Daniel Pool •
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew •
Help is at hand for anyone who has struggled to understand British currency (those perplexing guineas) or the complicated structure of the aristocracy. Not to mention the laws governing inheritance, which account for the plot of many a Victorian novel. (Just what was so terrible about being a second son, anyway?)
These and dozens more aspects of life in 19th-century England are laid bare in Daniel Pool’s comprehensive, entertaining book. Whole chapters are devoted to the etiquette of fox hunting, the taxonomy of maids, and bathing habits among the various classes of society. (“In the early part of the nineteenth century you would have been well advised to stand up wind of anyone with whom you were having a conversation.”) There’s a period map of central London; an explanation of titles, ranks, and forms of address; and an overview of transportation, from donkeys (the bane of Miss Betsey Trotwood) to the square-rigged sailing ships of Her Majesty’s Fleet.
The glossary alone—all 135 pages of it—makes an invaluable companion to Victorian literature. What are you doing if you mizzle? Who were the Ranters? Where would you find a hulk? And you may be surprised to learn what “without benefit of clergy” actually meant.
Next time you decide to plunge into The Moonstone or Jane Eyre, you’ll want to keep this at your side for easy reference.