The Family Library

Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards a table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others; all that his library afforded. "And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever look into." Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.| "I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father should have left so small a collection of books. -- What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr Darcy!" "It ought to be good," he replied, "it has been the work of many generations." "And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books." "I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these." Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen grew up in a bookish family. Rev. Austen was a great reader and he often read aloud to his children. When her family moved to Bath, Jane’s father either sold or gave away over 500 books from his vast library, which must have crammed the parsonage in Steventon. Under her father’s direction, it is thought Jane read classical, foreign and English literature by authors such as Samuel Johnson, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Alexander Pope, George Crabbe, William Cowper, and William Shakespeare. Jane was encouraged to buy subscriptions to the popular novels written by Frances Burney, Sarah Harriet Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Ann Radcliffe.

Rev. Austen’s library at Steventon provided inspiration for the short satirical sketches Jane wrote as a girl and with which she entertained the family. To amuse each other, the close knit Austen family would read to each other, play games, and produce plays. One can imagine Rev. Austen’s library playing an important part in these amusements. Although Mr. Darcy speaks of the family library as a collection of books, it was far more than that in the Regency period. In the country house of a gentleman like Mr. Bennet, the library is in today's terms his "Man Cave"-- his haven-- storing books, yes, but also doubling as an office or study where he might retire when confounded by his wife's folly, or a place to meet his estate agent, as Mr. Knightley does, in Emma.

Books were expensive, a luxury, and were a sign of prestige if a home was to include a large number of them. Great houses might have an entire room designated for the purpose-- a place, which might also host family gatherings and be opened to guests when large parties were arranged.

Book Accessories & Home Libraries offers the following peek into a Regency Home Library: "This 1816 etching by John Britton represents a typical home library during Regency. The library is located at Cassiobury Park and it was used similarly to many other home libraries of the time — it was essentially the most important room of the house and could be easily referred to as a family sitting room. A group of small dogs in the front sufficiently demonstrates the openness of this library to anyone and anything.

Although these rooms could be used for a variety of different purposes and by different members of the family, there are several features that are always present and their general style is unmistakable. We see built-in bookcases that are architectural in nature. In other such libraries you would often see (apart from the books, obviously) various antiquities and curiosities. Small private museums of this sort had a long history, but in Georgian times and in the early 19th century the trend became very popular. As far as architectural styles, Regency designers preferred neoclassical décor, however Gothic influences were also quite common at the discretion of individual owners who were inspired by the love of all things Medieval (as interpreted by novelists and poets). The furniture of this particular home library is typical Regency style (note the Grecian chairs), but the general tone has a certain Gothic air. Enjoy these additional samples of Regency library furniture!

 


Today, it is not quite so practical to have such large libraries in our homes, although we certainly cannot deny that they really were beautiful. If this blog has got you thinking about how you might make use of a family library today, why not take a look at our Jane Austen Book Voile Scarf. With a print inspired by the great libraries of eras gone by, this scarf is a charming way to bring a little Regency to your wardrobe! 

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