Because I've been binge watching British mysteries on PBS, this advance reader seemed like a great choice for some weekend reading. I figured I'd scan a few chapters and that would be that. Nope. This turned out to be both fun and enlightening reading. Lesley and Roy Adkins created a fully painted picture of the 18th century, validating my long held belief that I would not have survived long under those conditions.
The past ten years or so have been good to Jane Austen. Most of her books have been made into movies, some being big Hollywood ventures, others smaller offerings by the BBC or public television. The pictures of rural England, serene, slow, with gallant men in breeches and women in empire waist dresses writing in journals tells only part of the story.
The Adkins tell us the rest. This book portrays to daily lives of ordinary people with discussion topics as diverse as childbirth, marriage, religion, sexual practices, hygiene, highwaymen and superstitions. Fetching water from a well or river every day? No thanks. Medicinal leeches. Nope. Children working in the mines meant certain early death, that is if the plague from really creepy bathroom practices didn't get them first. Oh, and how about the corpses left in public swinging from gibbets for everyone to see?
Yes, it was all quite bleak by today's standards. Most people could not afford lawyers so many couples suffered intolerable marriages as a result. A woman could not divorce her husband on grounds of cruelty since it was legal for a husband to beat his wife. But if he did beat her to the brink of death, he was punished, and asked to "be good" for about three years. A husband could end a marriage by selling his wife. Sometimes the woman consented, but not often. The woman was led into the public square with a rope around her neck and auctioned off. Once money exchanged hands, the deed to her ownership was transferred to the highest bidder.
And of course, there were the gypsies. Apparently child stealing was common in parts of England; the gypsies were often credited for the abduction. Kids were stolen for various reasons - couples desperate for a child, for cheap labor or to sold into slavery. Local newspapers reported these abductions with most reports ending with "....the child is probably gone forever."
Oh, these were not easy times for those people who did not live between the covers of an Austen novel.
By they way, if you have time, try to catch an episode or two of "DCI (Detective chief Inspector) Banks" , Scott & Bailey, or Father Brown Mysteries. Sometimes I have to use the closed caption button of the TV since these Brits talk quickly and quietly. PBS doesn't always keep a consistent schedules with these shows, but check them out ifyou can.
I'm also re-reading Tom Maltman's Little Wolves for our books discussion this week. I must have read it too fast the first time, because I certainly missed a lot. Not sure about the ending, though. We'll see what the discussion offers.
Thanks for stopping by.