Desert Isle Keeper
The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain
Those of us who love Historical Romance, especially the Regency Historical Romance (RHR) have had numerous discussions here over the years about all sorts of things. Most recently there was an exchange of views on whether the RHR comprises a ‘canon’. Some said yes; others no. Over the years there have been long blogs about historical accuracy and others about the nature of and value (or not) of overlaying RHR with modern, twenty-first century mores. If some of these issues are of interest to you, then you will adore losing yourself in Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Regency Britain.
I have loved history as an academic subject since the eighth grade when I had a wonderful teacher for my very first European History class. From right then I knew what I wanted to study at university and I am still doing it decades later – studying, reading, travelling and immersing myself in the Regency world because it is that period – from 1789-1830 – that I find the most stimulating and satisfying of all. I can lose myself in the visual glories of Bath, listen to Beethoven or Haydn, recreate a late eighteenth century recipe, look at the clothing collection at the Fashion Museum in the Assembly Rooms in Bath. And, as ever, I can lose myself in Jane Austen and have visited her home in Alton. Or I can re-read Georgette Heyer who also was an immaculate researcher and source of our RHR genre.
Mortimer is an historian, an archivist and talented writer who, through a four-book series, has given us a chance to enter the fourtheenth century, the Tudor period, Restoration England and now Regency Britain. He writes with panache and his vivid descriptions flow with ease and grace. His mission: what will you see, hear, smell, eat, drink, wear, suffer from (pox, dropsy, dysentery, consumption)? How will you make a living? Whom will you meet as you travel from A to B? How will you travel – in what vehicle, on foot, by canal barge? What about music, art, architecture, literature? And shopping – where will you go for those gloves, shoes, a suit of clothes, furniture? Who holds sway over local matters, national matters? How about law and order? Where are the cops? What happens when you get caught stealing a 1s (one shilling) handkerchief? Will it be Van Diemen’s Land, the local gaol or the gibbet? What make-up are you going to apply and can you buy it or do you make it yourself and will it eventually kill you? And where will you sleep after you arrive in Regency Britain? In a fabulous hotel, a local lodging house, a country manor house or maybe you will pay 1p (one penny) to share a bed in a back-alley cellar. Your next meal? Finest roast beef, a variety of porridge or just bread and beer? Wine, port, ale or smuggled French brandy? How will you entertain yourself? Do you play cards? Mortimer made sense for me, at long last, of loo, faro, picquet and so forth. Like music? There is folk music in the streets of towns and villages and in London, in 1829 you can hear twenty-year-old Felix Mendelssohn play the piano at the London premier of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto – “The Emperor”. Or maybe you especially like opera? Then learn about the great divas like Grassini and Catalani who make appearances from time to time in well-researched RHR.
Mortimer’s description of the premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony moved me to tears. The Symphony was dedicated the Philharmonic Society, founded in 1813, who invited Beethoven to write for them. What a coup! And as Mortimer argues, Beethoven’s music really sums up the Regency world as it moves from the days after the French Revolution to the death of George IV and all that those 41 years encompassed. It was the evolutionary end of the “Long 18th Century” (referred to as being from 1688’s Glorious Revolution to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815) and the beginning of the Modern Era. So much, Mortimer tells us, that we see emerging in the Regency, we see today – from the trousers men wear in preference to breeches to beer pumps and U-bend flush toilets.
If social history is your thing and, perhaps like me, you are finding a real dearth of decently written RHR, then maybe a journey back in time with Ian Mortimer will fill that gap for a while and fascinate you as much as it did me.
~ Elaine S.
NOTE: The ebook version of this title will be published in the US in Spring 2022.