The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern

The Victorians are often credited with ushering in our current era, yet the seeds of change were planted in the years before. The Regency (1811–1820) began when the profligate Prince of Wales—the future king George IV—replaced his insane father, George III, as Britain’s ruler.Around the regent surged a society steeped in contrasts: evangelicalism and hedonism, elegance and...

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Title:The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern
Author:Robert Morrison
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The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern Reviews

  • Jessica

    Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

    I really enjoyed this book! It's not an academic history of the period, but it is perfect for context. Quite frankly, it is a lot of fun! Morrison covers literature as expected, and Wellington and Napoleon and the wars of the day. He also looks at the domestic politics of the Regency, and the abolition of slavery. Low culture and high culture alike feature, not to mention the fashion of the day. Morrison has a

    Thank you to NetGalley for providing a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

    I really enjoyed this book! It's not an academic history of the period, but it is perfect for context. Quite frankly, it is a lot of fun! Morrison covers literature as expected, and Wellington and Napoleon and the wars of the day. He also looks at the domestic politics of the Regency, and the abolition of slavery. Low culture and high culture alike feature, not to mention the fashion of the day. Morrison has a tall order to cover the entirety of the Regency, and he does an amazing job of doing it. in. 

    The Regency isn't an overly long period, but there are some fascinating characters that populate it. I think what sets this book apart is that we learn about other figures of the period that are often forgotten. I also enjoy that it covers all of the UK, and even parts of the Continent and North America. It's not just focused on London or Windsor, or any one place. When I think of the Regency, I think of London and I think of Bath. But the changes that happened in the Regency also happened in Manchester and Edinburgh and Cambridge and everywhere else, and Morrison does a fantastic job at conveying that.

  • Jeff

    Sorry for the Delay.

    I want to thank the Goodreads giveaway program and W. W. Norton and Company for the opportunity to read this Book.

    Mr. Morrison has given us a well-researched and written account of the decade known as the Regency years (1811-1820). From the Political and Social aspects, to the Arts and Innovations, as well as the Wars and Imperialism, we get a deep dive into the course of those years.

    As readers we learn about the have and have-nots of England (and the rest of the UK and

    Sorry for the Delay.

    I want to thank the Goodreads giveaway program and W. W. Norton and Company for the opportunity to read this Book.

    Mr. Morrison has given us a well-researched and written account of the decade known as the Regency years (1811-1820). From the Political and Social aspects, to the Arts and Innovations, as well as the Wars and Imperialism, we get a deep dive into the course of those years.

    As readers we learn about the have and have-nots of England (and the rest of the UK and Ireland) at the time, the rise of the City Slums and the Crime that goes with it. There then begins the full extent of rise of Industrialization and the fight against it, from the Luddites to the Massacre of Peterloo.

    The Arts of the Decade are used as an Arc for the book. From the works and commentary of Austen, Byron, Keats, the Shelleys and others (Actors to Painters), you get a good artistic and literary interpretation of those years.

    The Napoleon and 1812 Wars are looked at, along with the rise of imperialism by way the East Indian Company. Innovations such as the Steam Engine and the analytical one by Babbage are given their due. .

    All in all a real drawn out look at the history of the decade. I will say as a reader that at times you had to take moment and kind of slow things down or flatten out the information so that you could take it all in. But then again, that is what a really good history book and its author does; gives you all the information possible in a well written way. It was an education and an enjoyment.

  • Diana

    Review to Come

  • Tom Schulte

    This is an excellent history of the brief and pivotal time of British History that was The Regency. Such characters as the inspiring roue Lord Byron, dandy

    , and the insightful writer Mary Shelley all acted under a dissolute and distracted Regent during a time when Britain reigned supreme after finally coming out over France and before the disruptive industrialization of The Victorian Era.

    Arranged almost as much topically as chronologically, if feels like this book could be opened

    This is an excellent history of the brief and pivotal time of British History that was The Regency. Such characters as the inspiring roue Lord Byron, dandy

    , and the insightful writer Mary Shelley all acted under a dissolute and distracted Regent during a time when Britain reigned supreme after finally coming out over France and before the disruptive industrialization of The Victorian Era.

    Arranged almost as much topically as chronologically, if feels like this book could be opened and read anywhere. The author seems a bit more excited about literature and the impact and works of Jane Austen, Byron, Shelley (both of them) get some detailed analysis.

