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The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World [Hardcover]

Margaret Sullivan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 1 2007
Every young lady dreams of a life spent exchanging witty asides with a dashing Mr. Darcy, but how should you let him know your intentions? Seek counsel from this charming guide to Jane Austen’s world. Its step-by-step instructions reveal the practicalities of life in Regency England, including sensible advice on:

     •  How to behave at your first ball
     •  How to ride sidesaddle
     •  How to decline an unwanted marriage proposal
     •  How to improve your estate
     •  How to throw a dinner party

—and much more. Offering readers a glimpse into day-to-day life in Jane Austen’s time, The Jane Austen Handbook is the perfect companion for fans of her novels and their film adaptations, complete with detailed information on love among the social classes, currency, dress, and nuances of graceful living.

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Review

“A valuable companion to Austen's novels.”—School Library Journal

“This informative and gently amusing book explains (Austen) in easily digestible sections, and is equally of use to the Austen neophyte and the Austen fan.”—Chicago Tribune

“What a boon to any Jane Austen fan! It is great fun to read.”—Portland Book Review

About the Author

MARGARET C. SULLIVAN is the editrix of Austenblog.com. She lives in Philadelphia.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Regency Lovers Jan. 19 2010
Format:Hardcover
What a lovely little book! It looks almost like a child's story book, but not. It is chock full of anything you want to know about the Regency period, in an easy to find, easy to read format. It is a true gem. There is more information in this book, such as how to ride sidesaddle, a section on social gatherings and types of dances, than is available in many other books on the period. A fabulous reference book for Regency writers.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
62 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sullivan's view on Jane Austen: Is this really necessary? June 1 2007
By Rebecca Huston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It seems that every time I stroll into either a brick-and-mortar or online bookstore, I spot yet another book on Jane Austen. There are books on manners, biographies, cookbooks, tour guides, and even a reality-tv series. Miss Austen, it seems, is a goldmine available for anyone ready to plumb the depths of Regency England.

This time, it is Margaret Sullivan who has combed through six novels and other literary fragments that Miss Austen left behind, and has come up with a book of manners and truly correct behavior for the modern reader who wants to figure out why in the devil does it seem to take so long for our various heroes and heroines to admit that they do indeed love one another? And why is so much time spent on writing letters, details of dress, and why was it so awful not to get married at all?

Margaret Sullivan takes a look at all of this, and the minutiae of daily living in this volume. The various chapters are filled with quotes, anecdotes, drawings, how to's, and numerous drawings and sidebars. All of this is presented in a small hardbound book about the size of a mass-market paperback, printed on ivory paper in varying shades of teal-coloured ink. At this point, the sheer preciousness of this volume was starting to sink in, and I was wondering if I had indeed, wasted my money.

Well, yes, and no. Let's first take a look at what the various chapters cover:

Introduction

Margaret Sullivan discusses as to why she wrote this book, along with snippets talking about what is forthcoming in the book.

Jane Austen's World and Welcome To It

This section addresses who are "The Quality," the ever-present question of money and why you need it so badly -- one of the paradoxes of the period was that a 'gentleman' was considered to be someone who had plenty of money, but was required to be never shown actually earning it, how to write letters, and how to get about in a ladylike manner, especially on a horse.

A Quick Succession of Busy Nothing; Or Everyday Activities

The title here implies that the genteel woman was rather idle and listless -- far from it! There are details on clothing, and acquiring it, planning dinner parties, raising children, doing Good Works, and all the rest. While it's certainly interesting, there's a sort of cruel nature to this, as though Sullivan was trying to be sly, but just comes off as being nasty about what women were doing, and how worthless it all was.

Making Love

Getting the man, keeping the man, breaking up, and getting back together. Not what we would call making love now, but rather, the politics of courtship and planning a wedding. I do have to say this too was interesting, but again, the author puts on the smarmy tone, which isn't too pleasant to read about.

