Writing about life in 1802 is a challenge. One of the key ambitions of a writer of fiction is to be so persuasive that the reader suspends disbelief … forgets that the world and the characters he or she is reading about is make-believe. To do this the writer has to ensure there are no jarring historical inaccuracies or plot inconsistencies which brings them out of their fugue.
Pretty straightforward for those whose story is set in the present day or better yet is a fantasy world of the author’s own devising, but with historical fiction, accuracy is all and that requires a LOT of background research. This is especially with Regency fiction the readers of which are a very knowledgeable bunch.
So before I began the ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ I knew I had to do my research. I read a great many books – some good, some not-so-good – and I thought it might be useful to pass on my thoughts and recommendations.
I began by reading about Georgian London – a good chunk of the action of my story takes place there ‒ trying to get a feel for the place and the people. These are the books I referenced to help me do this:
“Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England” by Roy and Lesley Adkins
If I had to recommend just one book as an introduction to life in Georgian England, this would be it. Comprehensive yet entertaining, it provided any number of insights that helped me in the writing of my novel. For instance, the importance of almanacs to the Georgians was partly due to their being able to alert night-time travelers when the moon would be out (coach travel on a moonless night was a perilous occupation). Another example: in ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ Mrs Reynolds advises Elizabeth that she has provided her maid with sheets for use in coaching inns, this prompted by the Adkins’ book. An excellent book.
Nelli Rating: 10/10
“Dr. Johnson’s London” by Liza Picard
Perhaps in terms of ‘fun reading’ this is my favorite of the five I’m reviewing. It could be criticized for being a little staccato and list-like but I enjoyed it immensely. It was by far the best at conveying the idiosyncrasies of life in Georgian London and was a treasure trove of bits and pieces to get an author’s creative juices flowing. For instance it describes ‘the language of the fan’ – how ladies communicated using their fans – which is great fun for a writer. Examples:
Fan close, tip to lips: hush we are overheard; and
Open fan, hiding eyes: I love you.
I also loved the comment, attributed to Lady Browne, that, ‘We English always carry two purses on our journeys, a small one for the robber and a large one for ourselves’. Marvellous stuff. I had Elizabeth follow Lady Browne’s advice.
Nelli Rating: 9/10
“Voices from the World of Jane Austen” by Malcolm Day
For those about to embark on writing about Georgian life this is an excellent place to start. That the book is built around passages from the journals of real Georgians and excerpts from Georgian newspapers and the like enables you to appreciate the manner in which people conversed and the things that were important to them. I think it was this book that first alerted me to the depth of the divisions that racked Georgian society especially regarding such divisive subjects as the abolition of slavery and the impact of the industrial revolution. Highly recommended.
Nelli Rating: 8/10
“Georgian London: Into the Streets” by Lucy Inglis
An excellent book and one which conveys how very confined London was at that time: one million people crammed in an area perhaps only a tenth of the size of modern day London. It was especially useful as it describes London by district so if your character finds him or herself in Lambeth (as mine does) you’ll know to make mention of the forest of windmills decorating the area these used to grind the flour needed to keep London supplied with bread. Similarly, given that my story heavily involved the intractable ‘Irish Question’ that St Giles was where the poor Irish in London congregated (and where in the mid-eighteenth century one out of every five buildings was a “gin-house”) was a very useful piece of intelligence. Well worth a read.
Nelli Rating: 7/10
“Georgette Hayer’s Regency World” by Jennifer Kloester
An excellent introduction to Regency life, well written and well-illustrated though I found it somewhat superficial. My main criticism of it is that as a writer trying to come to terms with the rhythm of Georgian speech the lack of quotes from the Georgians themselves gave it a very sanitized feel, though I suppose the title of the book should have given me a warning of that. I also thought the Appendix of slang was a little truncated (but more of that in a later blog).
Nelli Rating 6/10