Jane Austen : the world of her novels

by Dierdre Le Faye

Paper Book, 2002




New York : Harry N. Abrams, 2002.


With a wealth of details about Jane Austen's life and times, this volume brings to life the world of her novels. Austen scholar Deirdre Le Faye first gives an overview of the period, from foreign affairs to social ranks, from fashion to sanitation. She goes on to consider each novel individually.

Media reviews

When Jane Austen's novels were published, some readers dismissed them as "too natural to be interesting." Yet their very true-to-lifeness helped earn Austen (1775-1817) her place in the literary canon. Nearly 200 years later, many praise what Austen scholar (and obvious fan) Le Faye calls her ability to create the "sensation that we are visiting genuine places and joining in the lives of genuine people." Le Faye (Jane Austen: A Family Record) argues that modern readers need a thorough explanation of Austen's milieu-Georgian and Regency Britain-in order to fully understand and enjoy her fiction. She provides just that by weaving together carefully researched biographical information, meticulously detailed descriptions of everything from social hierarchy to cosmetics and sanitation, as well as summaries of and contemporary reactions to Austen's novels. Color illustrations and maps provide further illumination, particularly the portraits suggesting what beloved characters such as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet might have looked like. Although the volume comprises distinct sections of biography, history and criticism, the three are intermingled throughout. This generally succeeds at making the book more engaging, but sometimes Le Faye fails to clarify whether she's discussing Austen's siblings, Englishmen of no relation or fictional characters, which may frustrate readers who aren't that familiar with Austen's work. Despite this, and the fact that some points are almost painfully obvious-of course contraception and refrigeration have improved since 1817-this book is a worthy addition to the Austen fan's library.

User reviews

LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
After staunchly refusing to read Austen's novels for years, on the insistence that all of her stories are about 'white frocks and weddings', I can no longer deny her genius. 'Sense and Sensibility', 'Emma' and of course 'Pride and Prejudice' are now permanently installed on my bookshelves, and I know I will read them again and again.

As a newcomer to the Regency, although the early nineteenth century is only a hop and a skip away from my favourite era of the French Revolution, Deirdre Le Faye's comprehensive overview of Jane Austen's England, from the perspective of her life and works, is invaluable. I was already aware of the general history of the time, and some of the social etiquette mentioned in Austen's novels, but Le Faye links fact and fiction seamlessly, discussing education from the perspective of Darcy, Bingley, the Bertrams and Knightleys, and the domestic roles of women like Emma Woodhouse and Mrs Dashwood. It's also interesting to note how sparing Austen was with descriptive details of characters and settings - the reader is only 'shown' around houses of future relevance to the heroine, as with Lizzie Bennet and Pemberley, and not places with which they are familiar.

The first part of Le Faye's guide to Austen's world is an introduction to the author and her world - Regency England, Europe and the colonies, travel, transport, social ranks, naval, education, military and clerical life, fashion, domestic and social life. Le Faye writes clearly and simply, providing examples from Jane's life and novels. The second part builds on this foundation with in-depth studies of the novels, providing plot summaries, character descriptions and geographical background, which I found most interesting, comparing the Devonshire, Dorsetshire, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Surrey, etc. of Jane's time with present day locations. Meryton in 'Pride and Prejudice', for example, is based on Hertford, and Highbury in 'Emma' is reported to be Leatherhead, Surrey. Le Faye also adds copies of contemporary portraits which could be the characters in Jane's books, and photographs of houses upon which the fictional estates of Donwell, Mansfield and Pemberley might have been based upon. The individual sections do give away the story, however, so if there exists anyone else like me who hasn't read every novel, beware of spoilers!

I found this book really useful and fascinating, and will definitely invest in my own copy after handing in the well-thumbed version borrowed from the library!
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LibraryThing member amf0001
Gives historical background to Austen novels. Good for die hard fans, but I read it for research and it's layout was not as helpful as it could be - for instance, there was a long description about the various kinds of coaches, but no diagrams to explain what they were describing, which would have been much more helpful.
LibraryThing member Renz0808
A longtime fan of Jane Austen's novels I really enjoyed this book as a supplemental for information about the culture, politics and era that the novels that place in. I learned a lot fo things about this time period and how it relates to the books. I thought it was a excellent source of information. I also really liked reading the authors interpretations of the books and her character sketches on what she thought some of the main characters would have looked it. This is a great edition for the library of any lover of Jane Austen's works.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kellswitch
I've read several books dealing with this time period, but this one had a slightly different approach by incorporating passages from Jane Austen's novels in the order they were written to as the author describes and gives examples of the world she lived in.

I liked this approach since instead of just an historian looking back on the culture of the time from a modern perspective, we have access to what someone OF that time experienced within the historical context.… (more)
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would, mostly because I already knew a lot of the information presented. If I knew less about the subject I think I would have found this a more rewarding read. I am giving it an extra star because of all the pretty, pretty pictures.

I also enjoyed Le Faye's little speculations about what might have happened to the characters in the novels after the ending.… (more)
LibraryThing member maryfremma
A must for all Jane Austen lovers.


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