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Archive for the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Category

Austen Opera 001Pride and Prejudice, an opera written by Kirke Mechem, will make its debut November 20th-23rd at the Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall, located at historic Mt. Vernon Place in Baltimore. This event is part of the Peabody Opera Theatre, Johns Hopkins University.

I had the privilege of attending a preview at Goucher College last Wednesday. Managing artistic director, Samuel Mungo, explained the origin of the opera (“Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice practically begs to be set to music!”). In the early 20th century, atonal music was all the rage and did not lend itself well to a novel set in the Regency era. Mr. Mechem writes tonal music, which is perfectly suited to Jane Austen’s most famous work.

In his extensive and successful career, Mr. Mechem has written over 250 works, many of which are produced the world over. His three-act opera, Tanuffe, has been performed over 400 times. Songs of the Slave from the opera John Brown had its 100th performance in Boston in 2018. The premiere of Pride and Prejudice the Opera will be held in Baltimore this fall.

During the Goucher College preview, the audience heard 3 songs from the opera. In order, they were:

  1. Claire Cooper and Kyle Dunn as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Wickham

    Claire Cooper & Kyle Dunn. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Wickham’s and Elizabeth Bennet’s first meeting, in which they discuss Mr. Darcy. Wickham’s opinions confirmed Lizzie’s first impression of Darcy. Singers: Claire Cooper and Kyle Dunn

Noted Austen scholar, Juliette Wells, who teaches at Goucher, observed that Mr. Dunn, who sang Mr. Wickham’s role, was wickedly handsome!

 

  1. Claire Cooper and Joshua Scheid as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy

    Claire Cooper & Joshua Scheid. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Darcy expresses his feeling for Elizabeth (much against his good judgment). The scene is dramatic. Bingley has left Jane, due to Mr. Darcy’s influence, and Mr. Darcy explains his actions while declaring his love.

Joshua Scheid, who sang Mr. Darcy’s role, has a strong, assertive voice – one that suits Austen’s hero. Both he and Kyle Dunn (Wickham) sing baritone, so that the men are dramatically matched during their scenes.

  1. 20190918_170600

    Joann Kulesza. Photo: V. Sanborn

    Lizzie reads the letter from Darcy, which explains Wickham’s behavior towards Georgiana and Darcy’s role in saving his sister from Wickham’s machinations.

Joann Kulesza, Music Director of Peabody Opera (right), explained this scene beautifully. Darcy slowly and methodically enunciates his words in the letter as Elizabeth reads it. Her reactions to his explanations are quick, dramatic, and emotional. This scene is quite effective and a delight for Austen fans, who can probably recite the words of the letter to a tee.

After the songs, Dr. Mungo and the singers answered questions from the audience. The opera is a little over 2 hours long, which necessitated drastic cuts to the plot. The Bennets have only three daughters (Mary and Kitty are cut out, as is Jane Bennet’s illness), and the focus is on Darcy’s and Lizzie’s story. While Mr. Bennet is featured, Mrs. Bennet appears more often and has one of the major roles.

The three singers who performed are young, and it was amusing and informative to hear their interpretations of their characters. One had not read P&P before, and two had not read the novel since high school (which was not too long ago). Their characters’ voices are telling. Lizzie is a mezzo-soprano, for she is too sensible to be a soprano. Jane is a soprano and Mr. Bingley a tenor. Their tender hearts are reflected in their voices. Both Darcy and Wickham are baritones, which should create interesting vocal confrontations.

Interestingly, Mr. Collins has a bass-baritone, a voice with a low register. If you read Austen’s description of Mr. Collins, he is a “tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty.” I rather like the choice that Kirke Mechem made for Mr. Collins, as well as for the shrill Mrs. Bennet, who is a high soprano. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a contralto, the lowest female singing voice. I can’t wait to hear the scenes between Lizzie’s mezzo and Lady Catherine’s imperious contralto demands.

The stage sets are still in the design phase, although almost completed. The main part of the stage will be a gazebo with four wings that open or close to represent Netherfield or Longbourn. The set designers are still figuring out how Rosings will look. A garden is also included.

Sketches of the movable wings

Tickets, which are free, will be available October 1: https://peabody.jhu.edu/event/kirke-mechem-pride-and-prejudice/

Kirke Mechem http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/43050

Short biography of Kirke Mechem: http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/short-bio/Kirke-Mechem

Peabody Opera Theater Presents Pride and Prejudice: About Samuel Mungo, DMA: https://www.goucher.edu/learn/graduate-programs/sage/programs/pride-and-prejudice

Images published with permission from Samuel Mungo

 

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Much has been said about proper greetings, curtsies, nods, and bows in Jane Austen’s novels, but familiar greetings that occur between close friends and family members are just as fascinating. In fact, a close inspection of the novels reveals more kissing, embracing, and hand-holding than one might first imagine.

Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham." Pride and Prejudice illustration by C.E. Brock (1895), British Library.

Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham.” Pride and Prejudice illustration by C.E. Brock (1895), British Library.

Austen’s own family is described as affectionate by many of her biographers; her letters reveal the same. In her novels, the degree of physical touch and affection (or the lack thereof) shown by her characters and families can provide us with interesting insights.

