Thursday, April 15, 2010

Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England

One of the reasons that I like history so much is learning that people are the same no matter when they lived. They have the same hopes and dreams. They love their children and hate their in-laws. They have good bosses and bad bosses, and bouts of unemployment. They feud with their neighbors and their extended families. They are just like us but without indoor plumbing and cable.

Amanda Vickery has delved into the treasury trove of diaries, retail records, probate records and household account books to provide us with a detailed and intimate look at life during the Georgian period which she defines as 1660 to 1850. We catch glimpses into the lives of bachelors, spinsters, tradespeople and the wealthy. Changing tastes and habits are traced through styles of furniture and wallpaper. Most surprising to me were the number of "lodgers", people renting one or two rooms in a house, in cities during this period.

As fascinating as the details in this book are, I found myself vaguely disappointed. I realized that I already knew most of the information presented by Ms. Vickery through my reading of Jane Austen. In fact, Ms. Vickery quotes Jane Austen frequently in support for her conclusions. Jane Austen’s vivid descriptions of the homes and lives of her characters are perfect illustrations of the very people that Ms. Vickery is trying to bring to life for us.

Which leads me to wonder, do we really need this book? Are Jane Austen’s books not "history" because they are fiction? Perhaps Behind Closed Doors would better be described as finding the factual basis for Jane Austen’s fictional world. Budding novelists are always advised to write what they know which is exactly what Jane Austen did. How well she wrote about the world she knew, is shown by Ms. Vickery’s extensive research into the life and times of the people of Georgian England.


Jessica said...

I havent read this book but am surprised most of the information was found in ane Austen's books. Although Jane Austen did write about what she knew, it was a very small world Jane Austen lived it.

I think the duchess or Wedlock by wendy moore might provide some of the more darker aspests of Georgian england amonst the upper classes which you wont find in Jane Austen.

OldRoses said...

The point of this book was to reveal the world of people who were not of the upper classes. And there were plenty of "darker aspects" described in the book.