BOOK REVIEWS
George Justice, Editor

Bimonthly Bits of Ivory

Jane Austen’s Regency World


Full-color magazine; 50+ pages/issue.
Worldmags, Ltd. $39/year (6 issues).
Sample articles and subscriptions: www.janeausten.co.uk, or contact the Jane Austen Centre, 40 Gay Street, Queens Square, Bath, BA1 2NT, United Kingdom; tel. 44 (0) 1225 443000.

Reviewed by Carrie Bebris.


From the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, comes Jane Austen’s Regency World, the first bimonthly glossy magazine for Austen enthusiasts.

In her introductory letter in the first issue, editor Sue LeBlond invites readers to “come on in,” as if welcoming them to a salon. It is a fitting representation of the magazine’s tone and content: the reader feels as if she’s entered a drawing room full of fellow Austen admirers eager to discuss any and all things Regency. One never knows who might drop in or what subject might next fuel conversation.

Through a mix of news, feature articles, and reviews, the magazine seeks “to inform and entertain everyone from the scholar to the starstruck.” This is an ambitious goal. Yet Jane Austen’s Regency World does a good job of achieving middle ground. Its self-described “light, bright and sparkling” approach delivers substantive content that appeals to readers who want to learn more about Austen and her world but who also don’t object to the sight of Colin Firth in a wet shirt.

The editorial content includes a broad range of literary, historical, and entertainment topics. If it pertains to Austen’s life, work, or times, if it influenced Austen or was influenced by her, or if it appeals to the same interests and sensibilities that Austen does, one can read about it here. A single issue includes articles as diverse as an account of the process used by a forensic portrait artist to recreate Jane Austen’s face; an examination of Austen’s character names; actor Benjamin Whitrow’s thoughts on playing Mr. Bennet; a Regency recipe (original and modern versions); and a tour of Cheltenham (where Austen went in 1816 to rest and recover). While the table of contents lists no “departments” per se, most issues offer at least one discussion of Jane Austen’s writing or an introduction to another author with Regency connections (from Mary Wollstonecraft to Georgette Heyer); an article on social or cultural history (fashion, modes of travel, dancing, “taking the baths”); an introduction to Austen communities throughout the world (the Jane Austen Society of Australia, the Internet’s Republic of Pemberley, the Jane Austen Dancers); a tour of an Austen-related location; a celebrity piece; and a look at print, broadcast, or stage adaptations and continuations. Reviews cover various media and genres, from books about Austen, her writing, and its context, to Austen sequels and films and television productions. Multi-part series provide continuity between issues and an opportunity to explore subjects in greater depth than the usual three- to five-page article length.

The features are generally thoughtful, written in an engaging style, and well researched, often including sidebars that direct readers to sources of additional information. Many are written by authorities on their topics. Maggie Lane, for example, writes about character names and Austen’s favorite seaside resorts. President Joan Klingel Ray introduces the rest of the world to JASNA. An antiquarian bookseller reveals how to find rare editions. Novelist Juliet Shapiro examines the popularity of sequels. First-person accounts from people as diverse as Chawton Cottage staff members sharing anecdotes, a graphologist commissioned to analyze Jane Austen’s handwriting, and actors reflecting on their roles lend immediacy to their subjects and unique voices to the mix.

The magazine exhibits high production values. It is full-color throughout on quality paper, with a heavy cover that stands up to repeated reference. Its reader-friendly design offers a visually inviting balance of text and graphics on each spread; informative captions make efficient use of marginal space without crowding the page. Running headers indicate article titles on each page to orient the reader. Advertising is minimal and unobtrusive; in fact, anglophiles might consider the ads for Georgian hotels and Sally Lunn buns part of the magazine’s charm.

Jane Austen’s Regency World launched in January 2003; this review is based upon examination of the first five issues. Periodicals, by their very nature, are ever changing. What can be said of one issue may not hold true for the next. New publications, especially, evolve as they find their audience and revise their editorial concept to meet reader interests and expectations. Issue 5 already incorporates design changes: a tighter typeface for body text has a more old-fashioned feel but is slightly harder on the eye; colored bars at the top and bottom of each page create a boxy layout that distracts from the articles rather than enhances their presentation. One hopes the graphic design will continue to evolve. The content, meanwhile, reflects experimentation (such as including a short story for the first time) as the magazine refines its focus, but remains solid overall.

Because it embraces all aspects of Austen fandom, her most serious readers might consider Jane Austen’s Regency World too lightweight. But the magazine holds something for just about everyone, and most Janeites will be excessively diverted.



Carrie Bebris (www.carriebebris.com) is a JASNA member and a novelist and freelance magazine writer. Her new mystery, Pride and Prescience (Forge Books, Feb. 2004), embroils the newlywed Darcys in an intrigue at Netherfield.

JASNA News v.20, no. 1, Spring 2004, p. 18

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