Pride and Prejudice

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen uses physical touch to offer clues about her characters in several instances. For example, when saying goodbye to Jane and Elizabeth, Miss Bingley embraces Jane and shakes hands with Elizabeth. With these gestures, she communicates her feelings toward Jane and Elizabeth; the narrator aids our further understanding:

“On Sunday, after morning service, the separation, so agreeable to almost all, took place. Miss Bingley’s civility to Elizabeth increased at last very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane; and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasure it would always give her to see her either at Longbourn or Netherfield, and embracing her most tenderly, she even shook hands with the former. Elizabeth took leave of the whole party in the liveliest of spirits.” (Chapter 12)

Later, when Elizabeth leaves Hunsford, Miss de Bourgh makes an effort at friendliness in her parting: “When they parted, Lady Catherine, with great condescension, wished them a good journey, and invited them to come to Hunsford again next year; and Miss de Bourgh exerted herself so far as to curtsey and hold out her hand to both” (Chapter 37).

After Lydia’s marriage, Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth’s greeting speaks volumes about what she knows and what he suspects she knows: “She held out her hand; he kissed it with affectionate gallantry, though he hardly knew how to look, and they entered the house” (Chapter 52).

These strained greetings and leave-takings stand in stark contrast to the warm affection shown in the Bennet family. For example, Elizabeth greets her little cousins with a kiss when she returns to Longbourn. Even though she’s in a hurry, her greeting provides a glimpse into their normal family interactions:

“The little Gardiners, attracted by the sight of a chaise, were standing on the steps of the house as they entered the paddock; and, when the carriage drove up to the door, the joyful surprise that lighted up their faces, and displayed itself over their whole bodies, in a variety of capers and frisks, was the first pleasing earnest of their welcome. Elizabeth jumped out; and, after giving each of them a hasty kiss, hurried into the vestibule, where Jane, who came running down from her mother’s apartment, immediately met her.” (Chapter 47)

This scene also reveals that the Gardiner children have a wonderful relationship with their parents and cousin. They’re so full of joy that they’re unable to hold still. Even their movements show their enthusiasm.

Furthermore, Austen uses physical touch to illustrate special fondness between the other Bennet family members. When Elizabeth speaks to Mr. Bennet about her family’s reputation, Mr. Bennet reaches for her hand, in a moment of seriousness, and comforts her:

“Mr. Bennet saw that her whole heart was in the subject, and affectionately taking her hand said in reply: ‘Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters’” (Chapter 41).

Elizabeth and Jane embrace when they are in great trial: “Elizabeth, as she affectionately embraced her, whilst tears filled the eyes of both, lost not a moment in asking whether anything had been heard of the fugitives” (Chapter 47). And again, when they are extremely happy: “Jane could have no reserves from Elizabeth, where confidence would give pleasure; and instantly embracing her, acknowledged, with the liveliest emotion, that she was the happiest creature in the world” (Chapter 55).

When Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth first meet as future brother and sister, there is genuine affection and joy on both sides:

“He then shut the door, and, coming up to her, claimed the good wishes and affection of a sister. Elizabeth honestly and heartily expressed her delight in the prospect of their relationship. They shook hands with great cordiality; and then, till her sister came down, she had to listen to all he had to say of his own happiness, and of Jane’s perfections…” (Chapter 55)

Finally, Jane kisses Mr. Bennet when he gives his permission for her to marry Mr. Bingley: “[H]e turned to his daughter, and said: ‘Jane, I congratulate you. You will be a very happy woman.’ Jane went to him instantly, kissed him, and thanked him for his goodness” (Chapter 55). It’s easy to see how much it pleases Mr. Bennet to see his daughter happy and how much it pleases Jane to make her father happy.

We find examples of kissing and embracing in each of Austen’s novels. Some of her novels have multiple instances and others have very few, depending on the families in question and how they tend to interact with one another. Austen uses these interactions to create a warmer or cooler atmosphere in each family and relationship.

These are just a few scenes from Pride and Prejudice. I’m sure you can think of others. What do these examples say to you about the characters in Pride and Prejudice?

________

Rachel Dodge is a regular contributor to Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is a college English professor and the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can find her online at www.RachelDodge.com, on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/racheldodgebooks/.

 

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I’ve just discovered the beneficial qualities of chamomile tea. This was quite by accident. I suspect I might be developing an allergy to food, specifically tomatoes or onions or spicy foods containing these ingredients. I only know that for weeks I’ve been subjected to frequent stomach and intestinal upsets and so I began to search for tried and true methods of relief. As a Janeite I asked: “What would Jane have done?”

Women during the Georgian era, including the Austen women, made their own medicinal remedies for all sorts of ailments. Many recipes were handed down in the family over the generations, others were acquired in Cookery Books.

chamomile2

Thumbnail image from Cup & Leaf

One common easy-to-make remedy for an assortment of ills was herbal tea or tisane. I looked up information online, found teas that aided digestion, then checked my tea shelf and found four of the suggested herbal teas for indigestion: chamomile tea, green tea, ginger tea, and hibiscus tea. (There are more.)

I chose the chamomile as being a likely candidate, for I like the taste. After a few days my indigestion largely calmed down. According to the Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage from Chadds Ford Historical Society,

Chamomile [is] infused as a tea for indigestion, gas, and stomach aches. Also used as a strewing herb and insect repellent.” Link to  Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage PDF doc

In European records, medicinal use of Chamomile was practiced for centuries.

Ancient physicians prescribed herbal teas regularly to aid in digestion and help relieve symptoms of the common cold and flu. Before the advent of cold medicines and antibiotics, herbal teas were often the only way to treat illnesses.” – Greek Mountain Tea, Chamomile, and Fennel

Chamomile tea is commonly infused from a plant known as Matricaria recutita. The tea is made from the dried flower, not the stems and leaves. The brew is delicate and yellowish and has a lovely floral or fruity aroma. It is often flavored with mint leaves or shaved fresh ginger, but I like it plain. Three cups a day did the trick.

