Tuesday 13 October 2020

Book review: The Regency Revolution, Robert Morrison (2019)

I bought this book at a Collins bookseller near Wollongong.

This book of popular history varies the focus in successive chapters and because of the large quantity of primary sources is able to provide a good deal of detail about such things as sexuality as well as about more routine subjects like war. 

For Jane Austen fans like me, this book is catnip but can be meaningfully read by anyone who is interested in how the modern world emerged out of the Enlightenment. Few know what that word signifies but fewer know about the Regency, which encompassed the teen years of the 19th century. The Victorian urge to improve is anticipated by changes that took place during the years when the future George IV was regent, once his father George III was finally and terminally incapacitated by what appears to have been insanity (though I haven’t read a biography of this monarch, so am yet to be fully informed on this matter).

The fact that the American Revolution occurred in the years immediately prior to the Regency must make this book even more relevant, as that urge to improve certainly derived from secular events that are, today, known to a large number of people.

The Regent was lambasted strongly during his lifetime as well as in the Victorian era, though he did much to encourage the arts and sciences, both financially and in terms of the public honour he bestowed on practitioners. Fat, fond of a drink, and libidinous, George was an easy target for political satirists and it’s easy to grasp how an historian like Morrison would want to reformulate public perceptions (revisionism is one of the primary engines of history as a discipline), but I can see the merit in his point of view. 

While a bit too fond of hyperbole, Morrison does a solid job though his analysis of Australia – which grew rapidly during this period – is sketchy at best and adds nothing to one’s understanding of colonial history. Morrison might’ve done better to ask why names made famous by Walter Scott were used to label geographical locations.

I give this book a full three stars, as it’s worthwhile for people to read, especially for those who haven’t read much about this period before. For those, like me, who have, reading ‘The Regency Revolution’ is still profitable.

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