Author: David A. Low
Publisher: The History Press
# of Pages: 200
Alongside the world of Pride and Prejudice and Vanity Fair, Byron, Keats, Constable and Nash, there also existed a pulsating underworld where crime and vice of every kind flourished. Venture into this forgotten world, and discover a fascinating place filled with pleasure-seekers, criminals and body snatchers at work. This revised edition has a new introduction by the author, and is illustrated with a variety of contemporary prints, portraits and cartoons to bring the period and the characters of this sinister period to life. Anyone with an interest in the period, or in the underground activities which tended not to be explored in the novels of the time, will find this essential reading.
Well, if you've read this blog for some time now, my love of Regency England is probably well known to you. I had The Regency Underworld on my Amazon wishlist for years, actually, and then finally last month, in a bout of purchasing, I got it along with other Regency-era non-fiction books (all of which will be reviewed in due course- don't worry!). It was the one I was most excited to read, actually, as it sounded like it would dig below the surface to the areas of life in London that Austen and Heyer and the rest usually glossed over.
There are many books which are claimed to be "essential reading" on whatever topic they are about; most don't really live up to the claim. I think The Regency Underworld has interesting information in it- I found especially fascinating the chapters on gambling and on "resurrection men," the latter being men who stole bodies and sold them to surgeons for dissection. But there wasn't much presented in the book about which I didn't already have at least a working knowledge. I think my main complaint with the book is that I don't think the title is very fitting for what is actually written. When I think of the "underworld" in the extended Regency period, I think about smugglers bringing French liquor in from the coasts, the gaming hells, the courtesans and the parties they hosted, con artists and the like. I did not expect to read about Harriette Wilson or Beau Brummell, and certainly not about the Duke of York. The first two were celebrities of the day and the third was a member of the Royal Family, for goodness sake- how is there anything "underground" about any of them?
I picked the book up hoping to get more detailed information about an aspect of Regency England I know little about- I came away with some more esoteric knowledge, yes, but nothing that I would call "essential reading" or that really improved my understanding of the era. Granted, the book is only 200 pages long- it isn't an in-depth treatise by any means. But in my opinion, it also doesn't really do what the title says it should, and that disappointed me.
If you are new to Regency England and find it interesting, then I think this is a non-fiction book that would be a fun and entertaining read. But if you already have bookshelves full of books on the period like me, then I would recommend giving it a pass.