The Best Company; or Social Gatherings

Snobbery runs amuck here. Social calls, balls, dinner parties, and card playing. It's more of how to be a gracious host or guest, two talents that I tend to find woefully absent in our modern age. Still, out of the various chapters, this one at least has some interesting bits that help to explain some of the actions in Austen's novels.

Appendix

It's this chapter, at the end, which provides the most information for the reader. There is a short biography of Jane Austen, synopsizes of her works. This has, up to the end of 2006, all of the very many books that have been published as prequels and sequels -- what the author has titled 'paraliterature' -- to Jane Austen's novels. Most interesting are the lists of film and television adaptations of all of Jane Austen's works.

In addition to all of this, there are also resources, a bibliography, glossary of terms used in Austen's time, and index, along with a short blurb about the author.

Most of this material is covered elsewhere, and what with the recent upsurge of ephemera on Jane Austen, there's quite a bit for the curious reader to choose from. I would suggest the works of Josephine Ross,

Overall, it's nearly a four star book, but I found the author's attitude a touch on the sarcastic side, and more than a little snobbish towards the reader. This was the most disappointing aspect of the book, as it tends to get very tiresome after the first few occurrences, and Sullivan comes off as trying to be far too clever, and ends up on the cutting side. It's not exactly a way to win over the reader.

Somewhat Recommended.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Psst, Jane Austen Never Wore Panties Oct. 16 2007
By Dai-keag-ity - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Yes, it honestly says so in this book, on page ninety-two.

Okay, actually it doesn't quite, but after a lengthy discussion of undergarments of the Regency, what it truly does say is:

"That means we may assume, with a high degree of probability, that Jane Austen went commando."

And I don't think that means that the authoress of Emma (which inspired the movie Clueless, y'know) was involved in special forces military operations during the Napoleon Wars.

All righty, now that my title and opening paragraphs have alienated Austen scholars everywhere while also nicely hemming in Amazon's male readership, I'll try for the other half of the public by mentioning that this bite-sized robin's egg blue book is great as a resource for describing the minutia of morals, manners, social customs, dining habits, drinking practices, religion, travel arrangements, and much else of Englishwomen and Englishmen from the period in which Austen set her novels. Far from the boring and dusty tomes that too frequently tackle subjects like these, The Jane Austen Handbook is fast-paced and fun. I can't fairly describe myself as a great admirer of Jane Austen's sex-`n-violence-lacking tales but I thought Margaret C. Sullivan's work was absolutely first-rate. I enjoyed tremendously reading about the background facts of exactly how life would have been played out for those who peopled Persuasion, or who truly lived two centuries ago in rural England.

To highlight a few of the eye-opening revelations:

Back then almost everyone was on opium at one time or another.

Like the former pop stars of today, women didn't wear underwear. (Oh, wait, I already covered that..)

Gentlemen could be more elaborately dressed than women without being thought the slightest bit light in the wrist.

Eloping to Scotland was an option for those seeking the Vegas wedding of the day. In one infamous Scottish town, Gretna Green, girls as young as twelve or boys as ancient as fourteen could seek out the local blacksmith and be legally wed without a license, certificate, or even a pastor. Cool!

"Flattering a gentleman's vanity" was the best all-purpose come-on there was in Miss Austen's age.

Female hypochondria was de rigueur and skilled hypochondriacs were much-respected. (While the garden variety practitioners like Mary Musgrove were less lauded.)

There were but four acceptable professions for a gentleman to enter--the church, the law, the military, or medicine---and strangely not one of them involved music, sports, or acting.

