Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist - the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool

I have been meaning to read What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew for the past 15 years, but it took becoming a part of the online Victorian challenge to finally get it on the top of my reading list.

This non-fiction book is about the interesting rituals of daily life from the very rich to the very poor in 19th century England. It helps to explain many of the rituals in 19th century literature that one might not understand otherwise, such as illnesses that no longer exist or have different names, marriage and courtship rituals, how to address your “betters,” life on the farm, hunting, etc. The last 1/3 of the book includes a handy glossary of terms.

The book also used examples from literature such as Austen and Dickens from the title as well as Eliot, Hardy, Trollope, the Brontes, and Thackery to illustrate terms and rituals and answer questions one might have when reading those novels. For example, well off individuals in Oliver Twist upon leaving London make a point of “sending the plate, which had so excited Fagin’s cupidity, to the banker’s.” People in the 19th century didn’t have stocks and bonds to invest in, but did invest in plate or silverware. This could be a large part of their wealth and had to be guarded.

Overall, I thought the book was a very interesting read. It was light and entertaining and not a dry history. It only gave an overview of items and didn’t go into depth on different details. For depth, one would have to read elsewhere. I really enjoyed how it explained the details of many books I have read in the past. Many items I had previously learned in my British novel class in college or other books, but there was also a lot of new information for me. I checked the book out from the library, but would like to have a copy of my own to refer to during future readings of Victorian and Regency literature.

If you are interested in this and are a lover of Jane Austen or regency era literature, I would also suggest Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye. This book has a more in depth look at the regency era of the 19th century in particular and how it relates to Jane Austen’s novels.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for reminding me of this really good book-I for sure learned a lot from it-