THE JANE AUSTEN HANDBOOK By Margaret C. Sullivan [Review]

The Jane Austen Handbook

Some people find it surprising that I am a huge fan of Jane Austen. I guess considering a lot of my reading material Jane does fit oddly in the mix, and yet she still holds a place of honor on the shelves and in my heart. With the surge of “Jane Austen” books, I have settled in to enjoy, laugh and shudder in absolute horror at the various recent offerings. Often the modern inceptions miss the point of Austen completely, and leave me wallowing in a sticky puddle of treacle that I cannot escape from no matter how I fight. Thus, it is with absolute joy, I opened and devoured Margaret C. Sullivan’s THE JANE AUSTEN HANDBOOK.

As she explains in her delightful introduction, while many of us indulge in fantasies of the Regency world, we truly know little of the behaviors, manners and expectations of the time. So very true. I doubt I would last ten seconds during “a Season” in London. I am not sure who would have me removed, but removed I would be. I am not accomplished (we will cover that), well-mannered (you probably guessed that), and know nothing of the ways of the heart (at least the proper ways).

Sullivan starts with the basics, the accomplished lady. As Bennett (in Pride and Prejudice) declares, and she quotes, I agree that it is mind-boggling at how accomplished all young ladies seemed to be. Shall we go down the checklist and see how we stack up? Play pianoforte and sing, check. General knowledge of geography and history, check. Learn to dance gracefully, check—maybe. Speak French and Italian, do a couple of words count? Draw and paint, uh… Master needlework, hey, hang on.. I have to know all this and more? Yes, more.

Once we’re accomplished, we have to set out into the larger world full of other accomplished young ladies who all want to take us down and nail—um, marry—the title, money and positioned gentlemen of Society. We learn how to attend a ball and how to play the dreaded whist. Have you even been at the latest, most fashionable event and wanted to hide from an undesirable, or barring that need to ditch your dancing partner without offending Society? That’s all covered. In fact, everything you need to know is here.

As she works through the The Jane Austen Handbook, humor bubbling through the pages, Sullivan accomplishes what so few modern writers manage when dealing with Austen. She captures the essence of Jane and her world. She lays it all bare in what seems to be a simple book of etiquette that is just a perfect as an evening at Pemberley.

The Jane Austen Handbook is to be savored, make a cup of tea and sit down (proper posture please!) and read a chapter at a time, taking notes in proper penmanship, we are accomplished after all. Once you are through, you are ready, but keep the handbook with you. So when the time machine pops up in your front yard, and a perfectly dressed Regency gentleman (or gentlewoman) exits and asks to whisk you away—have no fear. Tuck this wonderful little book in your purse and off you go, secure in the knowledge that you have it covered.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars | Publisher: Quirk Books | Pages: 224 | Source: Publisher | Buy on Amazon

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