A little glistening jewel of information on British fashion during the Georgian and Regency periods
“Revolution had changed the world and fashion had dA little glistening jewel of information on British fashion during the Georgian and Regency periods
“Revolution had changed the world and fashion had dressed it accordingly.” Sarah Jane Downing
It is hard for me not to think of a Jane Austen movie adaptation and not remember how fashion influenced my enjoyment of the film. Some of my most vivid memories are of Elizabeth Bennet walking the verdant countryside in her russet colored spencer jacket in Pride and Prejudice 1995, Marianne Dashwood spraining her ankle and being carried to safety by Willoughby in her rain drenched white muslin frock in Sense and Sensibility 1995, or Mary Crawford ready to pounce like a black widow spider in her cobwebby evening dress in Mansfield Park 1999. Much of how we perceive Regency fashion today is from film costume designer’s interpretations of the fashions during Jane Austen’s time. I admit to admiring the fine cut of a gentleman’s tailored redingote or the elegant flow of a ladies formal evening dress as much as the next Janeite, but am totally clueless about why and how fashion changed so drastically since the heavy brocades, embroidered silks and powdered wigs of pre-revolutionary France.
As an introduction to Georgian and Regency fashion, this slim 63 page volume answered many questions and gave me a better understanding of the evolution of fashion, its importance in society and how English style influenced the world. The chapters are neatly broken down into seven significant categories: The Age of Elegance, The Rise of English Fashion, A Fine Romance, Beau Brummell and the Great Renunciation, Rousseau and Fashion Au Natural, Reticule and Ridicule, and After the age of Elegance. Throughout are beautiful (but small) images from original sources such as the popular women’s fashion magazines Ackermann’s Repository and La Belle Assemblée, portraits by the leading painters of the day Sir Henry Raeburn, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Sir Thomas Lawrence, and photographs of vintage clothing from the era. Interspersed throughout the text are references to Jane Austen, her family and characters in her novels to tie into a description of clothing or styles. A brief index at the back allows for quick reference by topic, person or place.
As part of the popular Shire Library series, Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen is a little glistening jewel of information on British fashion during the Georgian and Regency periods. For the novice historian it will inform and whet your appetite. For the veteran it will be a great refresher. For each, you will appreciate Downing’s straight forward presentation of material and her handling of the sense of the ridiculous that fashion can take by including Gillray caricatures and comical anecdotes. From the perspective of a Jane Austen enthusiast, Downing does state some eyebrow raising facts that to my knowledge have yet to be proven. As much as the Austen descendants would like the “Rice portrait” to be of Jane Austen, even my rudimentary knowledge of Regency fashion styles and math calculate the portrait to be much later than the 1792-93 range evaluated by experts, and the James Stanier Clarke portrait of a lady with a fur muff could be Jane Austen, but we shall never know for sure. (Best to say possibly Jane Austen to be safe and raise your credibility.) A small quibble in an overall splendid little treasure trove sure to please the Austenista in all of us.
Ok, who wants to be called a dummy, or heaven forbid, admit that you are a dummy? Show of hands please. Well, not me, and certainly not any of those aOk, who wants to be called a dummy, or heaven forbid, admit that you are a dummy? Show of hands please. Well, not me, and certainly not any of those accomplished, well educated, and urbane literati who call themselves Janeites! Right? So, Jane Austen for Dummies? Let’s be kind folks. Would Jane approve?
As a bookseller, I have seen the amazing rise in popularity of the Dummies book series over the last decade that has fueled Wiley Publishing into a mighty empire. There are now Dummies books available on every imaginable subject from Beekeeping for Dummies to Napoleon for Dummies; the list of titles is staggering.
When Jane Austen for Dummies hit the book stores in 2006, I was repulsed. The words in the title are a diametric polar vertex; complete opposites to my feelings of what MY Jane Austen stood for. As Lizzy Bennet said when she heard that Charlotte Lucas was engaged to Mr. Collins, “impossible”.
Among my merry Internet travels, I ran across this great article entitled, Jane Austen, Yadda, Yadda, Yadda, in which the book Jane Austen for Dummies is sandwiched in as an example of how the recent Austen mania has teetered off the edge of decorum.
“In addition, when constructing our soundbites, we ought not to forget the sheer breadth of today’s Austen craze; it’s more than just films and television adaptations we’re in for. New books have appeared, too, like Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (2007) and Jane Austen for Dummies (2006). Though I worry that these books make reading her fiction sound like something done at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for slow learners, surely it’s not too late for some well-placed damage control?”
Ouch. I was a bit suspicious as the author, Prof. Devoney Looser, had lumped Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict into the mix. I had read it. In my opinion, it was not insulting to the memory of Miss Austen. Quite the contrary. Pastiche’s can be the closest form of a complement around. So was my first impression of Jane Austen for Dummies correct?
As I finished reading the article, I noticed that the author of Jane Austen for Dummies, Joan Klingel Ray, PhD, had posted a comment responding to the mention of her book in such an unprudential light, - and she was really going after the slight full force.
“But as the author of JANE AUSTEN FOR DUMMIES, I take issue with her grouping my book with CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, which like other books of that ilk tap into Austen’s name recognition to sell fiction, dating guides, courtesy guides, etc.”
