Home > 19th Century, History of Great-Britain, Non Fiction, Poole Daniel > 19thC England for foreigners: a great guidebook.

19thC England for foreigners: a great guidebook.

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. From Fox Hunting to Whist – The Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool 1993 Not translated into French.

I was interested in reading this as soon as Caroline recommended it to me. The book is aimed at students and has two parts; the first one explains the facts and life in the 19thC England and the second one is a huge glossary with various words like epergne or Gretna Green. But let me give you a flavor of the book.

If whims, faints and abnormal interest in clothes are often described as the clichéd eternal feminine, Daniel Pool unintentionally points out the clichéd eternal masculine, i.e. cars and sports also sometimes combined into sports cars. I had perfectly gathered from my previous readings that carriages were the sign of social status. So, keeping one or several expensive carriage(s) was the equivalent of our owning German and sports cars. The curricle was probably really a young man’s carriage, like a sports car; it was one of the first things the young Dickens bought when he made money with his writing. Nihil novo sub sole. What I didn’t know was that the Parliamentary season –and thus the London social season—started according to the end of fox hunting time and ended when the grouse shooting began. Put it bluntly: political and social life in Great-Britain depended upon foxes’ and grouses’ living habits. Astonishing.

The chapter about money is absolutely fascinating. It explains taxes, entails, financial investments, bankruptcies and debts. Shareholders in a private company had unlimited liability. One could be jailed for debt until 1869. (In France it was abolished in 1867) Various taxes had collateral damages such as the tax on windows. It was expensive, mere air vents counted for a window, so poor people often lived in lodgings without windows. A tax on paper increased the price of books, slowing their sales. And I now know the difference between an attorney and a barrister.

In the part about Crime and Punishment, I noticed that “Killing a man in a duel, although murder, was considered socially okay for people of quality, so juries generally didn’t convict until the 1840s. Thereafter it became advisable to duel on the Continent”. But where on the Continent? France? The French authorities tolerated duels until the end of the century. (Gendarmes attended the one between Clémenceau and Déroulède in 1892…to keep the mob off the playing field.)

I enjoyed reading about the different social rules: how to address someone, balls and diners, morning calls, stays in the country and so on. When I read Desperate Remedies, I caught details I would never have noticed without this book, such as the social embarrassment about how to call Cytherea Graye when Miss Aldclyffe hires her. As a chambermaid, it should be Cytherea. As a companion, Mrs Graye is suitable even if she’s a maidden. Miss Graye was impossible as it would have been for the daughter of the house.

Pool explains the Church of England, Oxford and Cambridge and more generally the school system. Of course, like in France, women weren’t supposed to learn Latin and Greek. According to an etiquette book, men even had to translate any Greek or Latin quote they said in front of women. School became compulsory in England in 1880. (1882 in France)

It’s full of daily details that aren’t explicit in Victorian novels, such as railroads and lavatories:

There were no toilets on trains until 1892. Ladies might travel together in compartments separate from the gentlemen, for long journeys bringing chamber pots concealed in discreet baskets, while for gentlemen long tubes that could be strapped along the leg under a trouser were advertised.

Embarrassing for us today. It also explores marriage and divorces and the lack of freedom women had to endure. Apparently, auctioning your wife was a form of cheap divorce for poor people. So what Henchard does in The Mayor of Casterbridge actually used to happen. Pool also describes the life of servants, the recycling habits, the nightmare to provide water, warmth and light in big houses. (Servants made 16% of the national work force in 1891) It gives useful information on mourning, illnesses and death; on the poor and the “social system” implemented in parishes to take care of the poorest people.

As you see, it gives a good overview of the way of living in the 19thC England. I’ve read the first part and I intend to use the glossary when needed. I wouldn’t have understood what Trollope really meant by “evangelistic” when he describes Mr Stumfold without this book. The book is very handy for foreigners; it’s staying on the bedside table instead of going back to the shelf.

And actually, if anyone knows a similar book about France in the 19thC, I’ll be glad to read it too.

  1. January 10, 2012 at 4:23 am

    Sounds like you had a lot of fun with this one, and considering how much you like 19th century British lit, this must prove invaluable for you. I found a book about France in the 30s but I’m drawing a blank for the 19th C so far.

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    • January 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      Yes, I had a lot of fun reading this.
      It’s like I’ve fixed a magnifying glass in my brain or I’m reading with 3D glasses now: I see details in Trollope I have totally missed without this book.

      Like

  2. January 10, 2012 at 4:52 am

    The past really is another country 🙂

    I knew a fair bit of that (not all by any means); when you read a lot of V-Lit, you tend to pick up the odd piece of information here and there. I can tell you now that the notes to most Victorian novels seem obsessed with all the different types of carriages…

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    • January 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Yes, you’re right, it’s another country. That’s why I’d like to read one about France too.

