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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 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 brutality, exuberance and despair. The arts flourished at this time with a showcase of extraordinary writers and painters such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Shelleys, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. Science burgeoned during this decade, too, giving us the steam locomotive and the blueprint for the modern computer. Yet the dark side of the era was visible in poverty, slavery, pornography, opium, and the gothic imaginings that birthed the novel Frankenstein. With the British military in foreign lands, fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the War of 1812 in the United States, the desire for empire and an expanding colonial enterprise gained unstoppable momentum. Exploring these crosscurrents, Robert Morrison illuminates the profound ways this period shaped and indelibly marked the modern world.


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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 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 brutality, exuberance and despair. The arts flourished at this time with a showcase of extraordinary writers and painters such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Shelleys, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. Science burgeoned during this decade, too, giving us the steam locomotive and the blueprint for the modern computer. Yet the dark side of the era was visible in poverty, slavery, pornography, opium, and the gothic imaginings that birthed the novel Frankenstein. With the British military in foreign lands, fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the War of 1812 in the United States, the desire for empire and an expanding colonial enterprise gained unstoppable momentum. Exploring these crosscurrents, Robert Morrison illuminates the profound ways this period shaped and indelibly marked the modern world.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    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: During “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 (who gives the Regency its name) 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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Review to Come

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shiloah

    This is an extensive, well-researched work. It included good and the bad of the era. No sugar coating. It opened my eyes to the debauchery that permeated the times. Fair warning for the chapter on the in-depth exploration of the sexual scandals and practices of the time. So much to learn about this time and it’s impact on our world today.

  5. 5 out of 5

    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 Br 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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Fatma

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

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Meh. There’s nothing new here and Morrison brings no insight or spin or unifying theme, so it’s ultimately a string of anecdotes. Reasonably entertaining, but no more.

  9. 4 out of 5

    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 Beau Brummell, 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 Beau Brummell, 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]

  10. 5 out of 5

    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 a 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Crissy

    I really enjoyed this historical fiction book by my prof from Queen's, Prof. Morrison! Every page made me feel like I was back in one of his classes! This book covers pretty much every topic you could think of to do with the Regency so you really get a great sense of the historical time period and all the historical figures feel like living and breathing people you can relate to. I love the little tidbits he includes--for example, he tells us that according to the leading courtesan of the day, W I really enjoyed this historical fiction book by my prof from Queen's, Prof. Morrison! Every page made me feel like I was back in one of his classes! This book covers pretty much every topic you could think of to do with the Regency so you really get a great sense of the historical time period and all the historical figures feel like living and breathing people you can relate to. I love the little tidbits he includes--for example, he tells us that according to the leading courtesan of the day, Wellington was pretty boring in bed. These are the kinds of details you want to know in historical fiction. Even though it's historical fiction, it's very readable and entertaining. The writing is fantastic. Would recommend 100% ! Five thumbs up!!

  13. 4 out of 5

    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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    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. 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. 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brian Willis

    This is really a great book that I nearly gave 5 stars. Morrison really seems to cover all of the social, cultural, and even a fair amount of political events in England from 1810 through 1820. We learn what the Regency was with a profile of the future George IV, we get many anecdotes and profiles of crime and punishment during this time, a look at sexual practices, pursuits, and proclivities, entertainment (theatre, drinking, games, cultural events amongst others), and then finally, the overvie This is really a great book that I nearly gave 5 stars. Morrison really seems to cover all of the social, cultural, and even a fair amount of political events in England from 1810 through 1820. We learn what the Regency was with a profile of the future George IV, we get many anecdotes and profiles of crime and punishment during this time, a look at sexual practices, pursuits, and proclivities, entertainment (theatre, drinking, games, cultural events amongst others), and then finally, the overview of worldwide events that propelled Britain to the forefront of the world, including a nice account of Waterloo, as well as the various economic and imperial entanglements during this decade. Finally, Morrison details the emerging concerns - environmental and economic-social - of the Industrial Revolution as well as the first efforts at the railroad. If you want a great overview of this decade, Morrison's book is the best in a while. Breezy yet in depth without overwhelming, it is an illuminating read even if you know some things about the Regency.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emily Davies (libraryofcalliope)

