Hold on to your bonnets ladies, Austenland is almost here. The film, which stars Keri Russell as an uber Jane Austen fan who travels to England for the vacation of a lifetime — a chance to live the Regency experience — won high marks at the Sundance Festival and enjoyed a strong limited release this weekend. While the rest of us wait with bated breath for the film to come to our local movie house I thought I’d take a closer look at what life was really like in Jane’s day. I was inspired by the August 15 HuffingtonPost.com article by Roy and Lesley Adkins which list 13 Reason You Wouldn’t Want to Live In Jane Austen’s England.
- Forced Marriage
- Infant Mortality
- Fetching Water
- Dangers of Fire
- Child Labor
- Chimney Sweeps
- Dubious Medicines
- Dodgy Dentistry
- Shocking Surgery
- Press Gangs
- The Bloody Code (Criminal Courts)
- Punishment After Death
- Injustice After Death
I’d like to humbly add my own warnings to coveting a life in an Empire dress.
First… forget about Darcy. If you are like me (solidly in the middle class) you’ve got about as much chance as marrying the Master of Pemberley (or Donwell or Delaford or Mansfield) as you do of winning PowerBall. As Austen makes perfectly clear MONEY likes MONEY, and if you don’t have it you’re not likely to attract it. Maybe, if you are very, very pretty you might temp an unwary man (assuming there’s not an eagle-eyed sister, mother or aunt looking out for just your sort). However, with out the aid of modern dentistry and plastic surgery I hope that your beauty is God-given.
Be prepared to get sick. The food is going to totally suck. With out the benefit of an Amana French Door stainless steel refrigerator — the Regency cook’s best method for preserving food is salt. Yum. The water is unfiltered and filled with lovely microbes and the milk is unpasteurized.
Ladies hush your mouth. If children were meant to be seen and not heard, members of the fairer sex weren’t expected to say much more. Certainly they weren’t expected to say anything that contradicted with the men around them. That may make Elizabeth Bennet all the more extraordinary, but don’t you go trying it.
Granted, it’s fun to don a Regency dress, long gloves and hat every once in a while, but I can’t imagine doing it every day. Summers must have been brutal (and aromatic) with all that fabric and no air conditioning.
Then again…I guess fantasy is part of the appeal of Austen’s novels. And every time I pick up one of Jane’s six novels (or one of the many Austen inspired books on my shelf) I’m a very willing participant in that fantasy…. As I will be when I go to see Austenland… if it ever makes it to a screen near me.