      The carriage thing is huge. In Miss Mackenzie, Lady Ball would rather eat potatoes everyday than stop keeping a carriage. You’re not a lady if you can’t afford a carriage. I don’t think it’s such a big deal in French novels from that time.

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      • January 10, 2012 at 1:45 pm

        That’s a topic in Sense and Sensibilities as well, now that I think about it. For some, having to let go of their carriages seems like social suicide. I’m really not sure about French novels.

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        • January 10, 2012 at 2:19 pm

          It is a social suicide in a way.
          It never struck me as such important in French novels. Writers mention carriages to show someone’s wealth but not to point out their social status. Or they don’t emphazise on it that much. I think the notion of being a “gentleman” or a “lady” is more codified in 19thC England than in France. (and more important) Maybe things are more blurred in France after the Revolution, the Empire…

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    • January 11, 2012 at 2:17 am

      Perhaps it’s the equivalent of a car fetish

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  3. January 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

    I’m still looking forward to read this but not just yet. I’m glad it’s interesting. I browsed it many times. It was the chapter about social rules that attracted me. I think I saw the book quoted on that and that’s how I found it.
    I would have hated to travel at those times.
    Women were really considered a possession…

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    • January 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      Oh, I thought you’d read it already. Well, it’s worth reading. The chapters on social rules are great, very useful.

      Sometimes I think that back then men cared more about their horses and their hunting dogs than about their wives.

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      • January 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm

        No, I didn’t, I own it but I didn’t get to it. What little I read looked equally informative and entertaining which is a great combination.

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  4. TBM
    January 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I should pick up a copy of this book. Thanks for the tip!

    Like

    • January 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm

      It’s great, easy to read, full of short chapters and it covers a wide range of topics. Plus the glossary is wonderful.

      Like

  5. January 11, 2012 at 11:14 am

    This sounds like a lot of informative fun! I think I’d probably be more interested in a French version, though, should you discover that such a book exists.

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    • January 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Flûte! I hoped you’d know one about France. I’ll go to a bookstore for students and see what I can find.

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  6. January 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve heard of this book, and that it’s good, but never seen it actually reviewed before. It does sound well done. The details about the train are fascinating, if rather revolting.

    Is it a fun read as well as an interesting one would you say?

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    • January 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      It’s fun and interesting. The chapters are short, the writer goes into the right level of details. You can pick it up read some chapters and come back later.

      It’s for foreigners. Some chapters are probably useless for a British, such as the explanation about coins and different money names (which makes me think we lost some slang words for money when we abandoned Francs.) but again, there’s a good chance that you’d learn things anyway. I want to find one about France, it would be great for Balzac in particular.

      I can’t say it better than with the 3D glasses analogy. You can read 19thC lit without this book and still enjoy it but it brings a lot to your reading when you’ve read it.

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      • January 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm

        I should pick it up then. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it so recommended.

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        • January 14, 2012 at 10:22 am

          I’m interested in your thoughts about it. It’ll be another perspective.

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  7. January 11, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Emma, off topic, but I thought you’d like to see this:

    http://liliannattel.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/momo-by-emile-ajar/

    Lovely review of La vie devant soi by Lilian. She has caught the bug!

    Like

    • January 12, 2012 at 12:12 am

      You’re never off topic when it’s about Romain Gary and thanks for the tip.
      Thanks again for the entry you posted, I knew that if you wrote something, one of your readers would try him.
      I’m happy she loved La Vie devant soi, it’s such an odd and beautiful book.

      Like

  8. January 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    This sounds good. There is too much biographical stuff around (I am not a fan of the literary biography) when all we really need is period context, such as you describe having found in this book. I am quite sure that it would be interesting and informative for British readers too. There was horrible confusion when I tried (unsuccessfully) to define crowns and guineas for my daughters…

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    • January 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm

      It’s interesting. I like history so I enjoy that kind of books because it’s not too complicated.
      You talk about crowns and guinea. Try to explain Francs and Euros. We’ve kept some coins to show them.

      Like

  9. January 22, 2012 at 1:04 am

    This sounds right up my street! Thanks for directing me to your blog from my review of The Mayor of Casterfield. I have London Labour, London Poor coming up on my pile soon but I think I need to track down a copy of this book now too.

    Like

    • January 22, 2012 at 9:55 am

      Hello,

      Thanks for visiting. I hope you’ll like it. I found this book really useful, even to understand the first page of Washington Square. That explanation about doctors sounds like a hidden critic at the English way of considering medecine, which is explained by Pool.

      Like

  1. January 19, 2012 at 11:52 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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