Jane Austen and The Regency Period
Tegan explains about Jane Austen and The Regency Period.
About Jane Austen
- Born in 1775.
- Jane Austen’s lower-gentry family was small and close-knit.
- She was educated by her father and older brothers as well as through reading.
- She was sent to boarding school until her family could no longer afford it.
- Jane Austen never married although she accepted an offer by Harris Bigg-Wither, but withdrew it the next day.
- It appears that she was about to make an economically sound but loveless match, but changed her mind.
- Her father tried to promote her writing and get some of it published to no avail.
- Sense and Sensibility (1811) Pride and Prejudice (1813) Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816) were published and became popular.
- The Prince Regent liked her novels and hinted that Austen should dedicate Emma to him.
- She did not like the Prince Regent, but had little choice but to carry out his wishes.
- Jane Austen became ill with a disease which may have been Addison’s, lymphoma or a recurrence of the typhus she had as a child.
- She died in 1817.
- Two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published after her death in 1818.
Austen′s Writing Style
- Austen’s works are considered Romantic fiction but stylistically contribute to 19th Century
- The tone of her works is satire which sets up her biting social commentary.
- Her works also critique the novels of sensibility, which relied on an over-indulgence in emotion to captivate readers.
- She experimented with literary forms, including the epistolary novel. Letters often feature in her novels.
- Critic and moralist Samuel Johnson was a strong influence on her writing. Consequently, her works consider moral issues in love and marriage, elevating the novel to an instruction on moral conduct.
The Regency Period
- In 1811, George III was deemed unfit to rule, suffering from madness due to arsenic poisoning.
- His son became Prince Regent, the proxy ruler, giving the cultural era its official title.
- The Prince Regent was disliked: considered a dandy, an excessive spender, an adulterer and a poor leader in a crisis.
- The American War of Independence (1775–1783) and the Napoleonic Wars (1769–1821) had threatened England’s sense of security and stability.
- The class system was therefore strictly upheld by the gentry, church and royals.
- England’s stability was thought to rely on individuals remaining in the class they were born to – to aim for a better life in high-class society was immoral, treasonous, even blasphemous.
- Nobles oblige meant the gentry provided charity to the poor near where they lived, in an almost feudal system.
- But Industrialism led to economic change: a new merchant class were growing large and wealthy.
- The nouveau riche had enough money to reach for luxuries, education, marriages and titles for the first time.
- This new middle-class threatened the gentry, many of whom had little money and only noble titles left.
- This led to intermarriage between wealthy merchant classes and noble families who had lost their fortunes – the nobles got a big dowry and the merchants got a rise in social status.
- Many of the gentry disapproved of these marriages and maintained an etiquette code, to distance and ostracise the merchant classes who were ignorant of these complex and formal social rules.
- These social manners were also used to reinforce the hierarchical social structure – people of the Regency period knew the correct way of addressing or showing respect to those with more wealth or higher political or social ranking than themselves.
- Fashion moved away from powdered wigs and furs as the French Revolution made it unfashionable to be overly aristocratic.
- Simplicity was preferred. Men wore linen trousers, overcoats, breeches and boots while women abandoned corsets for
- The charming, broody Lord Byron became a celebrity with his dark Romantic poetry and the Prince’s friend Beau Brummell defined and shaped the dandy fashions.