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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!