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About the Author

Rory Muir is visiting research fellow in the department of history, University of Adelaide.

Includes the names: Rory Muir, Dr. Rory Muir

Works by Rory Muir


Common Knowledge

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia



It is a truth universally acknowledged that a younger son in possession of no fortune must be in want of a job, so Jane Austen might have written.

This book is a fascinating study of the effects of the British tradition of primogeniture on Regency society, which ruled that the eldest son bagged the inheritance, often consigning his brothers to downward mobility. What did that mean in practice for younger sons from genteel and aristocratic backgrounds, whose chances of continuing to live in the style to which they had grown up accustomed were dependent upon their employment prospects?

In this humane and carefully researched book, rich in individual stories, Rory Muir explores the various career paths on offer to such gentlemen, which weren’t that many if they wanted to maintain caste. The church, chosen by Jane Austen’s Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, was the steadiest, but not usually regarded as a career for the most ambitious. Requiring a university degree, and a level of patronage at the outset, it could become a springboard for intellectual and literary distinction, as in the case of the redoubtable Sydney Smith. But without luck or connections, a failed curate could end up denuded of rank.

The law was riskier and required more graft and brains, but the financial rewards at the top were far greater. In Austen’s Emma, Mr Knightley’s younger brother, a successful barrister, is as much of a workaholic as any top-flight QC today. Medicine did not have quite the social and professional status that we now associate with it: an aristocratic younger son might become a clergyman or a lawyer, but is unlikely to have trained as a doctor, though a country clergyman’s son would not have regarded it as beneath him. Banking and commerce remained a little iffy, as money derived that way lacked the prestige of landed wealth, but gentlemen entered the finance sector nonetheless. Muir offers an insightful portrait of Jane Austen’s banker brother Henry, who was ruined following the 1816 crash and then reinvented himself as a clergyman.

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Lucasta Miller is the author of L.E.L. The Lost Life and Scandalous Death of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, the Celebrated ‘Female Byron’ (Vintage, 2019).
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HistoryToday | 1 other review | Sep 8, 2023 |
Muir is more know for his military histories but this is also an excellent history as well. The reference to Jane Austen is used in two ways. One refers to the boys of the Austen family who went into various careers which fits nicely into the scope of the book. The other refers to some of the characters in her novels. Muir does go far beyond just Jane Austen's world, using many studies and personal histories to explore the opportunities for those younger sons who were not to inherit the family money and/or title. It is an interesting look at society and professions in the late 1700s and early 1800s in England and beyond. Very much recommended.… (more)
1 vote
jztemple | 1 other review | Dec 13, 2022 |
Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington, stands as one of the most iconic figures in British history, Innumerable books have been written about him, mainly if not exclusively focusing on his military career. One of the great strengths of Rory Muir's excellent biography -- the first of a projected two volumes -- is that in recounting his military service he does not neglect the less glamorous political side of his early career, one that was intertwined with his years in uniform.

This alone makes Muir's book an improvement over its predecessor Elizabeth Longford's [b:Wellington: The Years of the Sword|575863|Wellington, Volume I The Years of the Sword|Elizabeth Longford||562836]. Yet there is much more to recommend it. Muir takes advantage of previously unutilized sources to give a more well-rounded portrait of Wellington's life and career, one that puts to flight the traditional image of the aloof figure of old. Instead the reader is introduced to a more compassionate figure, one whose interest in the welfare and discipline of his troops serve as keys to his later success in his campaigns. Such attention helped to preserve his army in its grueling effort to drive out the French, first from Portugal, then Spain. By keeping them together, Wellington and his men triumphed over their numerically superior forces, and they were steadily advancing in southern France when the war ended and Muir closes out this book

Extensively researched and clearly written, Muir's Wellington offers an excellent account of his life and campaigns. Hopefully soon Muir will complete the second volume; when he does, readers will have the best biography available of his extensive and varied career as a soldier and statesman. For me it cannot come out soon enough.
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MacDad | 2 other reviews | Mar 27, 2020 |
I recently finished Robert's Napoleon which I thought was great. Although I had Longford's bio of Wellington I wanted to read Muir's more recent work to complement my reading of Napoleon. I must say it was a struggle. As my library indicates I am a serious reader of British military history. Muir's bio may reflect that Wellington just isn't that interesting a person/general. I suggest skipping this in-depth bio for something comprehensive and readable.
jeff62 | 2 other reviews | Aug 23, 2017 |


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