What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
Pool’s subtitle, “From Fox Hunting to Whist—The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England,” begins to tell the story of his remarkably enlightening work. Organized into a series of essays (part 1) and an extensive glossary (part 2), the book is a cornucopia of facts, many of them arcane and bewildering when one comes upon them in Victorian fiction, as every American student must.
Questions about school and law terms (what and when is Michaelmas?), about money (what is a guinea?), about titles (is a Baroness below a Marchioness?), find answers in Pool’s pages. Likewise, the basics of farming, schooling, measures, pecking order of servants, and rules of card games come to light.
Pool goes well beyond the basics, writing in great detail about household management, transportation (of felons and of travelers), country life and customs, and government on all levels. He treats of the grim world of orphans, examines the treadmill and workhouse, the debtor’s prison, and that most complicated legal system lurking in most Victorian novels waiting to confuse readers with barristers, solicitors, serjeants, police magistrates, and their ilk in police courts, Doctors’ Commons, Chancery Court, and “assizes.”
We learn much about food and drink, menus and recipes, the relative merits and costs of tapers, tallows, and candles, sanitation and ablutions, the varied fashions Victorian novelists treated with realistic...
(The entire section is 305 words.)
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