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 tal

    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 Irela

    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]

  • Linda

    This is an excellent history (read from an eARC provided by Edelweiss) of the early 19th century in Britain. Named after the Prince Regent, later George IV, the author makes the case that the many changes that started during this period ushered in the modern age for Great Britain. Shaped by the Prince of Wales, a man of many gifts and even more flaws, this is a history of the 10 years (1811-1820) that the Prince ruled as Regent while his father, George III, descended into mental illness. It was

    This is an excellent history (read from an eARC provided by Edelweiss) of the early 19th century in Britain. Named after the Prince Regent, later George IV, the author makes the case that the many changes that started during this period ushered in the modern age for Great Britain. Shaped by the Prince of Wales, a man of many gifts and even more flaws, this is a history of the 10 years (1811-1820) that the Prince ruled as Regent while his father, George III, descended into mental illness. It was a time of immense change and momentous events including the last 4 years of the war with Napoleon ending with Waterloo in 1815.

    Many books about the Regency era tend to extend their story with information about the years leading up to it and the years afterward. In this book Robert Morrison alludes to these time periods but manages to stick to these 10 years for the most part by examining a wide variety of subjects. These include domestic subjects such as crime and punishment, entertainment including art and literature as well as international concerns as Great Britain becomes a more important player in the world as it expands its empire. This is a fairly detailed book which at times becomes a little too detailed only to entertain the reader with a new subject that is more diverting. Those who are somewhat acquainted with the Regency will want to read it and anyone interested in learning more about British history will be come away enlightened.

  • Anne Morgan

    Regency England (1811-1820) is one of the time periods most favored for historical fiction and movies. It is the time of the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Byron and Shelley, Austen and Scott. In The Regency Years, Robert Morrison aims to give the general reader an in-depth look at this short, but important, time span. He argues that the Regency period plants the seeds for the modern age we think of being ushered in by the Victorians.

    Morrison does an excellent job of examining both the

    Regency England (1811-1820) is one of the time periods most favored for historical fiction and movies. It is the time of the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Byron and Shelley, Austen and Scott. In The Regency Years, Robert Morrison aims to give the general reader an in-depth look at this short, but important, time span. He argues that the Regency period plants the seeds for the modern age we think of being ushered in by the Victorians.

    Morrison does an excellent job of examining both the positive and the negative parts of Regency life. The grandeur and beauty live side by side with the excesses and squalor. Chapters cover economics, social reforms, political strife, literature, science, colonialism and war, sex and entertainment. While the majority of The Regency Years does not contain information that is new to Regency history devotees, Morrison presents it in a way that ties together aspects of Regency life in new and interesting ways. Quotes from letters, diaries, and references to popular literature create a well-rounded and well-researched history.

    Fast-paced and written in a lively and engaging style, The Regency Years is an excellent history for readers beginning to study the time period, and a detailed, delightful read for those looking to round out their knowledge of this fascinating time period.

    I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  • Emily

    I read so many things set during the Regency period, I thought it was high time I learned something about it. This book was a nice overview of different aspects of that 9-year period: the art, military history, scientific and technological advances, and the society. A lot happened during that time, and the names of many of the major influencers of the time are still recognized today—Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Beau Brummell, Charles Babbage, John Constable, Napoleon, th

    I read so many things set during the Regency period, I thought it was high time I learned something about it. This book was a nice overview of different aspects of that 9-year period: the art, military history, scientific and technological advances, and the society. A lot happened during that time, and the names of many of the major influencers of the time are still recognized today—Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Beau Brummell, Charles Babbage, John Constable, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, etc.

    The author doesn’t spend a ton of time with any subtopics of the broader topics mentioned in each chapter heading. Judging by his notes in the back of the book, each of these have been covered in more depth in other books. For me, it was just what I was looking for to get a feel for the time period and some context for the novels I read.

    The Regent, later George IV, was not a popular or much-admired guy, but I liked this summary the author gave of him in the end.

    Recommended for Regency period newbies like I am. If you’re already an expert on this biz, or if you’re looking for an in-depth look at a specific aspect or person from this period, it won’t be as satisfying.

  • 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.

  • 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 WON

    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.

  • E

    Boy, if there was ever a book I wanted to like, this was it. After all, 1810s England! So much good stuff. The delicacy of a prince regnant. The Congress of Vienna. The War of 1812. The fat Corsican. And yet, each of those topics gets about 3 pages each. Instead Morrison goes on and on and on about sex and fashion and the Shelleys (I swear they show up in every chapter; the man is obsessed with Frankenstein). The note on the cover about how "relevant" the Regency years were to today's world shou

    Boy, if there was ever a book I wanted to like, this was it. After all, 1810s England! So much good stuff. The delicacy of a prince regnant. The Congress of Vienna. The War of 1812. The fat Corsican. And yet, each of those topics gets about 3 pages each. Instead Morrison goes on and on and on about sex and fashion and the Shelleys (I swear they show up in every chapter; the man is obsessed with Frankenstein). The note on the cover about how "relevant" the Regency years were to today's world should have been my first clue. When he got to the point of stating that the Bible doesn't disallow homosexuality (while offering no support or argumentation), I was tempted to give up. But that's against my creed, so I soldiered on.

    Really a shame that such an important era would be reduced to lame cultural history. That's obviously where the field of historiography is today, and the discipline is much the less because of it.

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