To start with, it is a pleasure to be holding a book with a hard cover and with a glimpse of the brown and cream page binding at the top and bottom of the spine. It gives the reader the interesting, pleasurable knowledge that this is a sewn binding in the old style. Kindle can give us the effect, on its screen, of real paper but this book, solid and sharp cornered, is the real thing, an object with weight, a valued, well made artefact nice to hold. Having it in your hands is a pleasure to experience.
I love the contents pages divided into sections and then all the different article headings within each section beginning with,”How to…” There is something poetic in the repetition of these opening two words followed by an assertive verb.Yes, the contents are a pleasure to read in themselves and could be read out with passion, emphasise and feeling at any live poetry night, at my local pub anyway.
How to Become an Accomplished Lady…………………..16
How to identify “ The Quality”………………………………….22
How to ensure a good yearly income……………………..26
How to provide for your daughters & Young Sons…28
And so on. It’s mesmeric!
A couple of things made me wince. In Margaret’s introduction there is a sentence that goes thus. (I will come back to why I have just used the word ,”thus,” in a short while.)
“ All Janeites have heard the question at one time or another, whether from a friend, significant other, care worker, parole officer or a math teacher who caught said Janeite reading Emma under the desk during class.”
Margaret gives the game away with these, “Americanisms.” OK it is her introduction but I hope she intends this book for us British English speakers too? And also, I know I’m nit picking here, there are the odd occasion when these words appear: neighbor, endeavor, watercolor. I’ll say no more.
But on the whole and almost a hundred percent of the time, I absolutely love the way she uses language. I can hear the fun in her voice, the absolute thrill and joy of thinking and using the most gorgeous words and phrases., aplomb, guttersnipe, I chuckled at that one, impoverish, genteel, repine, overly impecunious, oh I just wanted to repeat that phrase again and again and she goes on, sentence after sentence, line after line, page after page, defray, small beer and skittles, a bit of working class culture creeping in there and it’s just such a joy to read and wallow in. I even think she used the word. “wallow,” at some stage. The best thing about this book is the joyous pleasure Magaret has with words. Oh yes!
So, coming back to why I used the word, “thus.” The above paragraph really provides the reason. Margaret, through her use of language, captured my mind and released my 18th century vocabulary store deep within my brain. I couldn’t help myself. It slipped out.
I do think this book is aimed at women rather than men. Here are some examples of Section headings and chapter opening lines.
“Well bred young ladies must acquire a store of accomplishments….”
“The mistress of the house is rather like a CEO of a major corporation…”
Get him back after you have quarrelled.
Converse with your dancing partner. (this chapter refers to how the female should make conversation with the male.)
There are references to male things, education, being a house owner and so on, but they are written about from a female point of view often just there to make a comparison with the female side of things.
It is also written as though the reader is middle class and discusses mostly middle class things. Once in a while there are references to the serving classes and aristocratic life, often written in the same breath as things about the middle classes. Perhaps there should be an explanation of the differences between the classes and the different lives they lead.
I think the sections at the back of the book are excellent. There is a very thorough and detailed index, a good glossary covering many words and terms. There is a good bibliography and resources list. These end sections will give the Jane Austen, and 18th century student a good starting point in a life long exploration.
Who do I think this book would be a good buy for? My daughter Emily is just completing her A’levels before she goes to university next year. Some of her friends are doing A’level English literature. This book would give them an excellent background and springboard into the life of Jane, her characters and the world of the 18th century. It would be an ideal companion to anybody beginning to read Jane Austen. They would be able to get their compass bearings set on a true course.
- An interview with Margaret C. Sullivan, author of The Jane Austen Handbook
- Preorder The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England
- Review: There Must Be Murder by Margaret C. Sullivan, wherein the reader follows the escapades of Henry Tilney and his lovely wife Catherine in Bath
- Q&A With Margaret C. Sullivan of Austenblog: Facebook
- Review of The Jane Austen Handbook, Jane Austen Today
- Review of the Handbook at Austenprose