Thursday, January 27, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Regency and Dickensian England

We are currently studying the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and early 19th century England... the times of the Regency era and Charles Dickens.  I found a most marvelous book to help understand life of those times.

Entitled "What Jane Austin Ate and Charles Dickens Knew:  From Fox Hunting to Whist--the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England" by Daniel Pool, this book is a treasure trove of information about all aspect of British life before the Victorian era really dawned.  It explains all the little things you might have to muddle through if you are reading literature of that times--what the relative social ranking was of all those titles (Knights? Earls? Baronets?), the value and slang used for different currencies and weight measures, the meal and activity schedule of the royalty and upper class, the duties of different servant titles, the games they played, even the most unsavory jobs of the poor (such as Resurrection Men, who stole corpses out of the ground and sold them to medical schools for use as surgery cadavers for the students learning human anatomy).  The second half of the book is a glossary of terms found in the writers of those times.  While this is more of an adult level book, it is a great resource to keep by your side if you are studying that time in history and/or reading Austin, Bronte, Trollope, or Dickens.

Because I'm not as strong in English history as I am in American, I am also reading "An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England" by Venetia Murray.  This book chronicles the adventures and mores at of the English upper class as the 19th century dawned, explaining the dandies and the courtesans, the parties and the politics of that turbulent and decadent times.  This is an adult book, but a pretty easy read, and it is helping me to understand the romantic times that led to the more stable, if less colorful, Victorian era.

I also have two books that are more appropriate reading for the middle school level.  "Life in Charles Dicken's England" by Diane Yancey focuses more on the generally hard life of the common people, rather than the glittering social whirl of the rich and beautiful.  It gives a great perspective of those times.  "The Industrial Revolution" by James A. Corrick, follows the industrial technology as it moves throughout the world, transforming life as it went.  This book concentrates on the equipment rather than on the people, so the two books go together well.  Finally, if you are interested in Charles Dickens, Diane Stanley's picture book, "Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations," is great for this age.  It is a lovely depiction of the ups and downs in the life of this lively and engaging man who is one of the best writers of this period.

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