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Jane Austen's Town and Country Style

Review by Cheryl Bolen
Jane Austen's Town and Country

By Susan Watkins
Rizzoli, 1990
210 pages

(The Rizzoli hardback, complete with many beautiful color plates, is exactly the same inside as the 1996 paperback titled Jane Austen: in Style and published in Britain by Thames & Hudson. The Thames & Hudson edition has a different cover.)

Donít overlook this book by thinking itís another biography of Jane Austen. While it does have a great deal of detail on Austenís life, it isnít a biography at all. It is a wonderful resource of the life and times of Jane Austen, featuring 177 illustrations, 77 of which are in color. The emphasis of this book is on daily life of Englandís upper classes during the years Austen was an adult, which puts it smack into the regency.

"In these pages," Watkins writes in the preface, "from the vantage point of a particular English country gentlewoman, a journey is made through the society and surroundings of a group of people of unsurpassed elegance and refinement, in the later decades of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of an era of profound change that followed it."

Watkins uses words from Austenís books and correspondence to authenticate her text. In describing the era, she explains how and in what skills a genteel girl was educated. When detailing a young manís education, she does not neglect the sporting pursuits and adds a snippet from an Austen letter in which she says her brothers are "mad" for cricket.

To give the reader a sense of the times, she discusses the postal service, marriage, nurseries, and how a genteel woman would spend her day.

The chapter on country houses is rich with photos and even speculates on which houses Austenís fictional manses were modeled.

Descriptions of furnishings, libraries, and table adornments fill the chapter on interiors.

One of the most richly detailed chapters is the one on fashion, which discusses and illustrates womenís, menís, and childrenís clothing. Accessories, servantsí dress, and cosmetics are also addressed here.

Another chapter is devoted to entertainments, touching on the theatre, pleasure gardens, art exhibitions, racecourses, coach travel, and seaside resorts.

This is one of the best resources on the social life in Bath during the Georgian period. Several pages include details such as what time assemblies were held in the watering city and the addresses of houses where the Austen family stayed.

Balls, assemblies, and dancing are also included in this volume.

Watkins gives comprehensive information on food and meals that were served in the era, complete with photos.

This book is well worth the investment.

This review first appeared in Quizzing Glass in April 2006.

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