More Questions–More Answers!–on Austen’s Life and Times

Last month’s pop quiz was so much fun that we’ll do another one today. These questions go somewhat further afield, so they may tax your Regency knowledge. As before, there’s no rhyme or reason to topic order. Today’s quiz has twenty-five questions. The answers appear below each question to avoid vertigo from excessive scrolling.


0-10: You’re the bumbling Mr. Collins of Austenia.

11-15: You’re Edward Ferrars/Edmund Bertram: solid but dull.

16-20: You’re Henry Tilney, learned on topics from muslin to crown lands to Udolpho.

21-25: You’re Liz Bennet, fiercely demolishing all comers.

The quiz:

What did the word “particular” mean with a young couple at a Regency ball?

Couples were said to be too particular at a Regency ball when they paid too much attention to each other. A couple being particular could start the gossip tongues wagging.

What military technology did France invent that led to fears along the English coast?

France invented the hot-air balloon, as well as the parachute. England feared an airborne invasion for much of the Napoleonic age. Though an aerial invasion was unfeasible, the French played up the fears to unsettle their enemies.

Who was the first Englishwoman to ascend in a hot-air balloon, and what was the result?

The first Englishwoman to ascend in a balloon was Mrs. Laetitia Sage in 1785. Her escort being a handsome young man, the flight gave rise to scandal. Years before, the French had convened meetings to determine whether it was proper for a single lady to ascend alone with a man.

Jane Austen’s House Museum has a brown pelisse, a silk outer garment, believed to have belonged to Jane Austen. What is the symbolism of the oakleaf pattern on the pelisse?

The ships of the Royal Navy were made of oak. The oakleaf pattern was a symbol of the navy, likely in honor of Frank and Charles, her brothers who were naval officers. (See photo by headline; © Hampshire Museums Services.)

How much material would a Regency gown or pelisse require?

It took about seven and a half yards of material to make a gown or pelisse during Jane Austen’s day. Labor was the cheapest cost of any garment. The combined cost of one pelisse each for Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra was 17 shillings.

How long were England and France at war during Jane Austen’s life? (The answer is precise, but you can round up to a full year.)

Of Jane Austen’s forty-one years, seven months of life, England and France were at war for twenty-eight years, eleven months.

What was the solution for modest Regency ladies wearing their light, transparent summer dresses?

Because summer dresses were so light, women often wore full-body, flesh-colored pantaloons beneath them.

Of all the scientific discoveries or developments that occurred during Jane Austen’s lifetime, what may have been the most important, or at least the most convenient?

Joseph Bramah patented a valve-operated water-closet (toilet) in 1778. Over the next thirty years, bathrooms for the wealthy moved indoors from the “necessary” houses close by. It took well into the twentieth century for indoor toilets to become generally available.

Who may have been the most important scientist that Jane Austen met in her life?

Jane Austen very likely met Mary Anning, who became a major paleontologist, when Mary was four or five years old in Lyme Regis. Mary’s father, Richard, was a carpenter and fossil collector in Lyme Regis. He provided a bid for furniture repair to the Austen family while they lived in town. The Annings also sold fossils in the town market, where Austen likely met the young girl.

What traditional occupation was threatened by the paranoia about a French invasion of England?

Itinerant sketchers were feared to be spies, especially if they were sketching scenes of a port town.

How did Beau Brummell, the fashion arbiter of the Regency world, spread his taste in clothing?

Brummel would dress in fashionable outfits, then sit in the window of White’s gentleman’s club to watch passers-by watch him.

Beyond writing poetry and chasing women, at what other sport did Lord Byron excel?

The poet was considered a good boxer for his size (5 foot, 8 inches) despite having a club foot.

In his brief return to power in 1815, what did Napoleon do in a futile effort to curry favor with the British?

Napoleon agreed to end France’s slave trade. However, this did not save him from defeat at Waterloo, and the royalist government that replaced him did not enforce the ban with any enthusiasm.

Though Jane Austen insists that people should not marry for money—that marriage must involve respect and understanding—how many of her six finished novels open with references to money?

Four of her novels begin with discussions of finance, three in the first sentence: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma.

What other novel quickly gets to money as well?

Persuasion soon moves from Sir Walter admiring his family history to the need for him to address the financial problems of the Elliot family. “Retrenchment” is the topic of the second chapter.

Beyond writing, what other artistic skill did Jane Austen possess?

She also played the piano-forte. She collected sheet music and copied out musical scores for her own use.

What does the use of the word “must” involve in Jane Austen’s novels?

According to critic John Mullan, whenever Jane Austen uses the word “must” in her narratives, she is beginning to move into the thoughts of her character.

Though he was known mostly for his partying, womanizing, and overspending, what signature accomplishments did the Prince Regent oversee?

The Prince Regent technically presided over the end of the War of 1812 with the United States and over the twin defeats of Napoleon in the Napoleonic wars. However, historians believe he contributed little leadership during these difficult times.

What signature honor did the Prince Regent offer Jane Austen that she grudgingly accepted?

The Prince Regent let it be known that Austen could dedicate her book Emma to him. It was an honor Austen could not refuse despite her contempt for his profligacy.

What was the most remarkable agricultural achievement during the Regency?

For the first time in history, food production increased faster than human food consumption. Among other things, the average weight of sheep and cattle more than doubled.

How were circulating libraries funded in Jane Austen’s day?

Circulating libraries charged according to the number of books a subscriber took at one time. A typical three-volume novel would count as three books.

Of the many taxes in England to finance the Napoleonic wars, what was the largest tax on luxury or personal items? Extra credit: What was the smallest tax?

The carriage tax was probably the highest personal tax: £8.16s for one carriage; £9.18s for a second; and £11 for each one after that. One of the few taxes that targeted poor people was the three-pence tax on a cheap worker’s hat.

What was the income range for the majority of the population during Jane Austen’s lifetime?

An unskilled farm laborer made about £25 a year, supplementing his pay with food and livestock he would provide for himself. A well-to-do merchant would make £2,000.

How much did Jane Austen and her mother and sister live on after her father died?

The Austen women lived on between £400 and £450, about half provided by their brothers. At Chawton, they also lived at their brother’s cottage without charge.

What was likely the most physically exacting regular activity for most young ladies in the Regency era?

Dancing. Balls could last six to eight hours, and many young people would dance every dance.

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which traces love from a charming courtship through the richness and complexity of marriage and concludes with a test of the heroine’s courage and moral convictions, is now complete and available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.

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