The English Spy

Description

The English Spy is one of a number of illustrated serials describing fashionable life in Regency Britain. Often expensively produced, they combined spirited text with lively illustrations by well-known artists and cartoonists. Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1820–21) led the way, setting a precedent for Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, with a light-hearted tour of the city’s crowded streets. The pseudonymous author of The English Spy – possibly the journalist and blackmailer Charles Westmacott – extends his attention to life and society outside the capital. Despite the racy language and coarse illustrations he paints a vivid and surprisingly informative picture of popular resorts such as Brighton, Bath and Cheltenham. 

How does this work relate to Jane Austen? 

Although the tone is very different, Jane Austen created scrupulously accurate contemporary settings for her novels. She and her heroines were happiest in the countryside and small towns of southern England; the popular attractions of London and the fashionable resorts were less to her taste and tend to be associated with more worldly or superficial characters. Bath, where she lived reluctantly between 1801 and 1806, is represented in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion as crowded, noisy and dull. Its stylish new rival Brighton, which she ‘dreaded’ visiting in 1799, is where the worldly Rushworths spend their honeymoon in Mansfield Park and, above all, where foolish, giddy Lydia allows herself to be seduced by Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.

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