Image of Bingleys teas, chamomile flowers, and favorite teapot/cup

A product description for “Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves” on Bingley’s Teas can be seen on my large monitor screen. Chamomile flowers screenshot sits on my laptop (love my standing desk). Sitting on the top ledge are my favorite tea pot/cup and an annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice (I recommend the DK Illustrated Classic edition for newcomers to the Jane Austen oeuvre, like my sister-in-law). Image by Vic Sanborn.

The tea’s success in reducing my symptoms prompted me to research 18th century recipes. So far I’ve had no success, but that means nothing (there should be references that a dedicated researcher would find). I also looked up to see if Jane Austen mentioned the brew in her letters, but found no references. Still, the flower, which looks like a daisy, is common in Europe and easy to grow in an herb garden. One cannot help but surmise that Mrs. Austen and her two daughters knew exactly how to make a cuppa with freshly harvested chamomile flowers.

Cropped illustration of Mrs. Bennet by Hugh Thompson

Hugh Thompson illustration

While I could not find references to Jane’s having made chamomile tea (its properties, aside from soothing intestinal ailments include reducing anxiety, tension, and headaches and promoting sleep), I did find this delightful product description by Bingley’s Teas for a modern tea named “Compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves.”  

At last there is compassion for what poor Mrs. Bennet suffers with her nerves! A tisane of chamomile, peppermint, passion flower, rosehips, and lavender, sooth the most agitated of moments in a delicious cup. We recommend a touch of local honey for added bliss!”

As for chamomile tea’s efficacy,

The National Institutes of Health funded a study at the University of Pennsylvania on people with generalized anxiety disorder where the anxiety interferes with their lives. Chamomile was shown to to have promising results in reducing the participants’ anxiety.” – The Tea Maestro

Sources:

  • Greek Mountain Tea, Chamomile, and Fennel, October 4, 2016, The National Herald, click on this link. 
  • Introduction to chamomile, PDF document from abc.herbalgram.org. Click on this link.
  • Tea Time at Reverie: Compassion For Mrs. Bennet’s Nerves Herbal Tea from Bingley’s Teas, pA bibliophile’s Reverie. Click on this link.
  • The Health Benefits of Chamomile Tea, The Tea Maestro. Click on this link.
  • How to Make Chamomile Tea: 5 Recipes From Simple Tea to a Hot Toddy, Cup & Leaf. Click on this link.
  • Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future, Janmejai K Srivastava, Eswar Shankar,and Sanjay Gupta, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 11-1-2010. Click on this link.

 

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13 vignettes 1790 rowlandson

Image, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

I love this 1790 hand-colored etching by Thomas Rowlandson from the Royal Collection Trust, which depicts 12 vignettes of everyday life and work in Georgian England. Sketches like these offer us a glimpse of ordinary life in the 18th century, much as photos and videos today. These vignettes are drawn from life, and unlike the serious, well-thought out poses of formal portraits, they show people of a bygone era going about their ordinary business.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen wrote of the militia visiting Meryton and Brighton. In her day, soldiers were encamped throughout Great Britain, ready to go to war at a moment’s notice or defend the homeland from invasions. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty were enamored with the smart bright uniforms of officers, who they regarded as quite the catch. The men passing through town provided new faces as well as relief from the routine of village life, for village folk (most of whom rarely traveled beyond the confines of their counties) moved in small and familiar social circles, for better or worse. (Mrs. Elton, anyone?)

new recruits

A soldier assessing new recruits for the army

The well-fed officer above assesses new recruits, who are obviously not officer material. One imagines that their lives in the army will not be as cushy as Captain Denny’s or Mr. Wickham’s, and that they would perform the most plebeian tasks.

A woman driving a phaeton

A woman driving a phaeton

High perch phaetons were the race cars of their day and a status of wealth. It is obvious that this woman is a skilled driver, but her escort remains close at hand to ensure her safety.

detail

Detail of the driver with her mannish driving habit, which was created by a tailor, not a seamstress.

Increasingly throughout this century, women were allowed to marry for love, but ensuring one’s future as a wife could be a risky business. What if she married for love and her husband turned out to be a ne’er-do-well, barely able to support his family, as with Fanny Price’s father? Aristocratic women had no choice but to follow family dictates in order maintain the family’s status or improve their fortune. Other families sought to move up social ranks through their daughter’s mate. One wonders  in the image below if the young woman is married to her escort … or if she is simply taking a stroll with her father or uncle? We can only guess.

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

The trio below seems to be promenading along a street (or park). The women look chic in their walking outfits, the younger one wearing a hat with feathers and carrying a fan; the older woman, no doubt, making sure that her charge’s reputation remains spotless. Jane Austen began writing Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at the end of the 18th century, when these garments were fashionable. It’s one of the many reasons why we glimpse such a variety of costumes in various Austen film adaptations. In creating movie costumes, some costume designers choose the era in which Austen wrote the first drafts of those early novels; others choose to dress their actresses in the filmy empire gowns that were popular when the books were published.

4_1790

A solder escorting two women. Is the older woman on the right the mother of the younger woman he is courting, or her governess?

Taking tea was not as formalized a ceremony at the end of the 18th century as it would become later during the 19th century. Tea was quite an expensive commodity, kept under lock and key by the mistress of the house. At Chawton Cottage, Jane was in charge of the tea chest and making tea in the morning. Servants often brewed tea from leaves that had been used by their betters, thereby imbibing a much weaker beverage.

