austen was a great reader (and writer of
sermons) and he read aloud to his children. When her family moved to Bath, Jane’s father sold
or gave away over 500 books from his vast library, which must have crammed the parsonage in
Steventon. Under her father’s direction, Jane read English, classical and foreign literature
by such authors as Samuel Johnson, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Alexander Pope, George
Crabbe, William Cowper, and William Shakespeare. Jane was also encouraged to buy
subscriptions to the popular novels written by Frances Burney, Sarah Harriet Burney, Maria
Edgeworth and Ann Radcliffe. Rev. Austen’s library at Steventon provided inspiration for the
short satirical sketches Jane wrote as a girl and with which she entertained the family. To
entertain each other, the close knit Austen family would also read to each other, play games,
and produce plays. One imagines that Rev. Austen’s library played an important part in
devising these amusements.*

Although Mr. Darcy speaks of the family library as a collection of books, it was far more
than that. In the country house of a gentleman like Mr. Bennet, the library is his “Man
Cave”– his haven– storing books, yes, but also doubling as an office or study where he
might retire when confounded by his wife’s folly, or a place to meet his esate agent, as Mr.
Knightley does, in Emma. Books were expensive, luxuries, and it was a sign of prestige
for a home to include a large number of or them. Great Houses might have an entire room
designated for the purpose– a place, which might also host family gatherings and be opened
to guests when large parties were arranged.

From The Story of a Country Houseby John Strickland Goodall.

Book Accessories & Home Libraries offers the following peek into a Regency
Home Library: “This 1816 etching by John Britton represents a typical home library during
Regency. The library is located at Cassiobury Park and it was used similarly to many other
home libraries of the time — it was essentially the most important room of the house and
could be easily referred to as a family sitting room. A group of small dogs in the front
sufficiently demonstrates the openness of this library to anyone and anything. At the same
time, all traditional library features are present and their style is unmistakable. We see
built-in bookcases that are architectural in nature. In other such libraries you would often
see (apart from the books, obviously) various antiquities and curiosities. Small private
museums of this sort had a long history, but in Georgian times and in the early 19th century
the trend became very popular. As far as architectural styles, Regency designers preferred
neoclassical decor, howver Gothic influences were also quite common at the discretion of
individual owners who were inspired by the love of all things Medieval (as interpreted by
novelists and poets). The furniture of this particular home library is typical Regency style
(note the Grecian chairs), but the general tone has a certain Gothic air.”

Enjoy these additional samples of Regency library furniture.


*This information was compiled by Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen Today. Visit her site to read the full article.

View Thomas Jefferson’s suggestions for inclusion in the Home Library here or furnish your own library with our online book shop. Click here!

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