By Sue Wilkes

Immerse your self within the vanished international inhabited by way of Austen's contemporaries. choked with element, and anecdotes, this can be an intimate exploration of the way the center and higher sessions lived from 1775, the yr of Austen's start, to the coronation of George IV

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One aspect of that context is of course the empire itself. One reason for thinking it exerted a great inXuence is that it must have done. It was ‘one of the biggest things in history’. Whatever deWnition of imperialism we choose, it Wts. The best—that is, most useful—deWnition is probably one that retains the notion of ‘control’ (imperium), which in the British case seems manifest. The plumed helmets and red coats were part of it. So were the great naval displays (‘Reviews’) and military parades of the time.

The Industrial Revolution led to an increase of foreign trade, culminating in foreign annexations in some circumstances. The imperial implications of that, however, were apparent to very few people at the time. Most in fact regarded trade as the antithesis of ‘imperialism’. The second repercussion was to distract people from their empire. They had far too much on their plates at home. When you are caught in the maelstrom—starving, striking, getting rich, struggling with new working conditions, agitating for reform, anticipating utopia, fearing the mob, bemused or exhilarated by all the profound social and moral changes that are going on around you—you do not have the time or need to look to the margins, unless they relate speciWcally to your concerns at home.

The problem then was that the nation had not been prepared for this, during these long years of relatively easy colonial pickings. Because the empire had been able to be maintained without a widespread and dedicated imperial culture prior to the 1880s, it was all the harder to construct one suddenly now. This was especially so in view of what had come to Wll the place of that culture in the earlier nineteenth century: a variety of other concerns, priorities, value systems, and ‘discourses’, occasionally inimical to imperialism but more often irrelevant to it, jostling the latter in a way that had not harmed the empire then, but which might in these more trying times.

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A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England by Sue Wilkes

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