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What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From fox hunting to whist – the facts of daily life in 19th century England

Originally published in November 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 38 in my first 52 books challenge

Author: Daniel Pool
Year published: 1993
Pages: 416
Genre: Social history, reference
Where got:

I’ve read quite a number of novels set in 19th century England, and have often asked myself certain questions about the stories. One of those questions was “why did Mr. Darcy hand-deliver his letter to Elizabeth - surely he could have sent a servant with it?”(Pride and Prejudice) and another formulation of the same question was “why did Elinor think Marianne and Mr. Willoughby were engaged just because Marianne sent him letters?”(Sense and Sensibility). I had also wondered about certain social rules, like the order of precedence, which titles belonged to the nobility and which to the gentry, what was the definition of a gentleman, and when was the “season” and the “little season”. In all of these cases I could make educated guesses, based on the text and other books I had read, but I didn’t get my guesses confirmed until I read it in this book. It is an overview of 19th century English society, it’s social rules and costumes, the social and seasonal calendar, money matters, the judicial system, games, government, travel, servants, food, clothing, etc.

Apart from the cheesy title this is a good reference book. It covers 19th century English society in several well-laid out chapters. From page 255 onwards there is a glossary of terms people are likely to find in books from or about that century in England, and at the end there is a bibliography for those who want to do more reading on the subject. I am told by connoisseurs of English 19th century literature that they found the book lacking in some areas, but for most readers this is a good guide to English 19th century society as seen in literature.

Rating: A guide to all the things that might puzzle readers when reading about 19th century England. 4 stars.

To answer the questions posed at the beginning of the review: It was considered improper for unrelated, unmarried men and women to exchange letters unless they were engaged, and if respectable young people openly exchanged letters, it was considered proof of an engagement.


Ana S. said…
I read this one a few years ago and I also enjoyed it quite a bit :) It's definitely not exhaustive, but it's full of fascinating trivia!

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