    [I received an ARC to review this]

  • Mary Pagones

    “I never loved nor pretended to love her—but a man is a man--& if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours—there is but one way.” At least, there is but one way if you’re Lord Byron, and Claire Clairmont, the stepsister of Mary Shelley (née Godwin) writes you fan mail. Not quite the stuff of, “She walks in beauty like the night,” perhaps, but both lines were penned by the same man.

    It’s unsurprising that the subtitle of Canadian academic Robert Morrison’s The Regency Years:

    “I never loved nor pretended to love her—but a man is a man--& if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours—there is but one way.” At least, there is but one way if you’re Lord Byron, and Claire Clairmont, the stepsister of Mary Shelley (née Godwin) writes you fan mail. Not quite the stuff of, “She walks in beauty like the night,” perhaps, but both lines were penned by the same man.

    It’s unsurprising that the subtitle of Canadian academic Robert Morrison’s The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern emphasizes the Romantic poet’s seductive rather than his literary prowess. Whether Byron deserves the title of the first literary celebrity or not, his persona is equally as famous and influential as his art. There are few writers whose name—“Byronic”—can also be used as an adjective.

    The average American reader is likely most familiar with the Prince Regent from Hugh Laurie’s iconic performance in Blackadder III, but according to Morrison, Laurie’s oafish parody is far too kind. The Regent’s womanizing and gastronomic excesses were much-parodied, but his greatest crime was his insensitivity to the oppression of the British people by their own government. One of the most notorious examples of this was Peterloo, which began as a peaceful demonstration in Manchester by radical leaders and ended with a massacre of the assembled civilians by British soldiers.

    The contemporary conception of the Regency may conjure up images of witty heroes sporting quizzing glasses. But the stormy period was marked by the first and only assassination of a British Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, described by Morrison as “anti-French, anti-Catholic, anti-slavery, and fiercely anti-reform.” The Prime Minister’s killer John Bellingham, when demanded to explain why he had done such a thing responded, “I have been denied the redress of my grievances by Government…I have been ill-treated.” Many would have agreed with the assassin’s sentiments if not his methods. The notorious Corn Laws kept the staple foods of the working classes—bread—artificially high. Less than fifteen percent of the adult male population could vote, thanks to property ownership requirements.

    Despite such rampant inequality, the Regency was a time of great national pride. After all, Britain did defeat Napoleon, and Morrison writes a memorable account of what is described as “the most famous ball in history.” Held by the Duchess of Richmond for Wellington and his men, it was interrupted by the news that Napoleon had advanced into Belgium. Many troops, unwilling to end the evening of “lively music, good food, and beautiful women,” chose to “march in silk stockings and dancing pumps” rather than leave and prepare for the battle to come. The Regency was also an era of rapid industrialization and colonization. Britain was determined to ensure goods from sugar to rum to tea and opium flowed back from the colonies to satisfy Regency Britain’s unquenchable appetites.

    Those appetites weren’t confined to food. Regency entertainments of dice, cards, horse racing, sport (including fox hunting and boxing), as well as the sport of the bedroom (venereal disease and prostitution were rampant), are all illuminated in exquisite detail. One anecdote involves a love token given by the infamous Lady Caroline Lamb to Lord Byron that shocked even the poet (hint—it was a lock of hair, but not from the lady’s head.). Another emblematic figure is the fiery, mercurial (and self-indulgent) actor Edmund Kean. His Shylock was praised by Jane Austen herself. “I cannot imagine better acting,” she wrote, although of another famous female tragedian, she sniffed, “I took two Pocket handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either.”

    Morrison’s work, The English Opium-Eater, was a finalist for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He is thus well-qualified to address the seedier aspects of Regency life. Even for readers who shy away from history books, fearing such dry texts will bring on the need for a cool compress and a glass of Madeira, The Regency Years is great, rollicking fun. And an important one, as many of these same social and political challenges still linger on in Britain—and its former colonies—today.

  • Barb in Maryland

    This concise history of the Regency years is a good introduction to the era, but it suffered a few setbacks in trying to cover as much as it could.

    There were sections that hit me as just a barrage of names, with barely a sentence or two to distinguish them, especially in the first chapter(Crime, Punishment and the Pursuit of Freedom) which concentrates on crime, law and order (or the lack thereof), civil unrest.

    The second chapter, (Theaters of Entertainment) also started with more names, names,

    This concise history of the Regency years is a good introduction to the era, but it suffered a few setbacks in trying to cover as much as it could.

