Thursday, December 13, 2007

Research Books

by Mary Altman

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross is an entertaining and witty yet only vaguely informative look into the Regency era. This compact hardcover was written less as a research manual and more as a collection of rules regarding etiquette, covering general manners, forms of introduction, formal calls, dancing and dining, dress, matrimony, family and servants. The author uses source quotes from Jane Austen’s collection of books and letters to lay out her rules, most of which will already be familiar to the Regency reader.

What this book lacks in information it makes up in charm. Henrietta Webb’s illustrations appear liberally throughout the book, making it a pleasure to read. In all honesty, I would not recommend this book as a source material; however, I would strongly recommend it as a gift for lovers of Jane Austen and the Regency period. It’s a quick, fun read and quite beautiful to look at.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist—the Fact of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool is far more informative. It covers everything from currency and measurements to the rules of whist, presentation at court and life in the workhouses. I found this to be a useful book filled with interesting facts. It’s accessible and easy to read and extremely entertaining. It isn’t without faults, however.

Pool’s book suffers from a lack of organization. He lumps everything together by subject and occasionally fails to clarify when the events he’s describing take place. Because he covers information from the Regency through the Victorian period, this grew confusing at times. Additionally, several of his claims have been contested, so if you’re using this book as your source material, be sure to double-check your facts. Even with those problems, the wealth of information outweighs any difficulty sifting through it. The glossary alone is worth it.

Jack Aubrey Commands: An Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O’Brian by Brian Lavery is a beautiful, detailed coffee table book that delves into the lives of His Majesty’s Navy. It has less to do with O’Brian’s books than you’d imagine from the title, but the information provided is detailed and the illustrations and diagrams are completely accurate. This book covers everything from tacking and wearing to life at sea, with historical quotes, model ships and colorful maps working to bring the world of the seaman to life. I highly recommend this book.


Evangeline Holland said...

I would completely eschew the Pool book--outside of the basic information about money, political parties, carriages, and such--if one isn't writing within the early Victorian period (1837 to about 1865 or so) and just use it as a supplement for research books devoted to your specific part of the 19th century. Using it as a main source of research is bound to lead to mistakes for anyone not writing within that 30 yr window.

Anonymous said...

The best book for Regency research, IMHO, is "An Elegant Madness" by Venetia Murray. If you like to read about history, not to mention research it, it's definitely a more entertaining means to an end! As for Pool's book, I enjoyed it, but yes, it is hard to clarify certain time periods within it.