REVIEW: Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross

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Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners Review by MJ Ryan

If, in casual conversation, you have used the term “Janeite” to describe yourself, then chances are you know everything this book was created to tell you. But, for those that are new to Jane Austen and the Regency period this is a great little book. When I call it a ‘little book’ I’m not being derogatory. The book is small, more of a handbook than anything, accented with lovely drawings by Henrietta Webb.

The chapters are short and well organized, allowing it to be used as a quick reference. Don’t understand why Elinor is so scandalized by Marianne riding alone with Willoughby? Confused about Elizabeth’s horror at Mr. Collins introducing himself to Mr. Darcy? You’ll be able to find the answer to these questions, and others, with relative ease. The author also uses, to great effect, examples from Austen’s work and letters to illustrate her points. I learned quite a bit, but that compliment comes with a caveat: although I love Jane Austen, I’m by no means an expert. The manners and mores of the Regency period are a complete mystery to me. What little I know I’ve learned from the boards at Pemberley, reading Austen Blog and the text of Jane Austen’s novels. As a matter of fact, this book struck me as an essay you might find on the Internet, expanded a bit for publication to cash in on the cottage industry of all things Jane that have sprouted since Colin Firth dove into the waters of the fictional Pemberley.

The book suffers from not being clear on what time period it’s in or who its ideal reader is. Is it a book for the 21st century reader explaining the behaviors of Regency society or is it for the children of the Regency period, helping them learn the ins and outs of current manners? The book would have been more enjoyable overall if it was clearly the latter, and written in Jane Austen’s voice. As it is, the vacillation between past and present tense is confusing.

If you know someone new to Austen then this book will be perfect. For those that are ready to take the next step to becoming a “Janeite” or those already among that esteemed group, this book should only serve to fill out your library.

Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners is now available.