Social Issues

Brewer, John. The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997.

Flanders, Judith. Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2004. This book is just wonderful. It goes through a Victorian house, room by room, and discusses all the socio-economic aspects of the room itself. It also discusses architecture and furnishings, and technological advancements. Then the author brings in fascinating information about Victorian cultural mores, social stigmas, societal expectations, and illustrates them all with contemporary quotes and writing excerpts. It’s an extraordinarily complex and fascinating look at home life in 19th Century England.

Gooch, Robert. A Practical Compendium of Midwifery. Philadelphia: Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell, 1840. This book went through four American editions between 1830 and 1840; it must have been the standard for information about midwifery at the time. Gooch himself (1784-1830) delivered a series of lectures at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London on the subject, around 1817. The lectures were collected and prepared for publication after Gooch’s death. It’s familiarly known as Gooch’s Midwifery, and I suspect later editions were reprints rather than new editions.  Most university libraries will have a copy and it’s not that expensive used, considering its age. It contains invaluable information about standard gynecological and obstetrical practices, and contemporary attitudes towards women, and their treatment. Maternal and infant mortality rates were still quite high, and the death of a mother and/or child was not seen as an isolated tragedy. It’s also useful to see the terminology used at the time, and what they knew, and didn’t know. He described endometriosis, but didn’t have the term, and mentioned clotting and infertility, without knowing what was actually happening. It’s also delightful reading, with little vignettes of Gooch’s own practice. In one instance, he described a particularly harrowing, dangerous, nearly fatal lying-in of a patient, and remarked that six weeks later he saw her by her front gate, feeding the ducks.

Hartley, Dorothy. Lost Country Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979. This fascinating book follows agricultural life on an English estate,  beginning in January, and passing, month by month, through the year. Even on a farm, the threat of hunger and ruin were always close, and practices were developed to maximize yields and minimize waste. This is a study of medieval practices, but the rhythms and traditions were recognizable well into the 19th Century.   How was flax harvested? What did they do with buttermilk? When did lambing occur? Your questions about farm life will all be answered here.

Hubert, Maria, and Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Christmas: The Festive Season in Georgian England. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1996. Description of festive customs, games, menus, recipes, gifts, stories and letters are interspersed with letters that Jane Austen wrote to her family about the Christmas holidays. I think it’s especially useful because the Victorians have so co-opted the whole Christmas season, and made it the over-the-top celebration we know of today. And faced with that Victorian enthusiasm, as well as the great old Regency Christmas anthologies, I think there is a tendency to suppose that earlier Georgian Christmases were celebrated more in that Victorian fashion than in the much more understated way that Jane Austen described. I searched on-line to figure out which carols were used during the Christmas Season.

McCullough, David. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. This fascinating book looks at the first non-aristocratic visitors from the United States to Paris. These were often students of art or medicine, as there were no schools for their speciality in America. Often, the new students were woefully unprepared financially, linguistically, and socially for the experience. But most of them prospered and cherished every moment of the time in Paris. And many of them returned, later in their lives. This really needs to be accompanied by a coffee table book, one that properly shows the works of art, the buildings, the paintings, and the travelers themselves. The few pages of illustrations did not begin to answer my questions, but I found much to admire in Google Images. One that traumatized me was a painting by a young American, John Douglas Patrick, a farm boy who had grown up loving the horses on his farm, in fury painted “Brutality,” of a French carter savagely beating his cart horse. One account I read reported that upon seeing the incident, he proceeded to beat the tar out of the carter. I hope so. One visitor with the most intriguing story was the ambassador to France, Elihu B. Washburne. His extraordinary humanitarian actions during the Siege of Paris in 1870, and the destruction and  savagery of the Communards’ rise and fall 1871 surely saved literally hundreds of lives. (This seemed to advance a different view of that episode of Paris history than I had learned before. I must investigate more.)

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.

Pinkard, Susan. A Revolution in Taste: the Rise of French Cuisine, 1650-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. This is the wonderful story of the emergence and development of the French cuisine that we cherish and indulge in at every opportunity. From the fussy, confusing, over-seasoned mishmash of medieval cooking, in which basic ingredients were overwhelmed and disguised, came the concept of perfect, fresh foodstuffs prepared in a fashion that emphasized their natural beauty and taste. And there is so much there for us to appreciate. Recipes included.

Plumb, J. H. Georgian Delights. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980.  This book provides a summary of the social, intellectual, philosophical and financial issues that influenced how the upper classes in Eighteenth Century Britain conducted their leisure activities. The Enlightenment figures largely here, as well as my favorite development–that families, parents and children, were now spending considerable time together, and engaging in activities as a family. The second part of the book goes into fascinating detail about these various activities, such as gardening, art, music, and the theater.  Copiously illustrated, though, alas, all in black and white.

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. There are also pages listing aristocratic British surnames. This is very handing when coming up with characters’ names.

Weiner, Margery. The French Exiles 1789-1815. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1961. This is an interesting study of the French aristocrats who fled France for Britain in the chaos and destruction of the French Revolution.  An earlier migration of Frenchmen to England, the Huguenots of the 17th Century, were welcomed as Protestant martyrs by another Protestant country. In addition, many of the Huguenots were skilled craftsmen, and easily inserted themselves into the English economy. But when their aristo oppressors began fleeing the Revolution, there were concerns about their reception, their religion, and their financial support. There’s interesting stories here of desperate times and measures. Scarlet Pimpernel fans will find much to admire, and perhaps use.
Titles and ranks for British nobility. I know, I recommended a book for titles; this works, too.


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