    The Regency period refers to the rule of George IV as Prince Regent before he was officially crowned king upon the death of his father. It spanned approximately 9 years from 1811 to 1820, a fairly influential and important decade featuring a variety of events from the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein and Byron’s Don Juan to the Peterloo massacre, the Luddite Riots, Robert Owen’s New Lanark experiments with socialism and the end of the Napoleonic wars. British society was changing The Regency period refers to the rule of George IV as Prince Regent before he was officially crowned king upon the death of his father. It spanned approximately 9 years from 1811 to 1820, a fairly influential and important decade featuring a variety of events from the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein and Byron’s Don Juan to the Peterloo massacre, the Luddite Riots, Robert Owen’s New Lanark experiments with socialism and the end of the Napoleonic wars. British society was changing as it headed for the new Victorian age with huge strides being made in medicine, technology and industry but also contained huge levels of inequality and colonial expansionism. Morrison provides a whistle stop tour of the main ideas and events of the time which works as an excellent introduction to the period. It’s very readable especially considering how much content is packed in here. I really enjoyed this book and it’s discussions of the shifting society and priorities is done mostly sensitively and Morrison takes great care to trace the events’ impacts on society today. Definitely a good starting point for someone interested in this period.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    A breezy and informative history of the era in which Jane Austen, my favorite author, lived. My least favorite chapter was about war--battles bore me--though I learned something new about the War of 1812: it was the impetus for westward expansion and hastened the end of native American culture. I really liked how Morrison tied up every chapter with its impact on our modern times.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    A rather short book to try and cover all the parts of the ten years of the official Regency during end of George III’s life. The author does provide a critical view of unjust policies regarding the poor, racism, slavery, and colonialism/globalism so it definitely isn’t a “Rah Rah Britain” book. It just didn’t seem to read very easily.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I am a great reader of Jane Austen, so this cultural history of the Regency in England was very enjoyable to read. It is filled with fascinating details and everyday history facts and my favorite author is very much there! It brings attention to all the cross currents and even startling contradictions of the period.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nadine

    I have a fascination with everyday life in the European Enlightenment, and this scratched the itch in a very readable way. Its approach is not from the ground up, through the eyes of people of various classes, but rather it looks at social, political and economic life by devoting chapters to things like sex, the theater, politics, war, etc.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leah K

    I love history. I love England. This book combines both of those nicely. There is a lot of information in these 305 pages. A little of everything occuring during the time of the regency years. I found it quite interesting to read about all these tidbits of information. I felt that it could have been longer to go into further detail in some places while other sections felt like rehashes (especially on the themes of Frankenstein and Pride & Prejudice). A good book overall.