    There were sections that hit me as just a barrage of names, with barely a sentence or two to distinguish them, especially in the first chapter(Crime, Punishment and the Pursuit of Freedom) which concentrates on crime, law and order (or the lack thereof), civil unrest.

    The second chapter, (Theaters of Entertainment) also started with more names, names, names. Actors, actresses, theater owners, venues and so on. But, once the shift to novels occurred the pace slowed and the rest of chapter 2 was a delight.

    Chapter 3 (Sexual Pastimes, Pleasures and Perversities) was quite frank and serious--not written to titillate, but to inform. (I may never again be able to read a historical romance set in this era). This is where the author also touches on the various morality, chastity, clean living, sin no more groups and their efforts to tame the level of debauchery accepted in current society.

    Chapter 4 (Expanding Empire and Waging War), which starts with Waterloo, has the best concise recount of the War of 1812 that I have read. Of course, India and China receive a quick wrap-up, as does Raffles and the founding of Singapore.

    Chapter 5 (Changing Landscapes and Ominous Signs) is a very mixed bag--changes wrought by the proliferation of factories, the improvement in the roads, the advent of railroads and other scientific advances. Travelogues and guide books also get a mention. There's a nice bit on painters Constable and Turner.

    One note on the print edition. There are no (and I do mean NO) color illustrations. All of the embedded illustrations are black & white, or graytone: etchings, engravings, etc. This works well for all of the Cruikshank political cartoons and various pencil drawings. It is, of course, a total fail when the author is describing a Thomas Lawrence society portrait or a Turner 'landscape'.

    All in all a worthwhile read, especially for all of the literature references and analysis. His bibliography and end notes are quite thorough and a good jumping off point for further digging.

    I have one or two nits to pick, but they're not worth mentioning here.

  • Marks54

    This book concerns the period from 1811-1820, between the time when King George III was incapacitated/insane and his eventual death in 1820, when he was succeeded by King George IV, who ruled England as the Prince Regent before eventually succeeding to the throne. This is a brief period of time and what could happen in Britain over such a brief period??? Hmm... Well Napoleon was defeated, and then defeated again. The beginnings of industrialization were apparent, along with protests against it

    This book concerns the period from 1811-1820, between the time when King George III was incapacitated/insane and his eventual death in 1820, when he was succeeded by King George IV, who ruled England as the Prince Regent before eventually succeeding to the throne. This is a brief period of time and what could happen in Britain over such a brief period??? Hmm... Well Napoleon was defeated, and then defeated again. The beginnings of industrialization were apparent, along with protests against it and the initial stirrings for political reform. More generally, Morrison argues that the Regency years were a pivotal intermediary between traditional monarchical Britain and the start of Modern Britain and the Victorian Era in the 19th century. There is lots of cultural activity going on in Britain during this period and a surprising number of names are dropped, including many very well known ones, including Jane Austen, John Keats, Walter Scott, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and artists J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.

    Morrison is very learned and a fine writer. This is engaging history that makes one want to read more and even plan a trip to the Lake District, providing that Britain does not fall into the sea due to Brexit, which I suspect it will not. But ... history is about continuities and the Regency Years overlap strongly with what came before and after. It is a good read but I am not sure I am convinced.

    The best case for the book was picked up by the author but could have been emphasized even more. So this is more a quibble about emphasis rather than a criticism. Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818 and Morrison notes that it is arguably one of the most important novels of the Regency Period. The story has been overshadowed by the movie and its many variants, but the story encapsulates many of the most interesting conflicts and tensions of the Regency years and is very different from the various stereotypes of the monster that most of us have come to know. Seeing the story today and knowing the historical context is worthwhile and enlightening.

  • Steve

    This is a book that has recently been positively reviewed in a number of places, including the ECONOMIST and other newspapers and which I picked up precisely because it focuses on such an interesting short episode of history.

    The prose and the prose composition are both quite excellent in this book. It puts the lie to the idea that academics cannot write and represents to me a benchmark of how to do this kind of survey. In terms of readability, it scores above Richard Holmes 2010 book AGE OF

    This is a book that has recently been positively reviewed in a number of places, including the ECONOMIST and other newspapers and which I picked up precisely because it focuses on such an interesting short episode of history.

    The prose and the prose composition are both quite excellent in this book. It puts the lie to the idea that academics cannot write and represents to me a benchmark of how to do this kind of survey. In terms of readability, it scores above Richard Holmes 2010 book AGE OF WONDER (although I think Holmes wrote ultimately the better book by a long shot). It is actually one of the best written and composed books by an academic historian that I have read in some time.

