At this time of year I’m more inclined to sit back, digest, and think over the past year than to do anything more creative than finding room for another piece of pie. And one of the great joys of the last year – well, the last couple-three years, actually – has been the discovery of research sources that would have made me think I’d died and gone to Heaven, back in the unlamented days when I made weekly pilgrimage to the university library to lug home a double armload of books that just might contain some of the nuggets of information I was looking for. With reprints, online books and useful websites, easily available information on Regency manners and mores, in particular, has exploded since those days; here’s a quick list of some of the sites and books I’ve found most useful (and most dangerous, considered as time sinks).
Regency Dances is my favorite time waster. If you’ve ever wondered what Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland were doing, besides flirting, when they “stood opposite each other in a long room for half an hour…” until “the demands of the dance becoming now too importunate for a divided attention,” check out this site to see clever animations of more country dances, cotillions and quadrilles than you ever dreamed existed.
Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was a rare book when I started writing; now it’s available free on Kindle or from Project Gutenberg. It has, however, the problem that you have to skim through the entries in alphabetical order looking for a slang term for the concept you have in mind. I found it well worth while to invest in a used paperback copy of Jonathon Green’s Slang through the Ages, which is not limited to the Regency era and which organizes entries by topic.
Even in an alternate-world “Regency” like Tangled Magic, I like to use names that won’t jar the reader’s sensibilities: no Ashley, Harper, or Laila in this book. I’ve found Bryn Donovan’s Master List of British Names from the 19th Century a useful resource here.
Adams’ The Complete Servant has been an invaluable source of recipes for food, cosmetics and medicine. It’s not available online and Amazon wants over $25 even for a used copy; the link goes to a Bookfinder search which, today at least, lists several copies for under $10.
I’d recommend that anybody writing in the Regency genre bookmark one of the numerous guides to modes of address and use of titles in the period, such as Kloster’s Regency Peerage and Precedence. There are just too many ways to slip up. Mixing first names and titles is especially dangerous; Amelia Warwick is addressed as Lady Amelia if she’s the unmarried daughter of an earl, but as Lady Warwick if she’s the wife of a baron. A close friend of Lady Warwick’s might address her as Amelia, but never as Lady Amelia.
A heroine who is extremely interested in dress forced me to look for examples of period costume. Fashions in the Era of Jane Austen is a compilation of prints from a leading fashion journal, Ackermann’s Repository, and it’s free from Kindle Unlimited. I like free. Useful detail for a character who sews and embroiders is added in Dilmont’s Encyclopedia of Needlework , $2.99 from Kindle.
Beyond these generally useful sites and books, the answers to any number of questions are just a short search away. For instance, my heroine works her magic with elaborate thread patterns embroidered upon her clothes – so, beyond the fashion sources mentioned above, I bookmarked this glossary of period fabrics and this blog on historical needlework.
Another single-use search: a common theme in Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances is the young man who longs to join the army but hasn’t the wherewithal to purchase himself a commission. That became a plot point in the book I am currently, sort of, slowly finishing, and I wanted to get some idea of just how much of a problem my character had. Wikipedia gave me a table of commission prices in 1837 – good enough for government work – and estimated equivalents in 2018 dollars. Richert Dalkey would have needed 700 pounds for a lieutenancy in the infantry regiment of his choice, which doesn’t sound all that bad until you look at the conversion – 62,000 pounds in 2018. Whew! I did a little more digging into cost of living and incomes of the gentry and yes, it’s every bit as bad as it sounds. Richert has a real problem!
A number of Jane Austen fans and Regency authors have been generous enough to share the results of their research online. I’ve mentioned Kristin Koster; her site is a cornucopia of information and useful links. Other generally useful sites are Candice Hern’s Regency World, Jane Austen’s World, and Regency England.