A new tome on Jane

June 3, 2013 at 10:54 AM (Jane Austen Books) (, , )

Greetings to you all on this, in Western Australia at least, public holiday Monday. I have just received the latest newsletter from The Society of Antiquaries of London in which a new book by Fellows Roy and Lesley Adkin is reviewed. Below I have copied it for your consideration, just in case you were in the mood for some Jane Austen-related book purchasing.


From: SALON, issue 299, 3 June 2013


Jane Austen wrote novels that are full of gentle humour, playing with people’s ideas of class and propriety. In her own time, the subtleties and nuances of her text would have been understood and enjoyed, but, as time has gone on, we have gradually lost a sense of what her finely tuned words and situations tell us about her characters. Riding to the rescue come our Fellows Roy and Lesley Adkins, whose very readable new book provides a compendium of background information about Jane Austen’s England so that when she writes, for example, about the clothing worn by her characters, or the duties and income of a parish rector, we have a much clearer idea of the weight of meaning that lies behind her apparently artless words.

As with their other recent best sellers, Jack Tar and Trafalgar, what makes this book so valuable and readable is the extensive use made by the authors of contemporary letters, diaries, newspaper reports, advertisements, concert programmes and more. The irritatingly wrong-headed generalisations and unsupported assertions that fill so many popular histories are replaced here by the precision of quotations that tell the story better than any paraphrase, in the language, spelling and punctuation of the time: the art of the Adkins is to read very widely, choose their quotations very well, and set them in a well-thought-out structure that here addresses such themes as marriage, class and ‘breeding’, childhood, fashion, church services, superstitions, wealth, work, leisure, transport, medicine and health and death.

As we approach the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s own death (18 July 1817), there will be hundreds of books, no doubt, clamouring for attention, but few will be as genuinely informative as this one, sending you back to read Jane Austen’s novels with the ability to see so much more of what literary critics like to call her ‘sub text’.

Roy and Lesley Adkins will be giving talks at various festivals and events throughout the summer, including the Cheltenham Science Festival, on 7 June 2013, a book launch talk in the Museum of Somerset at Taunton on 19 June 2013, in the Great Hall, where Jane Austen’s aunt was tried for shoplifting! (tickets are £8 each, available from the Museum of Somerset), at the Telegraph ‘Ways With Words’ Festival at Dartington, Devon, on 12 July 2013, and at the West Meon Festival of Books, in the heart of Jane Austen country, on 13 July 2013. You can see details of other festival appearances on the Adkins’s website and sign up for their informative and entertaining Occasional Newsletter, issues of which are almost a book chapter in themselves on diverse historical and archaeological subjects.

Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: how our ancestors lived two centuries ago, by Roy and Lesley Adkins; ISBN 9781408703960, Little Brown, 2013


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