  23. 5 out of 5

    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

  24. 4 out of 5

    Robin Henry

    Morrison’s book is highly readable and engaging, while maintaining a level of scholarly rigor not often seen in works marketed to a lay audience. For those interested, there is a wealth of endnotes and reference lists. I will be investigating several as soon as possible. Hats off to Norton for including them. I am happy to see academic historians, such as Morrison seeking to write accessible history that still adheres to the standards of the discipline. Morrison’s main argument goes something lik Morrison’s book is highly readable and engaging, while maintaining a level of scholarly rigor not often seen in works marketed to a lay audience. For those interested, there is a wealth of endnotes and reference lists. I will be investigating several as soon as possible. Hats off to Norton for including them. I am happy to see academic historians, such as Morrison seeking to write accessible history that still adheres to the standards of the discipline. Morrison’s main argument goes something like this: The Regency, though only a decade (~1811-1820), was a time of many world altering events and an explosion of creative output in almost all areas, including literature and the arts, science, engineering, and even politics throughout the world, but particularly in Britain. Because of these events and the outsize personalities of many of the creatives, the Regency is where we should look for the roots of modernity, rather than the Victorian era. He gathers evidence from areas as diverse as sport and other forms of entertainment, sex, and landscape design. He manages to include the words of several women, albeit mostly of the upper classes, as well as evidence from the lives of free people of color. Although the scope is Britain, he makes the effort to take into account different perspectives, such as North Americans, including native people, and views from other colonized areas and people. He does not flinch from taking a hard look at from whence the prosperity of the Regency arose--often the backs of the working classes along with colonial expansion and exploitation. He uses the contradictions of the Regent himself--an urbane supporter of the arts who could also be crude and gluttonous for more than just food and drink--as a symbol of the contradictions of the Regency--a time of glorious literature and great advancements in science during which the wealth gap became ever wider and whole swathes of society lived in abject poverty and filth. At several points he seems to be using the Regency as a warning to us in the present; the struggles for political representation and fairness engaged in by the working classes mostly ended badly, such as the Peterloo Massacre, because of the government’s overriding fear of something like the French Revolution happening in Britain. During much of the Regency, Wellington is fighting Napoleon somewhere. The warning isn’t that the people will be defeated, but that they have a point and that protest can lead to positive change without violence. During the Regency, radical orators, politicians, novelists, satirists, caricaturists, philanthropists, poets and journalists assailed the entrenched hierarchies of Church and State from every available angle, and focused in particular on the trumped-up, tricked-out Regent as a symbol of all that was wrong with Britain. Their strategies loosened the grip of Regency intolerance. Their courage and insight remain as inspiration to those who seek to carry on their work… (63). While I enjoyed the book immensely and would highly recommend it for learning more about the Regency period, I am less certain that Morrison’s argument that the Regency is the root of modernity is completely convincing. I don’t disagree, and he has more than enough evidence for the first part of his argument about the Regency as a watershed politically and creatively, it is difficult to trace the origins of a concept such as modernity. To be fair, Morrison is does show convincingly that the Regency era marks the beginning of realistic novel writing as opposed to Gothic/Romances (NOTE: this usage of Romance is the more classical meaning of a genre in which a hero has a quest), but he also rightly points out that the most popular novelist at the time was Walter Scott who situated his works squarely in the Romance category, albeit the newish genre of Historical Romance. Even though Scott and the Regent admired Austen’s works, they never achieved the popularity of Scott’s during her own lifetime. In retrospect, Austen’s reputation outstripped that of Scott (for more about that read this recent article by Janine Barchas and Devoney Looser--you may recognize the license plate!), but this makes the case for realistic novel writing as a “movement” of Regency rather less sure. Likewise Morrison’s tracing of protest movements. Though he argues successfully that they existed and that ideas about nonviolence may be traced to some stars of Regency protests, ultimately there is no indication that anything actually changed as a result. Even Peterloo did not really bring about any desired change. “Liverpool’s government was unrepentant. It tried, convicted, and imprisoned several radical leaders...It passed the notorious Six Acts, which introduced harsh measures of control over assembly, the popular press, and the bearing or arms” (56). Morrison is continuing the conversation about the significance of the Regency which will likely continue as more evidence is discovered, sifted, sorted, and analyzed. Morrison’s use of a core cast of Regency characters lends continuity and a sense of intimacy to his work. He draws heavily from Byron, Leigh Hunt, Austen, The Wordsworths, Scott, two sets of Lambs, and Hazlitt among others. By using evidence from these luminaries in each chapter, the reader gains a sense of the familiar that serves as a throughline for the book as it describes wide ranging aspects of the Regency. Morrison, not unsurprisingly, uses evidence most frequently from figures he has written about before in his other works. This is both a strength--because he knows them well--and a weakness, because it limits the evidence. However, it is not a serious weakness and his conscious decisions to look for representations from all classes and types of people offsets any real criticism for sticking with his cast of Regency characters. It would be impossible not to limit the evidence somehow or else risk a book too long to read comfortably. I recommend Morrison’s work to those with an interest in the Regency period--it is entertaining and informative, as well as being methodically sound. Enjoy!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sween McDervish

    The Regency was a turbulent decade (1811-1820) in British and world history, defined by the rule of the Prince Regent after the incapacitation of his father King George III. Canadian historian Robert Morrison writes a lively text covering war (Napoleon’s last stand at the Battle of Waterloo; the War of 1812), entertainment (prizefighting, gambling, theatre), art (the novels of Austen, Scott, Mary Shelly, the poetry of Byron and Percy Shelly, the painting of Turner and Constable), science, techno The Regency was a turbulent decade (1811-1820) in British and world history, defined by the rule of the Prince Regent after the incapacitation of his father King George III. Canadian historian Robert Morrison writes a lively text covering war (Napoleon’s last stand at the Battle of Waterloo; the War of 1812), entertainment (prizefighting, gambling, theatre), art (the novels of Austen, Scott, Mary Shelly, the poetry of Byron and Percy Shelly, the painting of Turner and Constable), science, technology and their implications (improved productivity and safety of mining, revolutionary fervour by the anti-technology Luddites). It is a great read as well as a comprehensive resource for any author writing about this important period.

