Behind Jane Austen's Door
Forest, J. (2012). Behind Jane Austen's Door. Amazon Kindle.
[Genre: Social History]
In this short kindle-only title Jennifer Forest goes behind the door of a regency era household to explore not only the home itself, but why the home was so important to women of the period and what that meant for Jane Austen's heroines. As Forest rightly explains, the marriages of Elizabeth, Elinor, Anne or any of the others are not only romantic alliances but a chance for each woman to become mistress of their own household (the importance of which, to woman at the time in terms of their place in society, should not be overlooked).
Behind Jane Austen's Door is an informative and easy read. Each common room of a typical household is explored in turn, with reference to both the elite (such as Darcy's Pemberly) and lower gentry (such as Jane Austen's own family home). With each room we are treated to its likely look, usage and an explanation of its importance to the household. Everywhere reinforces the overall argument of the piece: that being mistress of one's own home was a woman's biggest opportunity for responsibility, relative social freedom and knowledge of her comfortable 'place' in society. The point is well and consistently made.
I found Behind Jane Austen's Door fascinating and it gave me a much deeper understanding of the perspective of the women in some of my favourite novels. It's interesting not only from the point of view of Jane Austen's work - it also showed me how much thought and research must go into some modern regency romances! I have a feeling I'll be referring to this short work (less than 100 pages) again when something in a novel piques my interest. I'd even happily read it again if it was extended into a longer academic piece. That being said, despite Forest emphasising that she wishes the piece to be seen as non-academic, I wish she'd included a more thorough reference list for those of us that wish to explore further.
Overall, I think this is a must-read for any regular reader of Austen-era or modern regency fiction. It's engaging, insightful, full of historical goodness and can easily be managed by even the most anti-non-fiction readers. This is especially true considering that I picked the book up for free.