We are welcoming Sue Wilkes to the blog today – you may know Sue from the lovely articles she writes for Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine, and for the many history books she’s written.
Sue has a new book out, A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, and to celebrate the launch, there’s a paperback copy to be won! All you have to do is leave a comment below with your favourite quote from one of Austen’s novels! Winners will be announced on the Austen Variations Facebook page on November 15th.
To give you a little flavour of her book, Sue’s here to tell us about the reading matter of Jane Austen and her contemporaries in ‘Chit-chat and Quarterly Reviews’.
New books were very expensive, so many people, including the Austens, subscribed to circulating libraries. Jane was very pleased when John Murray (publisher of the 2nd edition of Mansfield Park and Emma), lent her some books by Walter Scott and Helen Maria Williams.
Reading was a family activity as well as solace for one’s private hours. Jane Austen and her family read books aloud by candlelight to while away long evenings. They ‘were all great novel-readers, and not ashamed of being so’.
Ladies could choose from several magazines aimed at a genteel, intelligent readership. The Lady’s Monthly Museum, first published in 1798, was written and edited by a ‘Society of Ladies’. This ‘Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction’ aimed to ‘please the Fancy, interest the Mind, or exalt the Character of the British Fair.’ It contained short stories and articles, short biographies of famous women, reviews of recent publications, and was embellished with portraits and fashion plates.
Readers who preferred heavier reading and more in-depth analysis of contemporary literature turned to the fearsome heavyweight Tory journal Quarterly Review, established in 1809 to combat the Whig Edinburgh Review. The Quarterly Review discussed the works of writers such as Madame de Staël, Lord Byron and Maria Edgeworth (dubbed ‘an anti-sentimental novelist’ in the January 1814 issue). In Mansfield Park (1809) Fanny Price and her companions: ‘lounge away the time with…chit-chat, and Quarterly Reviews…’ after exploring Sotherton park.
If Emma’s Mr Knightley wanted an entertaining bedtime companion, he might have chosen the latest issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine, which printed literary reviews and news of upcoming publications. Emma was reviewed by the Gentleman’s Magazine, in September 1816, and received some guarded praise: ‘if Emma be not included in the very highest class of modern Novels, it may certainly claim at least a distinguished degree of eminence’.
You can read more about reading and other leisure activities in Sue’s new book – A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England: –
Immerse yourself in the vanished world inhabited by Austen’s contemporaries. This book is an intimate exploration of how the upper and middle classes lived from 1775, the year of Austen’s birth, to her death in 1817. Sue Wilkes uses Jane Austen’s novels and letters, and contemporary diaries and literature, to skilfully conjure up all aspects of daily life.
Learn how to hunt for a spouse, dress for a ball, or throw a dinner party. Uncover the murky realities behind Austen’s sparkling novels. What hidden horrors lurked in elegant Regency houses? Would Mr Darcy have worn a corset? Was Lizzy Bennet bitten by bed-bugs while travelling? What kind of medical treatment might you endure if you had toothache?
Put on your dancing gloves and embrace a lost era of corsets and courtship!