Ok Dr. Klingel Ray. I know that you are a past president of The Jane Austen Society of North America (2000-2006), and I curtsy reverently, but that condescension of another author’s work, and the genre in general was just mean, and not worthy of your rank and education. This seems to be turning into a kicking match that Caroline Bingley would be pleased to join in.
“Had Professor Looser even skimmed JANE AUSTEN FOR DUMMIES, she would have seen that, like other books in the “Dummies” series, JANE AUSTEN FOR DUMMIES is written to introduce interested persons to a subject-in this case, Jane Austen-in a straightforward, accessible way. Specifically, JANE AUSTEN FOR DUMMIES explains to today’s readers of Austen’s fiction the cultural background of the novels that Austen, of course, assumed, her original readers-her contemporaries-would have immediately understood, but which may baffle today’s readers.”
She continues, at length, to elaborate the charms and practicalities of Jane Austen for Dummies, and concludes…
“So rather than preciously worrying about damage control, Professor Looser might read and then give the university employee a copy of JANE AUSTEN FOR DUMMIES, designed for those who wish to be Austen-Smarties, but need just a little extra information about Austen and her times to become so. In fact, if Professor Looser sends me the university employee’s name and school address, I will send him an autographed copy of the book.”
Ooo, Jane Austen academic cat fight!
The next day at work, intrigued by the brouhaha, I track down Jane Austen for Dummies, and you know, Dr. Klingel Ray was right. Anyone who reads this book will become a Jane Austen Smarty, which is much more agreeable to my sensibilities than being a dummy any day! It is a fun and fact filled volume, great for an introduction to Jane Austen, a brush up, or further research sources. Deeply readable, it truly demystifies our authoress, and adds to her charms. Thanks Dr. Klingel Ray. Now if you could sallie forth and gently nod to all of those Austenesque writers who did not intend to rip-off Jane Austen, there could be harmony and plenty in the Jane Austen community.
My number one choice of Jane Austen inspired books of 2008
Has Jane Austen risen to a major pop-culture presence? Author Rebecca Dickson confidently thMy number one choice of Jane Austen inspired books of 2008
Has Jane Austen risen to a major pop-culture presence? Author Rebecca Dickson confidently thinks so, and her thoughtfully researched and beautifully illustrated new edition Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury is quite a persuasive testament. Any doubting Thomas’ will be hard pressed to argue against the evidence skillfully presented in this volume. Not only are the carefully chosen Regency era images complementary to her expertly written text, the overall friendly and visually appealing design and its incredible value place it as my number one choice of Jane Austen inspired books of 2008.
Surprisingly, this volume is not just a fluffy image gallery packed with pretty pictures. Rebecca Dickson is an Austen scholar and instructor of writing and literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder with a doctorate in English Literature with a specialty in eighteenth-century writers. A professed Austen enthusiast since reading Pride and Prejudice in High School, Dickson has written an inspiring tribute to her favorite author geared to the everyman reader. Her style is open and engaging and I never once felt the scholarly mantle descend to befuddle the text. The opening introduction and short biography are followed by six chapters devoted to each of Jane Austen’s major novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Within each novel chapter, Dickson not only discusses the novel’s plot, characters, highlights and impact on classic literature, but places it in context to Jane Austen’s life and her times. In the chapter on Pride and Prejudice for instance, she has included its publishing evolution from first draft in 1797 as First Impressions, to Austen’s father’s failed attempt at publication, to its final acceptance and publication sixteen years later in 1813, interweaving the changes in Austen’s life and her financial situation adding impact and interest. Interspersed throughout the chapter are quotes from the text acting like ‘fact bites’ emphasizing important points. The images selected stunningly present illustrations from Austen’s novels by the late Victorian artists Hugh Thomson, C.E. and H.M. Brock, vintage paintings and contemporary movie stills. The surprise bonus is removable reproductions of actual documents ranging from copies of handwritten letters by Jane Austen to a page of the rough draft of Persuasion.
My one disappointment (and it is a trifle) is in the cover design which is adequately pretty, but has nothing to do with Jane Austen, nor adds any Regency era feel or interest to entice buyers to open, explore and purchase this book. Given the length of thoughtful research and numerous images included in this glorious edition, one hopes that buyers will truly not judge its value by its cover. Highly giftable as an introduction to Jane Austen or as a tribute to the indoctrinated Janeite, reading this lovely volume will leave few in doubt of Jane Austen’s position as pop-culture icon and literary genius.
This slim volume is brimming with historical information on the creation and evolution of the popular Pleasure Gardens in England.A great introduction
This slim volume is brimming with historical information on the creation and evolution of the popular Pleasure Gardens in England. Originally designed as a diversion for the rich, Pleasure Gardens such as Vauxhall Garden in London and Sydney Gardens in Bath not only featured beautifully landscaped walks and vistas, but halls for music and dancing. Given the size limitations of this book, it is a nice introduction to a topic that will appeal to historical fiction readers and history students. My one disappointment is that the lovely vintage images are not credited. Otherwise, the author’s research is impressive, taking the reader back to a time when the social scene meant putting on your best frock and leaving the house instead of poking your friends on Facebook.