  26. 4 out of 5

    General Jim

    An enjoyable and thorough review of a pivotal decade in history when the United Kingdom lead western civilization into the Victorian era. The Regency was the period when King George III was deemed unable to rule by illness and his son ruled as prince regent, 1810-1820. The prince regent became King George IV upon George III’s death in 1820. The book methodically covered the key personalities and activities of every aspect of life including, by chapters: crime, punishment, and the pursuit of free An enjoyable and thorough review of a pivotal decade in history when the United Kingdom lead western civilization into the Victorian era. The Regency was the period when King George III was deemed unable to rule by illness and his son ruled as prince regent, 1810-1820. The prince regent became King George IV upon George III’s death in 1820. The book methodically covered the key personalities and activities of every aspect of life including, by chapters: crime, punishment, and the pursuit of freedom; entertainment; sexual pastimes, pleasures and perversities; and expanding Empire and war waging. The Regency marked the disruptive but hugely creative transition to industrialization and commercialization and all the ensuing inequalities and horrors of poverty and societal dislocations wrought by an indifferent even hostile ruling class. The Regency also brought warfare into truly global scale with Allied armies and the British Navy compelling Napoleon’s fall in Spain, in Russia and at the battles of Leipzig and Waterloo; and also with England’s War of 1812 with America. But the Regency period also marked stunning progress in science and technology, philosophy and journalism, and art, architecture and literature. There were many insightful stories and anecdotes in the book, but some of my favorites were the development and competition of locomotives and steam power; the invention of miner’s safety lamp by Sir Davy; the building of Regent’s Park and Regent’s Street in London by John Nash; the vision of the modern computer by Charles Babbage; John Clare inventing environmental activism; Pierce Egan developing modern sports journalism; Lord Byron becoming perhaps the first of modern celebrities; the publishing of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the most popular love story of the last two centuries, and the publishing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which both created modern science fiction and, with John Polidori’s The Vampyre, created one of the “two most potent horror myths of the modern age”. I nearly rated a 4-star, but the book was a touch too much like reading a list. (Audible)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Justinian

    2019-07 - The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. Robert Morrison (Author) 2019. 416 Pages. Nicholle picked this up at the library for me on a whim knowing I am a Jane Austen fan and a lover of period décor of this era. I had just finished the Jane Austen diet when she brought this to me. This book … frankly it is a breath of fresh air. Most histories focus on big men, politics, and wars … this book though adheres to the 2019-07 - The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. Robert Morrison (Author) 2019. 416 Pages. Nicholle picked this up at the library for me on a whim knowing I am a Jane Austen fan and a lover of period décor of this era. I had just finished the Jane Austen diet when she brought this to me. This book … frankly it is a breath of fresh air. Most histories focus on big men, politics, and wars … this book though adheres to the spirit of its age. While if you may expect lots of prating therefore about economy, and military goings on of the Napoleonic Wars … you will be saddened. Rather his book looks at a world envisioned and created by the eccentricities of the Prince Regent. A society wherein Artists, Architects, Landscape gardeners, scientists, writers, poets … they matter and matter greatly. Perhaps they actually matter more in the long run then the great general, admiral, economist, capitalist, or politician. Simply because great works of art and creation last, endure and define … so much so that the context and animating spirt they provide largely contribute or enable the lessor tier accomplishments of the now. This was the belief and goal of the prince Regent. Yes, this book does look at military things, crime and punishment, economy, and policy but its focus is on what type of society did Regency Britain actually aspire to be? That makes this a bit of a rare tome. This book delivers on that precept and is also an enjoyable read. I think perhaps it has done better than most histories at opening up into the world and self-view of the times and given me further paths to trod in quenching my curiosity.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Henry B