A tea party

A tea party

In this group, the hostess at right dispenses the tea one guest at a time, which her footman delivers to each in turn, with the ladies having been served first. It is an afternoon tea, for the ladies are not dressed for the evening. Mrs and Miss Bates would have been often invited to tea to Hartfield, but rarely to dine, a privilege reserved for more exalted guests, like Mr. Knightley. This was just the way of the world.

An equestrienne about to go on a ride

An equestrian about to go on a ride

It is hard to tell if this young woman is about to ride in Hyde Park or in the country. For both instances, she is suitably dressed.

Sewing, woman's work

An industrious woman sewing

One can only imagine how boring the daily routine was for the average Georgian woman, whose life was constrained by society’s strictures and who was not allowed to “work” for a living. Woman’s work consisted of sewing, overseeing the kitchens, or, as in Mrs. Austen’s case, actively taking a part in cooking, and making wines and preserves. While many ladies of the house did not sully their hands in the kitchen, they actively collected recipes, which they passed down to their cooks. On an interesting note, while tailors made men’s clothes, they did not sew the shirts. This task was left to the women, who hand-stitched shirts for their men and made clothing for their babies and the poor.  Jane and Cassandra Austen often made shirts for their brothers, a fact mentioned in letters.

A well-dressed couple

Flirtation: A well-dressed man peers at a woman through his eye-glass. She is without an escort and seems to encourage his perusal.

The image above causes me to believe that the woman being ogled may not be entirely suitable for polite company, or she may well be a widow who cares not a fig about her reputation. Her companion is openly eyeing her through his eye glass. To be sure, they might well be standing in the Pump Room in Bath, where they would be surrounded by a crowd of people. Can you imagine Lizzy Bennet holding still under such scrutiny? Methinks not.

A musical interlude

A musical interlude with two ladies.

Entertainment was left to professional performers, many of whom roamed from town to town, and to talented family members. One can imagine how quiet and uneventful life in the country must have been! Had Emma liked Jane Fairfax, this scene could have shown Jane playing the pianoforte as Emma sang. Women in general contributed much to a family’s entertainment.  Jane Austen wrote comedic plays in her younger years (and made up fanciful stories for her nieces and nephews as a spinster), and her mother wrote poetry. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have been a proficient if she had ever bothered to apply herself to the pianoforte (Hah!). Modest Elizabeth Bennet considered her musical skills merely pedestrian, although Mr. Darcy was charmed by her efforts. Marianne Dashwood probably found an outlet for her passions while at the pianoforte. Austen characterized her heroines by their talents. Instead of energetically joining the family during impromptu dances, mousy Anne Elliot made herself useful at the instrument. Mary Crawford’s extraordinary talents with the harp made Edmund Bertram fall even more in love with her, whereas poor Mary Bennet committed one social faux pas after another by failing to understand that her musical talents were painful to witness.

An outing

An outing in the country

Emma’s planned outing to Box Hill was no doubt accompanied by servants, who carried the food, plates, and cutlery and laid out the repast for the party. In this scene, it seems that the soldiers performed the offices of serving the food to the ladies. Except for the boatman, I can find no evidence of servants, unless they are assembled inside the tent, which makes no sense. One soldier plays the flute to his companion, another couple promenades as they talk. A group sits on a blanket, finishing their repast and drinking wine or ale.

Detail

Detail of the tent, inside and out

A dog sleeps peacefully among the assembly and a female guest rests while leaning against the tent. Inside, a man sits at a table. It must have taken some effort to transport all that food and equipment, and I wonder if this was done via the boat and river earlier in the day as the rest of the party walked from the country house (visible in the background) to the picnic site. One thing is for certain, Rowlandson’s contemporaries would have known first-hand how such a picnic was contrived.

detail

Detail of the riverside, with a country house in the background.

A foppish gentleman in the image below examines a bill, while the inn keeper (?) looks on and a servant carries his case. This image must have been duplicated at many roadside inns and coach houses, and would not be unusual today. This scene was labeled “exchanging” money, which explains the merchant’s/innkeeper’s outstretched hand.

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

The man below is peering through a telescope at … what? A balloon ascent? Birds? A boat on the horizon? Curious minds want to know.

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the sea shore?

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the seashore?

The last scene depicts vendors selling their wares, either from a stall, from containers on the pavement, or from baskets attached to donkeys. A variety of shoppers, some better dressed than others, are shown examining goods or purchasing items.

Market scene

Street vendors

Our moderns sensibilities are struck by the unhygienic way that food was sold by street vendors back then. There were no disposable plates, so one can only assume that used plates and cups were merely wiped with a wet cloth before food was ladled out to serve another diner. Many individuals lived in small one or two room “apartments” that had no kitchens. For them, eating street food was common … if they had the money.

Street food

Street food

detail

Detail of vendors with donkeys

Items of clothing seem to be sold in the stall, while bulk food (potatoes, grain?) is carried by the donkeys. When the Austen family moved from Steventon to Bath, their diets changed drastically, for they had to depend on food purchased at local markets. They had grown their own vegetables in the country, and owned a cow and a few chickens and pigs. In Steventon, the Austen family could largely eat off the bounty of their land, stretching their budget, but in Bath they depended on food carted in from surrounding farms and milk from anemic city cows who lived in dank stalls and were put out to pasture in public parks. Purchased food was often doctored, and it was almost impossible to eat fresh seafood, unless one lived near the coast. For many reasons, including the matter of finding fresh and affordable food, Jane Austen must have been in shock the entire time she lived in Bath.

