For those of you who have not yet visited Nancy Mayer’s beautiful website, you are in for a treat. Click here to enter Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher: A most proper authority on all things Regency. Nancy has been a member of JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) for some time. She was a member of a local chapter in 1990-1994, then started up a new chapter in 1996, and has been the regional coordinator for northern Georgia since then. Nancy has been researching Regency England for more than twenty years, and finds Google books a big help. While she is responsible for the text on her website, Susan Newman designed the web pages and added the illustrations. Nancy graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions:
1. How and when did you become interested in Jane Austen’s novels?
This is probably heresy, but I came to Austen and her novels because I wanted to learn more about Regency life. I had heard of Pride and Prejudice and seen the old Lawrence Olivier movie, but hadn’t gone any further with it or the other novels until I became interested in the Regency period. After reading Jane Austen’s letters, and some biographical data on her, I started in on her novels. I joined a discussion group in Atlanta around 1990 and haven’t looked back since. Even after twenty years of discussing the novels there is always something new to be found. I am not one who has memorized the books and don’t read them all over every year, but I usually find some new insight each time I do.
2. Which is your favorite Jane Austen book and/or character, and why?
Persuasion. Anne Elliot is my favorite character. She is more mature than the other heroines and so doesn’t make the mistakes they do. One seldom has to blush for her. I also think Wentworth is more romantic than Darcy, but I wouldn’t want to be a sailor’s wife.
3. You are considered an authority on the topic of Jane Austen and the Regency period, and your breadth of knowledge about the era astounds me. What are some of your favorite topics to research and why?
You flatter me. The more I research the more I discover what I don’t know. I like to research marriage, titles, peerage, the law, and mourning rules. I find property law most confusing, and barely know a VanDyke fringe from a scalloped one.
One can find all sorts of period books on Google books.
I am also interested in Lord Byron who was Jane Austen’s contemporary, His life gives the masculine and aristocratic elements missing in Jane Austen’s life. Though they both were alive from 1809 to 1817, one could sometimes think they lived at different times.
4. For the casual (but avid) Jane Austen reader, what are some sources you would recommend for further reading?
- My Dear Cassandra:The letters of Jane Austen, Selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes Hallet. Clarkston Potter Publishers or Collins & Brown 1990, ISBN 0-51758312-7
- Some might want the complete letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye, or the ones edited by John Chapman.
- The novels published by Oxford have great appendices. Some of the Critical editions of the novels have appendices. One should have a copy of Lover’s Vows in one’s Copy of Mansfield Park. There are annotated versions of the stories with explanations of obscure and not so obscure points, and there are even comic book editions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. No matter one’s taste or interests, one should be able to find a connection with Jane Austen.
- Mrs. Hurst Dancing by Diana Sperling. This isn’t about Jane Austen but the illustrations of the Sperling family could be those of the Younger Dashwoods or the Bennets. # ISBN-10: 0575030356 # ISBN-13: 978-0575030350. Some are exceedingly expensive, but there are remaindered copies and second-hand copies at reasonable prices.
- Jane Austen and Her times by G.E. Mitton, originally published 1905, 2007 Barnes and Noble.
- Also there are probably fifty books out there covering everything from Jane Austen and Art to Jane Austen and Zombies. I know of book on Jane Austen and Food, Jane Austen and Crime, Jane Austen and fashion, ( and Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen).
- Those who like quizzes and challenges might like: Jane Austen Challenge by Helen Barton: BartonBooks (June 2009) # ISBN-10: 0952725754 # ISBN-13: 978-0952725756
- Also, So you Think You Know Jane Austen? By John Sutherland and Deidre le Faye Oxford University press, ISBN 0-19-280440-5
5. Would you like to share a common misconception about the Regency period with our readers, one that is wrongly perpetuated by book sources, websites, and blogs?
A general error I have found is thinking that the marriage laws, the church, and laws of inheritance were the same then as they are now. Many think the regency period was just like today, but in costume and with horses.
Nancy, thank you for sharing your wonderful insights. I hope readers will bookmark your website and visit it often. It’s best feature, as far as I am concerned, is your answers to their specific questions, like a personal researcher.