'Jane Austen's England' is some of the most readable nonfiction that I have encountered. Lacking that textbook feel so common in nonfiction, this book draws the reader in, educating and entertaining at the same time. Jane Austen's novels tend to focus on the upper class in England near the turn of the 19th century, but this book broadens the reader's knowledge of the common person's experience living in Jane Austen's time.
Chapters are broken up into particular areas of life, such as childhood, work, health, fashion, religion and death. The author quotes innumerable sources for contemporary views on each topic. Some excerpts are humorous, others sorrowful. Each brings a little bit of the late 1700s and early 1800s to life.
This book also includes a series of helpful maps, index on weights and measures, a chronological overview, vast endnotes, and lengthy bibliography.
Though this book is not a biography of Jane Austen or completely focused on her work, lines from her novels are included as well as portions of letters that she wrote and other information about her life. Her insistence upon accuracy in her novels led to a very telling picture of a small section of society at the time. 'Jane Austen's England' gives us entrance into the rest of it.
Many Jane Austen fans will enjoy this book for its ability to place the reader inside her world. Others may be turned off by the reality of the common man that does not turn up much in her depictions of those with a set annual income. It is a must read for those interested in this era of history and a valuable resource for anyone writing about this period.
* I received this book as an advance uncorrected proof copy from the publisher for review purposes.