More about the image:

Creator: Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) (etcher)
Creation Date:
27 Jun 1790
Materials:
Hand-coloured etching
Dimensions:
38.5 x 28.0 cm
RCIN
810396

Description:
A hand-coloured print with 12 vignettes of everyday life and work. Included in the designs are: Assessing new recruits for the army; carriage driving; promenading; a tea party; horse-riding; a woman with needlework; flirtation; a woman playing the harpsichord whilst another woman sings; a picnic by a river; a man looking through a telescope; an exchange of money between one man and another man and street vendors. Plate 7.

Inscribed in the plate: Pub June 27 1790 by S.W. Fores N 3 Piccadilly. Click here to go to The Royal Collection.

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Part One of this four-part series left me salivating to meet Darcy’s aunt, for up to now we have experienced her only through Mr. Collins’s observations, which, the astute reader has come to surmise, MUST be suspect. After Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter Anne stops by to visit Hunsford in her carriage, Charlotte announces to the group that they are invited to dine at Rosings. Even if Mrs. Collins hadn’t opened her mouth, Lizzy would have realized that something was up, what with an ecstatic Mr. Collins performing cartwheels and Irish jigs in the background and his chest puffed up with so much consequence and triumph that he nearly topples over from imbalance.

He cannot stop gloating about Lady CdeBs graciousness and affability, and pops up here and there like a Regency era whack-a-mole as the ladies and Sir William Lucas prepare for their walk to Rosings, constantly admonishing them with  – “Lady CdeB wants this” – ” Lady CdeB expects that” – ” Lady CdeB says” — until he has Sir William and his daughter Maria quaking in their boots and practically passed out from fear.

Only Lizzy remains unperturbed. Mere stateliness of money or rank do not overly impress her, and this is one of the many reasons why this heroine, conceived in the late 18th century, retains her appeal over two hundred years after her conception. Her attitude is so modern that we readily understand the motives of this educated, independent-minded woman, who, despite having some serious socio-economic cards stacked against her (she has no legal rights under British law and her dowry is but a mere pittance), refuses to buckle under pressure or kowtow to Society’s dictates. Unlike many fictional heroines of her day, she will chance fate and wait for a man she can respect AND love. You go girl!

Much to our chagrin, Jane Austen continues to delay that first meeting between Lizzy and Mr. Collins’s benefactress. Jane first takes us over hill and dale to enjoy the beautiful vistas and prospects and forces us to listen to more of Mr. Collins’s blathering until we readers begin to skim-read with impatience. Then Rosings comes into view and Jane swiftly takes us inside the manse’s impressive entrance hall and to the room where Lady CdeB receives her visitors (the Hunsford party and us). Our hostess rises to greet us with great condescension and for a second we wonder if she might not be all that Mr. Collins promised. Much to our delight, the lady is MORE than was advertised. (Thank you, thank you, Ms. Austen.). Lizzy calmly  takes in the scene and inspects Lady CdeB.

Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as  to make her visitors forget their inferior rank.”

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years. Painting by Gainsborough.

Lady CdeB much as I envision her in her younger years: Haughty and Handsome. Painting by Gainsborough.

In fact, the lady’s demeanor brought everything Mr. Wickham had said about her to Lizzy’s mind. Undaunted, Lizzy turns her inquisitive gaze upon the daughter, in whose pale, sickly, Gollum-like features and timid presence she finds nothing remarkable. Her inner bad-girl is immensely satisfied that such a mousy specimen is destined to become Mr. Darcy’s bride.

While Lizzy scarcely bats an eye at the sight of Lady CdeB, Sir William  is unable to speak, his tongue cleaving  to the dry roof of his mouth, while Maria is seriously considering rolling over and playing dead. Lady CdeB is more than happy to show off her silver and fine plate and chef’s talents to this humble group, for “the dinner was exceedingly handsome. ” This is about as detailed a description of outer appearances as Jane Austen ever gives. We have no idea of what the guests wore, what dishes were served, and how many servants were in attendance. Such details are unimportant in the grand scheme of Jane’s masterful study of the human character.

Mr. Collins is completely in his element, scraping and bowing and prattling while carving the meat, an honor he finds so great that  it has eliminated any vestige of restraint. As he babbles nonstop, Sir William, having recovered his severe case of nerves, echoes the unfiltered stream of utterances. Lady CdeB laps up their compliments without a sense of irony.  No Mr. Bennet she!

Lizzy, meanwhile, sits unnoticed on the side and twiddles her thumbs, waiting for an opening in the conversation. This fails to come, for Lady CdeB is too busy relating the opinions of “Me, Myself, and I”, an overpowering and determined trio intent on delivering their viewpoint on every subject.

In the drawing room Lady CdeB continues her one-sided discussions, giving Charlotte advice on all matters pertaining to  household management, including the care of her poultry and cows, of all things. Then, just before poor Lizzy falls asleep from boredom, the Lady zeroes in on our heroine, firing off a series of questions.

  • How many sisters do you have?
  • Are they younger or older?
  • Are they handsome?
  • Any chance of them marrying soon?
  • Are they educated as a young lady ought to be?
  • What is your mother’s maiden name?
  • What year and make is your father’s carriage?

Lizzy hides her outrage but feels all the impertinence of this inquiry. Lady CdeB attempts to rattle her again. “Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins,” she drops, before abruptly switching the topic. Seasoned interrogators use this technique to catch their subjects off guard, but our Lizzy remains unflappable:

“Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”

“A little.”

