Husband and wife team Roy and Lesley Adkins’ Jane Austen’s England is a delightful, fascinating work of non-fiction that will capture the attention of even the most reluctant history readers. And I would know, as the non-fiction section of my library is remarkable only in its brevity.
Unwilling to bury their readers in a dry, lengthy catalog of events, names, and details, the Adkins’ instead build a narrative of daily life during Austen’s lifetime via the inclusion of primary sources: the diaries and letters of several figures from all walks of life.
Structured in twelve chapters the book proceeds from marriage through death and traverses several subjects in between.
Though absolutely brimming with fascinating facts (and potential novel ideas for you writers out there) I’ve picked out the five that really captured my attention:
1. Marriages in puris naturalibus
Oh this is a good one. At first I was horrified, and then I laughed and laughed and laughed… In the late Georgian era it was a practice (though how common a one I cannot say) for a widow whose husband who had left her with debts and, who intended to remarry, to go to her new wedding en chemise—because if she “brought no clothes or property to the union, the husband-to-be was thought not liable for any debts she might have.” It’s all a bit drafty if you ask me.
However, what makes this odder is that in some corners it was wrongly believed that a “smock wedding” also had the means of enabling a bride to retain her own property when entering the marriage—so it couldn’t be seized if her new husband had debts. But only if she went to her wedding in puris naturalibus. Stark. Naked. ($20 says a man invented that erroneous add-on to the already questionable smock marriage…)