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The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World Hardcover – April 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"What Would Jane Do?" No need to guess if teens have this handbook at their side. They will easily navigate the ins and outs of how genteel folk were expected to act in Regency society. Sullivan explains Austen's world and the everyday activities of its inhabitants with a gentle humor that makes their actions clear and, sometimes, even fun. Some of the activities described are outrageous for today's sensibilities, such as the idea of recruiting an actual hermit to live in your estate's hermitage "for full realism." On the other hand, "Country hospitality allows travelers to drop in and request a tour of any grand estate" is one some readers may wish was still allowed. Not all of the social hints are outdated; most of the rules on "How to Be a Good Correspondent" and those on planning a menu—"Consider what is available in the current season and what kind of food can be obtained locally, and choose your dishes accordingly"—are good contemporary advice. A valuable companion to Austen's novels. —School Library Journal

About the Author

Margaret C. Sullivan is the editrix of and an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her favorite Jane Austen novel is Persuasion.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (April 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594741719
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594741715
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 1.1 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on June 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It seems that every time I stroll into either a brick-and-mortar or online bookstore, I spot yet another book on Jane Austen. There are books on manners, biographies, cookbooks, tour guides, and even a reality-tv series. Miss Austen, it seems, is a goldmine available for anyone ready to plumb the depths of Regency England.

This time, it is Margaret Sullivan who has combed through six novels and other literary fragments that Miss Austen left behind, and has come up with a book of manners and truly correct behavior for the modern reader who wants to figure out why in the devil does it seem to take so long for our various heroes and heroines to admit that they do indeed love one another? And why is so much time spent on writing letters, details of dress, and why was it so awful not to get married at all?

Margaret Sullivan takes a look at all of this, and the minutiae of daily living in this volume. The various chapters are filled with quotes, anecdotes, drawings, how to's, and numerous drawings and sidebars. All of this is presented in a small hardbound book about the size of a mass-market paperback, printed on ivory paper in varying shades of teal-coloured ink. At this point, the sheer preciousness of this volume was starting to sink in, and I was wondering if I had indeed, wasted my money.

Well, yes, and no. Let's first take a look at what the various chapters cover:


Margaret Sullivan discusses as to why she wrote this book, along with snippets talking about what is forthcoming in the book.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on October 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Yes, it honestly says so in this book, on page ninety-two.

Okay, actually it doesn't quite, but after a lengthy discussion of undergarments of the Regency, what it truly does say is:

"That means we may assume, with a high degree of probability, that Jane Austen went commando."

And I don't think that means that the authoress of Emma (which inspired the movie Clueless, y'know) was involved in special forces military operations during the Napoleon Wars.

All righty, now that my title and opening paragraphs have alienated Austen scholars everywhere while also nicely hemming in Amazon's male readership, I'll try for the other half of the public by mentioning that this bite-sized robin's egg blue book is great as a resource for describing the minutia of morals, manners, social customs, dining habits, drinking practices, religion, travel arrangements, and much else of Englishwomen and Englishmen from the period in which Austen set her novels. Far from the boring and dusty tomes that too frequently tackle subjects like these, The Jane Austen Handbook is fast-paced and fun. I can't fairly describe myself as a great admirer of Jane Austen's sex-`n-violence-lacking tales but I thought Margaret C. Sullivan's work was absolutely first-rate. I enjoyed tremendously reading about the background facts of exactly how life would have been played out for those who peopled Persuasion, or who truly lived two centuries ago in rural England.

To highlight a few of the eye-opening revelations:

Back then almost everyone was on opium at one time or another.

Like the former pop stars of today, women didn't wear underwear. (Oh, wait, I already covered that..
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Piasta Wnuczka on March 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a charming little volume! The cover illustration says it all. This is for the modern woman who retains a Regency era aesthetic and sensibility, who ofttimes wonders: Where have all the manners gone? From email correspondence that starts bluntly with one's name and no "dear" to shop cashiers who expect the customer to be person that says "thank you," the 21st Century is devoid of what used to be called common courtesy, and Jane Austen reminds us of a more genteel era. True, there were class and gender inequalities, but that's not what we modern readers yearn for, nor are we just indulging in highbrow bodice rippers or retrogressive fantasies of subordination.

Some reviewers have snobbishly complained that The Jane Austen Handbook is just for those who came to appreciate Jane Austen after seeing "Colin Firth in a wet shirt" in the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice, but to that I say, the accusation is, one, off base and two, out of line. I, for one, studied Austen in grad school before that movie ever came out and I love it and this book. Secondly, even if it is true for some readers, so what? What sort of superiority are these detractors trying to claim -- "I read Jane first so I'm better than you"? That's an indication of a coarse and simpering immaturity that Miss Austen herself would not countenance and would indeed be inclined to masterfully caricature.

The Jane Austen Handbook is a combination handbook or primer and compact compendium of Regency life. It is for those of us who live and work and love and dress in the modern world, but who nonetheless like to display civility, sometimes laced with irony, in our speech and actions, to fold our letters property and to drink our tea from china cups, even as we work for our own "10,000 pounds a year" (Mr.
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