“Do your sisters play and sing?”

“One of them does.” (Mary. Hah!)

Undeterred, Lady CdeB keeps  the chandeliers spotlighted over Lizzy’s head and continues her inquisition:

You ought all to have learned, the Miss Webbs all play.”

Still trying to rattle Lizzy’s chain, she resorts to insulting Mrs. Bennet’s mothering skills. The reader guffaws from the irony of it all.

“What, you don’t draw? Strange, but your mother should have taken you to town for the benefit of masters.”

“No Governess! How is that possible. You must have been neglected.”

And on and on she goes. Elizabeth plasters a polite smile on her face and refuses to cower. I recall reading this passage with the speed of a Ferrari on an open road  racing to the finish. I so enjoyed the heady ride Jane Austen was taking us on that I had to read how it ended as swiftly as possible! (In fact, I finished my first reading of P&P in one sitting, then reread it a short time later, slowly savoring each word.)

Lady CdeB asks one more question —

Are any of your younger sisters OUT, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, ma’am, ALL.”

“ALL?!!” You could have thrown the feathers on top of Lady CdeB’s aristocratic head for a loop when Lizzy calmly explains the fairness of her mother’s decision.  “You give your opinion decidedly for so young a person, ” she sniffs, but the reader already knows the score:

Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, One

Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings, Zilch

GO TEAM LIZZY!”

After this scene one can only conclude that Lost in Austen got it right when the series transported Elizabeth Bennet to the future and had her land on her feet,  embracing smart phones, automated teller machines, and iPads as if to the Internet born. In this time travel fantasy series the viewer can readily imagine Jane’s prototype of a modern heroine wanting to free herself from the restraints of her era. In my estimation, Lost in Austen lost its way when it followed the story line of boring Amanda Price discovering life in the past in favor of Lizzy’s more interesting journey into the future.

As for Lady CdeB, I will next examine her as a Proficient. Read Part One of the Lady CdeB series here.

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David Bamber is Mr Collins, Pride and Prejudice 1995

David Bamber is Mr Collins, Pride and Prejudice 1995

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. When I was fourteen I read the novel in one sitting, choosing the book one summer in a quest to finish a list of classics. Like so many girls, I identified with Lizzy and wished that some modern Mr. Darcy would find my eyes strikingly beautiful. While P&P’s protagonists attracted me at first, it is the secondary, more imperfect characters who continue to fascinate me: Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Caroline Bingley, Mr. Bennet, Lydia, and Mr. Wickham, as well as those who played minor but crucial roles – Mary Bennet, Sir William Lucas, and Mr. Hurst. All are archetypes of people we have known in one way or another.

I have not forgotten Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or Lady CdeB, as she will be known henceforth in this narrative. In my opinion, Lady CdeB is in a class by herself and rises above the other sterling cast (although Mr. Collins is tough competition.) She’s a giant in the annals of literary supporting characters. My older self is astonished that a 19 year-old slip of a girl living in a quiet backwater village could have come up with such a magnificent creation. It boggles the mind.

It is quite telling that we are first introduced to Lady CdeB through Mr. Collins. That Jane Austen chose to announce the appearance of this proud, arrogant aristocrat through a fawning and obsequious bootlicker is genius, for we swiftly come to the conclusion that she is either as foolish as her empty-headed flatterer or is using him for some purpose. To the delight of Mr. Bennet, who has been bored out of his gourd since saying “I do” at the altar, Mr. Collins preens and swaggers at the very mention of his patron.

During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have some conversation with his guest, and therefore started a subject in which he expected him to shine, by observing that he seemed very fortunate in his patroness.”

Mr Collins responds to Mr. Bennet's question

Mr Collins responds to Mr. Bennet’s question. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Like a marionette tugged on a string, Mr. Collins jumps at this prompt, much to Mr. Bennet’s delight. After years of suffering through banal dinner conversations with Mrs. Bennet and three of his five daughters, he now actively seeks relief from his ennui and his guest does not disappoint. The vicar boasts that:

he had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank — such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of both the discourses which he had already had the honour of preaching before her. She had also asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening. Lady Catherine was reckoned proud by many people he knew, but he had never seen any thing but affability in her.”

This effusive praise begs the question: if Lady CdeB had a lick of sense, why would she waste her precious time with this clown? Austen continues to dangle interesting glimpses of her in front of us, using Mr. Collins as her mouthpiece and building up our expectations of this nonpareil. During the most brilliantly ridiculous proposal written in English literature, Austen arranges to have Lady CdeB speak directly to us for the first time:

Mr Collins and Lizzy, by Brock. Image @Mollins

Mr Collins and Lizzy, by Brock. Image @Mollands

My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly — which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford — between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh’s foot-stool, that she said, “Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. — Chuse properly, chuse a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.”

Such delicious dialogue! Lady CdeB has no higher hope for Mr. Collins’ happiness other than a wife who is active (can work her butt off) and can make a small income go a good way (is thrifty). The future Mrs. Collins must not be too high in the instep, but not so low of class that it would be impossible for Lady CdeB to be seen with her. In other words, Lady CdeB must be assured that those with whom she socializes are worthy of her attentions. (The more worthy, the better, for subjugating a strong person would give her a headier sense of power than lording it over a weakling.)