    Despite the prominence of Jane Austen's works and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the cultural imagination, popular history has often treated the Regency of George IV as something of a footnote in its eagerness to get to the Victorians. In The Regency Years, Robert Morrison attempts to amend this situation and bring attention to the Regency in its own right as a formative era in the history of Britain and the world. An era of innovation, luxury, and vast social upheaval, Morrison skillfully paint Despite the prominence of Jane Austen's works and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the cultural imagination, popular history has often treated the Regency of George IV as something of a footnote in its eagerness to get to the Victorians. In The Regency Years, Robert Morrison attempts to amend this situation and bring attention to the Regency in its own right as a formative era in the history of Britain and the world. An era of innovation, luxury, and vast social upheaval, Morrison skillfully paints the years 1811-1820 in all of their beauty and horror. The book covers a broad range of topics, from the pastimes of the emerging middle class, to the colonial ambitions of the wealthy, to the displacement and oppression of the poor; from late night drinking parties to brilliant technological advancements; from raunchy cartoons to some of Britain's most recognizable and beautiful poetry. Sweeping yet concise, this book is a delight. While an engaging and wide-ranging work, I do have some gripes with this book. First and most trivially, I dislike the formatting. Each section of each chapter is something like a self-contained essay. They all tie together under the topic of the chapter but I found the frequent breaks disruptive to the flow. Also, the transitions between each section were sometimes clumsy and the connections between them sometimes unclear. Second, I wish the book went into more depth. I believe Morrison rather underestimated just how much space such a broad topic would require. While this book covers a lot of ground, it does not really examine anything in detail. Specifically, I wish politics and policy were explored more and woven into the narrative of the everyday lives of the people. He did this very well when discussing the Highland Clearances, but I found it alarmingly lacking in his section on the colonization of Hong Kong. Given the recent push to examine the consequences of colonialism in the field of British history, I found this surprising and disappointing. I also wish the Regent himself had been given more screentime. Lastly, I found the conclusion a bit odd. Morrison ends the book by using Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as exemplary of the era as a whole. I believe this is because this book may have been timed to ride the wave of Franken-mania resulting from its bicentennial in 2018. While I agree with his point, for me it also dulled the effect of the story he is trying to tell. A much more apt way to show the importance and influence of the Regency could, perhaps, have been to end the book with the birth of the future Queen Victoria in 1819. Ending the book on a work published before the end of the Regency served to gives the impression of the Regency as self-contained. Victoria's birth could have, instead, served as a bridge. Overall, I did enjoy this book quite a bit. Easygoing, accessible, and informative, this is an excellent introduction to the era. My great hope is that this book will crack open the publishing door for works on the Regency that focus on more than just the monumental figures it produced - because there is so much more explore.

  29. 4 out of 5

    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.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    Very well-written history of the ten years of the Regency in England, when the Prince of Wales became the Prince Regent, ruling for his insane father, George III. Do you read Regency romances or historical fiction? Here you get the facts of life at that time. Sometimes too much detail and too many names to take in. The Prologue covers the Regent himself. – Chapter one (Crime, Punishment and the Pursuit of Freedom) concentrates on crime, law and order (or the lack thereof), civil unrest. – Chapter Very well-written history of the ten years of the Regency in England, when the Prince of Wales became the Prince Regent, ruling for his insane father, George III. Do you read Regency romances or historical fiction? Here you get the facts of life at that time. Sometimes too much detail and too many names to take in. The Prologue covers the Regent himself. – Chapter one (Crime, Punishment and the Pursuit of Freedom) concentrates on crime, law and order (or the lack thereof), civil unrest. – Chapter Two (Theaters of Entertainment) covered theaters, sporting events, art galleries, novels and so on. – Chapter 3 (Sexual Pastimes, Pleasures and Perversities) was quite frank and serious--not written to titillate, but to inform. – Chapter 4 (Expanding Empire and Waging War), Waterloo, covers the War of 1812, India and China as well as Raffles and the founding of Singapore. -- Chapter 5 (Changing Landscapes and Ominous Signs) covers changes wrought by the proliferation of factories, the improvement in the roads, the advent of railroads and other scientific advances. Travelogues and guide books are here as well. There's an extensive bibliography and end notes give the sources of various things mentioned. also a lengthy index, where Lord Byron rates more than a column.

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