The Good Old Days?

The Good Old Days?

It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of the Regency era, especially when you’re reading a Jane Austen novel. We love to think about balls and assemblies, secret romantic liaisons, gentleman who fight to defend a lady’s honor, and a handsome hero who appears to sweep us off our feet and carry us to his castle far, far away.

But Regency life wasn’t like that, not really. There are lots of reasons why I prefer to live in the era we now inhabit, and here are ten of the best. Some of them are not as obvious as you might think. And I expect a lively debate over one of two of them! See if you agree with this list.

  1. This first one is probably the easiest to name: technology! The fact that I can get on a computer and use it to be in touch instantly with friends and family around the world is, in a word, astounding. Also amazing: having what amounts to the world’s largest library, the internet, available at any hour of any day. For free! Even Catherine Morland could not have imagined such a thing! 
  2. Women’s rights. It’s lucky for us that women did *not* have all the freedom in Jane Austen’s day that we do now, or half of her books would probably not have been written! Women were not property- they could not be bought and sold like chattel- but they certainly didn’t enjoy all the rights we enjoy so much today. We’ve come a long way!
  3. Universal suffrage. I’m not talking about just women getting the right to vote. I’m also talking about people of color, as well as people who did not own land or property. In Austen’s day only landed gentlemen with a certain amount of income had the right to vote. And their vote was public, not private. There was no such thing as a ballot box, or a way to conceal who you had voted for.
  4. Fresh, clean water on demand, piped right into your home, for drinking, bathing, or cooking. This is an improvement that is so ubiquitous we hardly think of it, but in Austen’s day, fresh clean water was something that had to be worked for. Hard!
  5. Which leads me to this next item: improved sanitation. Have you ever heard of a cholera epidemic in your hometown? How about typhoid fever? Would you even recognize one of these diseases if they showed up? Probably not; but they are still devastating illnesses in developing countries. Because of the immediate access to water, it is much easier for us to keep us and our surroundings clean and avoid some of these nasty illnesses.
  6. Since we’re on the subject of illness, let’s all give a big round of applause for improvements in medical science in the last two hundred years. The germ theory of disease, antiseptic solutions, vigorous hand washing to prevent the spread of illness, antibiotics, the eradication of illnesses like diphtheria and polio- all these and more have come about since Austen’s day.
  7. I’m sure we’re all grateful for the longer lifespans we enjoy today. In Great Britain around 1800, life expectancy was only about forty years. That doesn’t mean people didn’t live past their forties back then. It means that overall, people tended to die at a much younger age, from diseases we can now successfully treat or avoid altogether. Your chances of living a full lifespan of seventy years or more are much higher now than then they would have been had you been born in Austen’s day.
  8. Better quality of food, and more of it. My father, who grew up in Latin America, used to say that in his home country people died of starvation, but in the U.S. people die of overeating. This is a truly amazing feature of life in developed countries.
  9. Easier travel and transportation. It only takes three days and a car to get from one coast of the United States to the other  Anybody can get on a plane and fly to the other side of the world in less than twenty four hours, if they have the money to pay for it. And chances are excellent that they will arrive safe and sound, complete with their luggage and complaints about going through security. In Austen’s day such a journey would have taken weeks or months, and the odds of a safe arrival were considerably lower. 
  10. Fewer wars and violence. Are you surprised? Despite our current (very legitimate!) fears of terrorism and nuclear bombs, we are actually living in one of the most peaceful times in history. Historians, in fact, call this era The Long Peace. The odds of you meeting a violent death have never been lower.

So, the good old days were not always as good as we think. But they were terribly romantic! In the interest of fairness, in my next blog post I may post some things that might have been better back in the day. In the meantime, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of the list above! Maybe you can add some items I didn’t include.

Now, for the giveaway: one of the best things about modern technology is being able to collaborate with people from all around the world! My book Duty Demands was turned into a wonderful audiobook by the highly talented Siobhan Waring, who lives in England. Her narration is flawless! I know you’d enjoy it. If you comment below before midnight on February 10th, you’ll be entered into a drawing to receive one of three free copies! Good luck to everyone!

55 Responses to The Good Old Days?

  1. Like many I romanticize about life in the old days. Unfortunately, we only get the perspective of those who are well off and not the working poor. There are somethings I believe we should look at again (sewing, embroidery, the still room), things we have lost over time due to modern marvels. However. I wouldn’t want to give up my advancements in medical in terms of labor for example, vision and dental. Think I will just romanticize and call it good.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    • We definitely tend to favor books that show only the lives of the well-to-do in past eras. As you point out, the working poor had a much different existence. They don’t seem to have it well in any era at all, do they

  2. If I can get the best of both worlds, I’ll be grateful. I prefer modern conveniences that helps mankind. On the other hand people nowadays are getting less sociable and doesn’t treat one another with respect. I would like to have my cake and eat it too!