In rural Regency England, a grande dame’s social circle was restricted to the slim pickings in her community. Despite a lack of choice, there were standards to be maintained and Mr. Collins is as low down the status totem pole as Lady CdeB can go. Emma Woodhouse experiences a similar dearth of social connections in Highbury. Before easy travel became possible, one simply had to make do.

Social circles are small in a rural village. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Social circles are small in a rural village. Pride and Prejudice 1995

In these early scenes with Mr. Collins, Austen builds up our expectations. Knowing what priceless enjoyment is in store for us, she makes us wait for a few more chapters before Lady CdeB’s grand entrance, and so, during Lizzy’s visit to Hunsford, she continues to pique our curiosity.

Yes, Miss Elizabeth, you will have the honour of seeing Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the ensuing Sunday at church, and I need not say you will be delighted with her. She is all affability and condescension, and I doubt not but you will be honoured with some portion of her notice when service is over. I have scarcely any hesitation in saying that she will include you and my sister Maria in every invitation with which she honours us during your stay here. Her behaviour to my dear Charlotte is charming. We dine at Rosings twice every week, and are never allowed to walk home. Her ladyship’s carriage is regularly ordered for us. I should say, one of her ladyship’s carriages, for she has several.”

We are so entranced with Mr. Collins’s banal utterances that we nearly miss Charlotte’s quiet opinion of the patroness. Until she married Mr. Collins, Charlotte seemed a sensible sort, but now we are coming to understand why Lizzy’s respect for her old friend has cooled so dramatically. Aside from willingly marrying a buffoon, it turns out that Charlotte has inherited some of her father’s capacity for groveling.

Lady Catherine is a very respectable, sensible woman indeed,” added Charlotte, “and a most attentive neighbour.”

What? Where’s the irony in that statement? When Mr. Collins answers,”Very true, my dear, that is exactly what I say. She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference,” Charlotte remains silent. Her lack of rejoinder is damning – to us and surely to Lizzy – for she is becoming a toady.

Charlotte, Lizzy, Maria Lucas, and Sir William Lucas. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Charlotte, Lizzy, Maria Lucas, and Sir William Lucas. Pride and Prejudice 1995

Observe Charlotte’s behavior somewhat later when Anne deB, Lady CdeB’s daughter, commands her driver to halt her phaeton at the parsonage’s garden gate. This non-event starts a rube goldberg chain of events in which Mr. Collins stops dead in his tracks to go rushing to the gate, Charlotte tosses aside her women’s work to chase after him and stand by his side, Sir William Lucas parks his carcass in the doorway to bask in all that reflected greatness, and Maria Lucas clomps noisily up the stairs to broadcast the GRAND EVENT and drag Lizzy to the window to SEE for herself!

Charlotte at the window. Pride and Prejudice 2005

Charlotte at the window. Pride and Prejudice 2005

Lizzy, who had been busy searching for an instrument with which to catch pigs, thinking that only a herd of swine on the loose could cause such a commotion, looks in astonishment at an anemic woman with a scowling face and her companion. Suddenly it dawns on her that THIS is the cousin intended for Mr. Darcy! And here is when we discover that Miss Elizabeth has the makings of a mean girl, for she is pleased as punch to know that this sallow creature is destined to be Mr. Darcy’s bride.

At the parsonage gate with Lady Anne her companion and the Collinses.

At the parsonage gate with Lady Anne her companion and the Collinses.

In this farcical scene Austen has provides us with foreshadowing of how things will be at Rosings and how these characters will conduct themselves in the presence of Lady CdeB. Their reaction to her daughter, a nonentity, is extraordinary, with the Collinses bobbing like two plastic dunking birds and the star-struck Lucases re-enacting the Regency version of a Kim Kardashian fan club.

Next: Lady CdeB

Next: Lady CdeB

Only Lizzy remains untouched, for she’s not easily awed by the trappings of title and position. Anne’s visit had a real purpose it seems, for Charlotte informs them that they are invited to dine at Rosings the next day. As Mr. Collins whirlygigs himself into a tizzy, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn House, and the daughter of a gentleman, girds her loins in anticipation of meeting the dragon lady. Jane Austen, meanwhile, has us readers chomping at the bit.

Next: Lady Catherine de Bourgh in all her glory.

More posts on this blog regarding Pride and Prejudice 200 year anniversary.

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Inquiring readers, It’s such a delight to receive first-hand information from a friend who lives in the U.K. Frequent contributor, Tony Grant, writes about his impressions of seeing the BBC2 special last Sunday entitled Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball. The scenes were filmed in Chawton House wherein a Regency ball was reconstructed in a way that Jane Austen’s contemporaries knew well, but whose meanings in many instances have been lost to us. I had the privilege of watching the show as well and have interspersed my comments as if Tony and I were engaged in a dialogue. (Italics represent my comments.)  Let’s hope this special will be available soon the world over.

Amanda Vickery. Image courtesy of

Amanda Vickery and Alistair Sooke. Image courtesy of BBC2

It is Winter, 1813.

Amanda Vickery and Alaister Sooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph and who also presents art history programmes for the BBC, present this amazing programme. It is one and a half hours long and, being a BBC production, there are no breaks or intermissions.

The programme is a tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. The producers have taken the Netherfield Ball as their focus. They did not choose the Merryton Assembly ball, which was a public ball where everybody from the butcher, baker and candlestick maker was eligible to attend. The Netherfield Ball was a more intimate and select affair and by invitation only. One would be assured to rub shoulders with only the best families in the community.

Jane and her sister and mother lived in Chawton Cottage, where Pride and Prejudice was prepared for publication. It was a time when courtship was a serious business. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing and drawing,” Jane wrote, and a man had to marry well if he was to secure his dynasty.