    The first quarter of the book in particular is a really excellent overview of the political and social structures of Regency England and is both chatty and erudite, easy to follow, and yet also rigorous and educational. I would gladly read this part again and again to get a good grip on the contours of this particular historical period.

    All this said, however, I can identify at least two great flaws in this book. The first comes from a concluding statement Morrison makes on the penultimate page:

    "Despite his undisputed failures, the Regent fostered a climate of intellectualism, patronage, and connoisseurship. More than any other member of the royal family either before or since, he believed that novelists, poets, singers, historians, actors, painters, musicians, scientists, architects, and engineers *mattered*, and during his Regency his well-known enthusiasm for the arts and sciences helped to energize the most extraordinary outpouring of creativity in British history." (page 304)

    Unfortunately, with the exception of specifically showing how the Regent pushed for the creation of the Brighton Pavilion with architect John Nash (pp 216-217), something that even Morrison concedes took money away from many other needed contemporary projects and was the subject of intense criticism from both sides of the political spectrum of the time. Beyond this episode, however, in the main text Morrison really does not focus on the Regent's specific actions in fomenting the cultural environment of the Regency. While Morrison discusses the Regent as a person at some length, and mentions how the Regent, unlike his father, enjoyed such cultural discourse, specific episodes of patronage are hard to find. The body of the text is devoted to short capsule overviews of these cultural luminaries and various cultural and social institutions involved.

    In the end, this survey or "cultural travelogue" works more or less, but once Morrison raises the idea of the specific aegis of the Regent at the end, it casts the entire book in a different light. In other words, had the author never brought up the Regent as the key impetus, I would have accepted the framing he does use as is. But the fact that he raises the idea of the Regent as central then makes me want the book to have better illuminated those aspects.

    A second problem that I encountered was the specific cultural stance of Morrison himself. Oftentimes I just didn't care for how he framed and discussed cultural issues. For instance, I find other thinkers, like Robert Crawford, who covers some of the same ground in his 2013 book ON GLASGOW AND EDINBURGH, much more congenial and interesting to me.

    However, a clear instance of what I found unsatisfying in Morrison's account can be found in his very uneven handling of the sex life of the poet Lord Byron (pp 142-145, 157, 169-170). Byron was then and remains today a very difficult figure to get a hold of. He was clearly bisexual to a degree unusual then and now, and without question had to leave Britain to safely explore the same-sex side of his complex sexuality. However, the key point is that Byron was clearly a sexual predator, targeting vulnerable women such as chambermaids and many of his male lovers in the Mediterranean were young teen-aged men who appear - to use the current British vernacular - to have been "rent-boys" making Byron also a sex tourist.

    This all makes Byron a very difficult figure to discuss and his actions are very hard to reconcile with our current moral compass. Skilled authors can use such cases to probe key and important questions but Morrison does an entirely inadequate job of addressing these concerns, particularly since Byron gets something (but not entirely) of a pass by being a cultural luminary (and cultural anarchist) while other people that Morrison does not like as much are treated much less sympathetically.

    This book is recommended - with caveats - to all readers of history, but especially those interested in the Regency itself. Although it has its flaws, this book serves as an excellent overview and guide.

  • Fatma

    2.5 stars

    not a bad book; just not the book for me.

  • Kathleen Flynn

    I enjoyed this book very much! A well-written and cogent account of a few crucial years in the history of Great Britain. I admire how much ground it covered, not just the usual topics of politics and war. Those but also literature, theater, sports, painting, science, technology, race relations, industrialization, class struggles, events in North America...

    Though I began thinking this book as if were a a guilty pleasure, because not about what I ought to be thinking about always -- namely, the

    I enjoyed this book very much! A well-written and cogent account of a few crucial years in the history of Great Britain. I admire how much ground it covered, not just the usual topics of politics and war. Those but also literature, theater, sports, painting, science, technology, race relations, industrialization, class struggles, events in North America...

    Though I began thinking this book as if were a a guilty pleasure, because not about what I ought to be thinking about always -- namely, the Brontes -- in fact it is highly relevant. The Regency shaped the little Brontes' worldview, and the adults they became. The giants of their imaginative play as children are all here: Wellington and Napoleon, the Arctic explorers Ross and Parry, and of course Byron, looming over all of it.

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