  3. The medical advances are truly amazing. Just thinking of all the people who wouldn’t be here because of asthma, diabetes, strep throat, etc. The rather common illnesses that could have been deadly in a different era

    • I think of those, too. I have a coworker and a former boss who would certainly have passed away by now due to cancer in an earlier era. As it is they are cured and living full lives.

  4. I grew up in a cottage with no electricity or running water. It was tough but we got through it. Being young helped but it must have been torture for my mother as we had moved from England where we had all that. There’s for and against every era. I’m looking forward to your post on the ‘fors’ of the Regency.

  5. Regency life might have been lovely…if you were a wealthy man! Otherwise, forget it. Can you imagine doing laundry back then? Or keeping all those fires goin in the great houses? Even washing up! No fairy or dawn liquids to help you then!

  6. I often give thanks for being born in the era I was. I suffered pneumonia several times as a very young child and likely would not be here, if I hadn’t been born when I was. I would love a copy of the Duty Demands audiobook, as I listen to audiobooks every night while drifting off to sleep, and also in those times where my eyes are too tired to read. Thank you for the lovely giveaway.

  7. I’ve bought and enjoyed the book and would love to have the audio version as I get back into quilting.

  8. I would miss having a car. And it’s sad to think that I would probably have died of “old age” (early 50s) by now in the Regency era. Thanks for the great giveaway. I love to listen to audiobooks while driving in my car!

  9. Although I believe I was born in the wrong century, the thought of personal hygiene during the Regency can be very upsetting! Thank you so much for this giveaway – I’d love to listen to “Duty Demands”.

  10. Good night, yes. I suspect my interest in the Regency is very different from other people’s because I’m working 9 out of 10 of these issues into a WIP! (Emphasis on 6 and 2; I did not discuss suffrage.) Plus child labor.

  11. The first two things that popped in my mind were electricity and being able to go anywhere I want, by myself. Also, clothes. I don’t do so well in dresses…and those necklines…and stays…nope nope nope. LOL

  12. Another plus of living in the modern world is having audiobooks. I have just started getting back into them and am loving it. Love this post. I often miss the good old days where people were less accessible. It is a definite plus to have the internet but it has created a sense of urgency to everything and I feel disconnect as well. There is no denying how handy it is though.

    • I have a love/hate relationship with being so accessible all the time. But I’m loving audio books! If you’re interested, I found a site where authors often give away their audiobooks in exchange for a review. PM me on FB or send an email to elaineowen@writeme.com and I’ll give you the link.

  13. What a wonderful list of things for which to be thankful in 2018! I would add my
    smartphone which has improved our access to communication and information
    plus the safety features. Thank you for this giveaway.

  14. I have been a bit addicted to audio books of late! What a wonderful thing to get you through chores of any kind! Austen’s time was missing out! I love to read and listen…and dream, but for all mentioned reasons in this post, I am very happy to be planted in the now! Thank you for a chance to win.

  15. “I can’t live without electricity, chocolate, and bum paper.” And I am grateful for instant communication esp in an emergency — can you imagine waiting hours or days to get a critical message to someone? Good list, Elaine, and looking forward to your comparison to life in the Regency period.

  16. Great post! As much as I love reading stories set during the Regency, I wouldn’t want to live back then. Visit? Sure!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  17. I agree with all of your points. When I was young and first discovered Austen, I had wished I had been born back then but as I got older and learned about what that would really mean, I felt grateful that wasn’t the case.

  18. Loved your post. The lack of clean water and basic hand washing always seems to pop in my mind when I read about someone drinking wine/port and when they refresh themselves. Can almost make me swoon but not for a good reason. Thank you for hosting the giveaway.

  19. I love the image of “Around the World in 80 Days.” It was one of early favorites with its hot air balloons and the “trick” of winning the race, both fabulous impressions on a preteen reader.

  20. Oh yes, I’m definitely up there with internet access. My daughter and family live in Australia so not only do I get to Skype my little grandsons but they also come to see me. I suppose in regency times they would not have been there (unless they had committed some heinous crime).
    I also couldn’t live without my modern bathroom etc and the running water!
    I’m looking forward to seeing your reasons for regency. I bet number one will be Mr Darcy ??

  21. I agree that all those things make a life better now. When people ask me what my favorite invention is I always say electricity. I think everything in my life is made easier because of it. I’m so grateful for all these things.

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