Six Favorite Reference Books

(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

Okay. Here’s the start of my bibliography. I’m not saying you need to buy these books, or even use them. I’m saying I’ve found them helpful. I always like to work with a book before buying it, unless it’s something so specialized, like Jane Austen’s Christmas that I knew it would be my best choice. My rule of thumb is that if I’ve had to get it from the library twice, I can buy it. I use my own library, and the local university library. I can get interlibrary loan books usually free from my library, and I use that to examine possibilities. I’ve always used for my purchases. I’ve never had any problem with them. So again, I’m not saying you should shop there, just that I use that website. I also make it up to the legendary used bookstore Powell’s in Portland a couple times a year, and check out what they have. (Sorry to be so insistent. We can’t advocate any commercial enterprise at the library, so I have to be clear that I’m just saying what works for me.) And I didn’t own any of these books when I started, and I still managed to find information. Unfortunately, a furniture shuffle in the house has placed a very large bookcase in my study. I feel strangely compelled to fill it. Completely.

But I don’t want anyone not writing because of research issues or a too-small personal library. okay?

I already sang the praises of the Oxford English Dictionary, and mentioned Paterson’s Roads, and Parissien’s Regency Style. I won’t go there again.

Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. Boston: Plays, Inc. 1973. These authors have turned out a fabulous series of costume books, by the century. Eloisa refers to this one in her piece in which she discusses deciding on a character’s costume. (I take credit for introducing her to the book.) I also have the authors’ book on the History of Underclothes, which is fascinating, but possibly the worst-illustrated book I’ve ever seen. I’ve found everything I’ve needed to know about all aspects of 18th Century costumes in this one volume.

Glover, Michael. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Hamden: Archon Books, 1974 An epic, fascinating, account of the Napoleonic wars that England fought in Portugal, Spain, and Southern France. (Waterloo isn’t included, but the author has another, smaller book, on all of Napoleon’s military campaigns.) What I find especially useful is an Appendix that lists the dates of arrival and departure of every British regiment that was posted to the war, and the battles they fought in. This is great if you want to track the motions of a particular soldier, or if you need to find a battle that fits a particular wodge of time.

Murray, Venetia. An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. This is one to read all the way through. This isn’t just a reference book, but a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the peculiar wildness of Regency society. The descriptions of the clubs, the spas, the individuals, the high-jinks will prove useful information, and help enliven any book set in Regency London.

Picard, Liza. Dr. Johnson’s London. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. This is a great social compendium of everything that was going on in London in the late 18th Century. Need to know what hospitals were in London at the time? It’s here. Or how streets were cleaned (or not cleaned) or who cleaned the cooking kettles, and by what method. This provides fascinating and useful information about all aspects of life in London.

Titles and Forms of Address, Thirteenth Edition. London: Adam & Charles Black, n.d. It’s all here, everything you need to know about referencing and addressing everyone from the Queen, to Mayors when Ladies to Irish Chieftans.

Weinreb, Ben and Hibbert, Christopher, (eds.) The London Encyclopedia. Bethedsa: Adler & Adler, 1986. This is a huge and good companion piece to the Picard book, as it covers a much large time span, but you have to know what you’re looking for, though the almost impossible-to-read index provides some direction. You could find a reference in Picard or another source, and then see what happened to the reference before and after Dr. Johnson’s time in here. It’s the sort of book you dip into, and continually find new interesting things to read about, while hours pass, unnoticed. It also makes you long to visit London, and see these places for yourself.

Okay. There’s a start. At some point, I hope you’ll begin to share your favorite print resources, which need not just be British, or Regency. This would be as good a time as any. I’ll do another listing later in the week.


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