So, whether you want to know the difference in a hack, a gig, or a curricle, wish to know how to fold your next letter "just so" or if you're one of those types who just can't get enough Jane ("Why can't she have her own twenty-four-hour cable network?" you've sincerely remarked) Austen this is the reference book for you!
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What would Elizabeth Bennet do? March 1 2008
By Piasta Wnuczka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a charming little volume! The cover illustration says it all. This is for the modern woman who retains a Regency era aesthetic and sensibility, who ofttimes wonders: Where have all the manners gone? From email correspondence that starts bluntly with one's name and no "dear" to shop cashiers who expect the customer to be person that says "thank you," the 21st Century is devoid of what used to be called common courtesy, and Jane Austen reminds us of a more genteel era. True, there were class and gender inequalities, but that's not what we modern readers yearn for, nor are we just indulging in highbrow bodice rippers or retrogressive fantasies of subordination.

Some reviewers have snobbishly complained that The Jane Austen Handbook is just for those who came to appreciate Jane Austen after seeing "Colin Firth in a wet shirt" in the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice, but to that I say, the accusation is, one, off base and two, out of line. I, for one, studied Austen in grad school before that movie ever came out and I love it and this book. Secondly, even if it is true for some readers, so what? What sort of superiority are these detractors trying to claim -- "I read Jane first so I'm better than you"? That's an indication of a coarse and simpering immaturity that Miss Austen herself would not countenance and would indeed be inclined to masterfully caricature.

The Jane Austen Handbook is a combination handbook or primer and compact compendium of Regency life. It is for those of us who live and work and love and dress in the modern world, but who nonetheless like to display civility, sometimes laced with irony, in our speech and actions, to fold our letters property and to drink our tea from china cups, even as we work for our own "10,000 pounds a year" (Mr. Darcy's income, worth between one-half and six million in today's currency, as the section on Modern Money Equivalents on page 27 explains).

Indeed, as the detractors point out, the information in this book can be obtained from numerous other sources, but why should anyone have to apologize for wanting it all in one attractive and amusing place?

Margaret C. Sullivan's writing style reminds me of that of Judith Martin, a/k/a Miss Manners, whose works I also recommend to the modern Jane Austen acolyte, particularly her wonderful first novel, Gilbert.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Have Handbook for Jane Austen Readers May 7 2007
By K. Boyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Jane Austen Handbook is a fabulous resource for both the experienced Janeite and the novice reader. My only question is, what took so long for such a book to be written? Packed with far more historical detail than The Friendly Jane Austen and more relevant Regency information than What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew the author keeps a light touch while providing essential information about everyday Regency life.

The sections in this book (i.e. How to Become an Accomplished Lady, How to Run a Great House, How to Indicate Interest in a Gentleman Without Seeming Forward, How to Throw a Dinner Party, How to Choose and Buy Clothing...) are not so much "How To" spots but delightfully detailed descriptions on what life might have been like for a Regency Gentlewoman such as Elizabeth Bennet or Jane Austen, herself. There are plenty of things for the modern reader to try, but far from coming away with only a new set of social skills, the reader will find a much greater understanding of the era Jane Austen was writing in and consequently a greater ability to enjoy Jane Austen, as well as other Regency writers.

The first of it's kind to focus on what life was really like in the Regency (not the Victorian era, as so many "19th Century Histories" do)this book is a great resource for authors of Regency Era and Jane Austen styled fiction, as well. A first from author Margaret Sullivan, I certainly hope it won't be the last!

The illustrations by Kathryn Rathke are priceless and the appendix is chock full of other Austen related information including a brief biography, summaries of Austen's works as well as film and television adaptations, and a comprehensive list of useful online resources. I give it five enthusiastic stars!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Pleasing April 20 2008
By Oskar Port - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed this book immensly, as it was just as I expected. It gives an accurate over-view of Regency life, in a simple, fun and informative way.

Some of the other reviews for this book have said that this book is good for people who are new to Jane Austen's work, and need a hand, but I disagree. I am a huge Jane fan, and I still found the book somewhat informative and helpful. A lot of the information was familiar, but some was new, and the information that I already knew about was still good to read, because it gave a deeper, more insightful view on the subjects.

I recommend The Jane Austen Handbook to any Janeite. It really is a joy to read and there is a good chance you'll learn something new, no matter how knowledgable you think you are :)
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