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WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKENS KNEW by Daniel Pool

WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKENS KNEW

From Fox Hunting to Whist--the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England

By Daniel Pool

Pub Date: July 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-79337-3
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 An eccentric collection of brief essays (plus a glossary) that explains not the facts but the fictions of English life, as they were represented by writers such as Hardy, Trollope, Dickens, and Jane Austen. To provide an understanding of the life portrayed in 19th- century English novels, Pool focuses primarily on economic and social issues; the era's money, calendar (holidays, terms, reigns), and measurements; and geography. The ``public world'' of the era, he explains, consisted of titles, forms of address, various ranks in status and the etiquette associated with them, dinner parties, card games, presentations at court, social ``seasons,'' and balls- -from whom to invite to what to wear, to why wax dripping from overhead chandeliers on to guests was perilous. Pool--often sounding like the annotator of a Jane Austen text--explains the country-house visit; the contemporary definition of wealth; ways to protect one's estate--or to lose it; Parliament; the Church; the navy; universities; law, lawyers, and criminals. A section on ``transition'' discusses the roles of horses, coaches, railroads, and the mail, and is followed by essays on country life (hunting, farms, fairs) and on domesticity (marriage, sex, divorce, furniture, lighting, bathing, food--including puddings, oysters, and gruel--and drink, fashion, and servants). Pool winds up with the ``grim world'' of orphans, work, poverty, disease, and death, while a glossary explains names such as Wellington and Westminster, and terms such as ``wet nurse'' and ``whalebone.'' Not history per se but a period piece--a reproduction of the idealizations and stereotypes that appeared in fiction, many of which were well explained in context. Superficial but charming--in effect, a handbook on how to live as if one were a character in a 19th-century English novel.