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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Many of us are fond of specific novels from the 18th and 19th centuries: Jane Austen’s Emma, Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and many others. We delve into the plot, the setting, and the era with ease, expecting to find a sense of peace from a simpler life. Perhaps for some living in this era, life was simpler; certainly, it was predictable, but, as was evident in works like those by Dickens, there was a huge division between the have’s and the have-not’s and life wasn’t always as wonderful as it appeared on the surface.
Whilst we can get a brief glimpse into life in this era through its wealth of literature, there are other sources to help us learn more. Joe Giampaolo’s The Reader's Companion to the Hampshire Stories Series, Life and Literature in 19th-Century England, is an excellent resource, both educational and entertaining. The book is full of interesting and sometimes unknown details of life in 18th and 19th century England, including the literature, the traditional events like balls and weddings, social calling, class distinction, roles of men and women in society, fashion, parlor games, politics, and the growing interest in the larger written work, which we well know today as the novel. I think, for me, of particular interest was the discussion on the importance of letter writing, an art form that saw its zenith in this era, an art form that is sadly declining in today’s world of the short, snappy texting, messaging, and emails. A fascinating read.