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Ins and Outs of British Society

Love English literature but don't know the difference between a barouche and a carriage? Or a lady's maid and a scullery maid? Wonder no longer. With this list of books, you'll soon be an expert on the ins and outs of British society and the famous novels that society produced.

Georgian & Regency England

The Georgian period of English history was all about changes—English arts, politics, and society flourished and expanded over this time. Between 1714 and 1837, with a sub-period now called the Regency Era (1811-1820), when the Prince Regent ruled in his ailing father King George III's stead, everything from architecture to industry was reinventing itself. In the midst of it all, some of the most beloved books in history were being written by authors like Mary Shelley and Jane Austen.

 Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross

English manners can be complicated. In Emma, Mrs. Elton is the one who leads the ball that Emma herself planned, and in Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Darcy gets some serious side-eye for failing to take a dance partner at several country balls. English manners were a sign of breeding and class, but the strict rules were also designed to make people feel comfortable in society, appreciated, and respected. Of course, rules can also be used to make people feel inferior and undignified. But if there wasn’t a concrete set of rules and regulations that optimized English manners, how would anyone have known what to do?


Classic Georgian Style book cover

Classic Georgian Style by Henrietta Spencer-Churchill

If you're having trouble visualizing what Pemberley or Hartfield look like, this book will give you stunning images of Georgian and Regency house and interiors. It consists of full-color photographs of these ancient homes as they are now, complete with the interiors that were all the rage 300 years ago. It's a visually stunning look into the past.



Georgian London Into the Streets book cover

Georgian London: Into the Streets by Lucy Inglis

In Georgian London: Into the Streets, we see London at its best. A century after the Great Fire of London, the city was stronger than it had ever been—its newly designed streets and buildings were modern and safer. Exciting and cosmopolitan, London soon became a place of art and culture, education, and ideas. With a walk through the streets of London and a look at life through the eyes of the everyday person—from the working man to the cultured gentleman, from aristocrat to beggar—Inglis gives readers a first-hand glimpse into the busy streets of Georgian London.



Regency Reading List

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Jane Austen: The Complete Novels

Jane Austen's Letters collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye

Cecilia by Fanny Burney

Victorian England

Queen Victoria took the English throne in 1837 and ruled until 1901. Over this 64-year period, England was prosperous and refined and produced some of the world's most beloved novels. Although they seem strict by today's standards, the Victorians took pride in their society and their traditions. But if you need help wading through all these customs, here are some books to help you along your way.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew book cover

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From fox hunting to whist-the facts of daily life in nineteenth-century England  by Daniel Pool

Which card game is more hip, whist or speculation? What does one need to be a proper English gentleman? From the moors of Yorkshire to the townhouses of London, Pool guides his readers through 19th century England. And it’s not all high society and weekends in the country. Pool gets to the nitty-gritty of English life with chapters on poorhouses, common diseases, and perhaps more information than you’d expect about what the Victorians did with their garbage. Pool even did some of his research at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building so you know his book is well researched and full of details you didn’t know you didn’t know about the Victorians!


Nineteenth Century Fashion In Detail book cover

Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail  by Lucy Johnston

How many dresses does a lady of fashion need for a weekend in the country? At the very least you’d need a morning dress, a walking dress, a tea dress, and a dinner dress. Also, if you’re in the city, you’d need an opera dress and cloak; if you’re in the country, you need a riding outfit. There are also coats, jackets, and hats to consider—and let’s not forget gloves, parasols, shoes, and jewelry. The outfits of a society lady in Victorian England are plentiful and specific. The photographs in this book are from the glorious fashion collection and archives at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. With many close-ups of the fashions of the 19th century, readers can see the detail and artistry that went into creating the stunning fashions the walked the streets of London and the halls of country mansions in Victorian England.

The Invention of Murder book cover

The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders

Leave it to the Victorians to have rules for the mourning. After Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria wore black for the rest of her life. Everyone from widows to children was expected to wear certain colors for a certain amount of time after a death in the family. But death by murder wasn’t a common occurrence in Victorian England and there were not yet any societal rules attached to this most lawless act. Perhaps that’s why the occasional murder could easily become a Victorian sensation. Between the press and passers-by, no crime scene went on unseen. It was during the Victorian era that England’s first police force was being formed. Soon the Victorian’s affinity for crimes seeped into its fiction. Everyone from Dickens to Trollope spiced up their novels with some mystery, and it wasn’t long before the most famous detective in the world, the unforgettable Sherlock Holmes, became a household name.

Victorian Reading List

Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson


Edwardian England

After the death of Queen Victoria, England’s long-reigning monarch who embodied the conservative and structured life of Victorian England, her son, the fun-loving Prince Edward, became king. During his short reign of nine years (1901-1910), England seemed to embrace a freer lifestyle. Prince Edward had already made an impression in the fashionable world of England and Europe while his mother was queen and he continued to embody this ideal during his reign.

Although the horrors of the Great War helped the British look back at the reign of King Edward with a loving nostalgia, there was still a lot of change that shook up the stability that characterized Victorian England. Politics took on more liberal ideas, the second industrial revolution created more opportunities for the middle class, and women began to demand equality and the right to vote. Edwardian literature embodied both the revolutionary and idealized ideas of its time.


Women's Suffrage Memorabilia book cover

Women's Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study  by Kenneth Florey

When it came to suffrage, women were a force to be reckoned with. Suffragettes fought for their rights earnestly and forcefully, but they also brought innovation and creativity to their mission. They created slogans and chants for their cause. They published newspapers and pamphlets to further explain their position. They wore pins and sashes to show their allegiance to their ideals. From buttons and fliers, to photographs and mean-spirited satirical cartoons, Florey’s eclectic book is a visual aid to the suffragette's experience. See the ingenuity of the suffragettes, the brutality of their opposition, and the reaction of the world in Florey’s book of memorabilia.


The Real Life Downton Abbey book cover

The real life Downton Abbey : how life was really lived in stately homes a century ago by Jack Hyams

Even though England was rapidly changing, some parts of Victorian tradition that still had a firm grasp on English society. This, of course, was the intricate hierarchy of butlers and under-butlers, upstairs maids and scullery maids, cooks, and gardeners that all worked together to keep the upper-class English home running smoothly. Anyone familiar with the hit TV shows Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, or anyone who has read Below the Stairs, the novel that inspired these shows, knows a little bit about how these houses were run. And just like the people above stairs were part of England’s tangle of the aristocracy of titles and money, the people below lived by a strict set of rules and manners, all explained in Jack Hyams’ book.


How the Heather Looks book cover

How the Heather Looks  by Joan Bodger

Some of the most beloved and everlasting children’s books of the first part of the 20th century were written in England. We all carry images with us of the London of Paddington Bear, the green woods of Christopher Robin, and the foggy moors of A Secret Garden. In How the Heather Looks, Joan Bodger takes us through a journey as she searches for the spots in England where these beloved books take place. As Emily Dickinson wrote: “I never saw the moor / I never saw the sea / Yet I know how the heather looks / and what a wave must be”, Bodger also writes about the moors and seas of our favorite English children’s literature.



Edwardian Reading List

The Complete Adventures of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; illustrated by E. M. Shepard

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

George Bernard Shaw's Plays by George Bernard Shaw

Howard's End by E.M. Forester

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence




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