cover image Jane Austen’s England

Jane Austen’s England

Roy and Lesley Adkins. Viking, $26.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-670-78584-1

This encyclopedic and entertaining volume will suit readers who daydream about going back in time to walk alongside literary figures such as Austen. The Adkinses (Nelson’s Trafalgar), a husband and wife archeology team, dive into Austen’s world to provide a fuller view of Regency life, covering everything from the smallest domestic details to the broadest legal codes. The writers also strive to illuminate voices from all classes, though they obviously rely a great deal on members of literate society, such as clergyman Reverend James Woodforde and governess Nelly Weeton. Austen, too, wends her way through the volume, and there are quotes and examples from her novels and correspondence. While familiarity with her work will surely enhance reader delight, knowledge of the primary sources isn’t necessary. The writing moves at a breezy pace, though it occasionally becomes bogged down by the multitude of examples, and at other times becomes dizzying, as readers leapfrog among topics (for example, from cosmetics to tooth powder to bodily functions). Though the book might have benefitted from deeper analysis overall, readers will still appreciate its exciting sweep. (Aug.)