An Elegant Madness: 0high Society in Regency England

Venetia Murray, Author
Venetia Murray, Author Viking Books $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-670-88328-8
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 316 pages - 978-0-14-028296-2
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History buffs, Anglophiles and perhaps even fans of Regency romances will enjoy this survey of the notoriously flamboyant English Regency period (here covering the years 1780-1830). In 13 well-researched chapters studded with excerpts from letters, diaries, journals and memoirs, Murray offers a lively portrait of upper-class life during a time marked by ""elegance and style which are unique in the history of English culture."" The influx of thousands of aristocratic refugees from the French Revolution spurred a frenzied embrace of French fashions, as well as the Prince Regent's ostentatious style, and transformed England during those 50 tumultuous years. Meanwhile, support of the Napoleonic war and the effects of the Industrial Revolution led to economic chaos: ""in some cases rents were increased five-fold between 1790 and 1830."" As the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, the vicious Luddite riots protested the unemployment caused by the introduction of new machinery. Despite endemic violence, there was no organized police force. Murray does a wonderful job of bringing to life the era's notables--including Beau Brummel, Jane Austin, Wellington, Mrs. Fitzherbert and Lady Caroline Lamb--and observing the profligate spending habits and social inanities of the upper-crust British in the post-Waterloo era. (Mar.)
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