Research into costumes, food, dance, music, carriages, conversation and so on focussed on the year 1813.

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds

Filming at night on Chawton House grounds. Image courtesy of Chawton House

The writers and producers consulted and interviewed professors and experts about the minutiae of Georgian life. One professor, Jeanice Brooks at Southampton University, showed Alexander Sooke the very music manuscripts that Jane Austen wrote out by her hand with little cartoon doodlings in the margin.

Jane Austen doodle in a music manuscript

Jane Austen’s doodle in her music manuscript. Image @BBC2

That was one of the many wow moments for this viewer. (For me too, Tony!)

Popular music was widely collected at the time and summarized for the piano. Jane Austen must have spent hours copying music in her neat hand, for there are quite a number of her music manuscripts still in existence. 

ivan day food expert

Ivan day, historic food expert. Image @BBC2

The food was researched to the minutest degree. Ivan Day and his kitchen staff used Georgian cooking implements, although the Georgian cooking range at Chawton House was not in working order, so they used modern ovens. The recipes were authentic and came from Martha Lloyd’s cook book and other original Georgian documents.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Martha Lloyd’s recipe for white soup, a common dish served at supper dances.

Food denoted status. Game shot on a gentleman’s land was turned into a partridge pie, a symbol of upper class dining. At the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Bingley would be sure to provide only the most excellent food, such as fresh grapes, nectarines and peaches in winter, which would have been expensive to import or grow indoors in hot houses. The grand spectacle of the supper table, with its silver platters, silver dishes, and silver tureens, gave an overall impression of austentation [sic] and of the host’s status. 

Ivan Day's recreation of Solomon's Temple, a very difficult flummery to recreate.

Ivan Day’s recreation of Solomon’s Temple, a very difficult flummery (Georgian jelly) to recreate. Image @BBC2

Stuart Marsden, an expert in Georgian dances and a former ballet dancer, assembled students from the dance department of Surrey University at Guildford, about twenty miles north of Chawton, to dance at the ball. Although these young dancers were fit and professional, in their Georgian costumes and in the full glare of hundreds of candles, they suffered from heat and encroaching exhaustion as the evening went on.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few have survived.

This fan served to cool the dancer and as a crib sheet, in which the steps of intricate dances were written down. Usually made of paper, few of these fans have survived. As all fans of the Regency know, they also served as the perfect tool for flirtation. Image @BBC2

During the course of the evening, the dancers were supplied with Portugese wine and fortified negus punch. Punch a la Romaine, or Roman punch, was a mixture of rum or brandy with lemon water, lemon meringue and a very hot syrup. It was a sort of creamy iced drink that was 30 or 40 percent alcohol, a Georgian equivalent of a cold Coca Cola that cooled the dancers down between dances.

Punch a la Romaine

Punch a la Romaine. By the end of the night the dancers were a little tipsy, shall we say. The spoons used in the production belonged to the Prince Regent and came from Brighton Pavilion. Image @BBC.

Although Chawton House is large, the room where the dance was held seemed rather crowded once all the dancers were assembled. Candles blazed everywhere. The men wore stiff jackets, waistcoats, and neck high cravats. The ladies, whose bosoms were exposed, also wore many layers. They had donned swaths of petticoats under their skirts, and wore long stockings and long gloves. One can imagine that with the press of bodies, heat from the candles, constant exertion in long dance sets, and frequent imbibing of alcohol that the assembly quickly felt heated.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was and how 300 candles and all that exertion might have heated the dancers.

One can see from this image how crowded the ball room was, and how the blaze from 300 candles and hours of exertion might have heated the dancers. I was amazed at the lack of evident sweat.

It was interesting to find out that everybody knew how a long a dance would last from the length and quality of the candles. There were four-hour candles and six-hour candles. For this production eight-hour candles were used.

The finest, most expensive and clean burning candles were made of beeswax. Up to 300 might be used for a ball – quite an expense, for the cost was around £15, or a year’s wages for a manservant. Less expensive (and smokier and stinkier) were tallow candles, which were purchased by the less wealthy. The very poor had to make do with rush sticks, which didn’t last very long.

Peoples’ wealth and position in the upper and gentry classes were evident from the outset. Hierarchy pervaded all strata of Regency society. Social signifiers included the materials used for clothes, their style and the embellishments they had personally chosen for their costumes, the cut of the material and garment, the very buttons they had on their costumes, and so on. These details would reveal not only their status but their personalities too.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made.

Professor Hillary Davidson explains the personal involvement that people had in their clothes, which were hand made and reflected personal taste and input. In addition, the outfits “reflected the range of social rank and social division by cut, color, and texture.” Appearance meant everything at a ball. Many refashioned their frocks from hand-me-downs from an older sister or cousin, creating “hybrid” fashions, for the value of these outfits lay in the material, not the design of the dress. Individual details and features were immediately evident to Jane Austen’s contemporaries, for fashion and jewelry represented a public display of one’s assets. Image @BBC2

Silk would be worn by Miss Bingley, for it was a rich and expensive fabric. Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst would have worn the latest fashions from London, which is quite evident in the film costumes of Pride and Prejudice 1995. Lydia Bennet would have chosen a fine gown,  for she was fashion forward for a country girl (and her mama’s favorite), whereas Mrs. Bennet would have worn a print gown with a frilly but modest matronly cap that denoted her status as a woman with some authority. The Bingley sisters would have sneered at the simply styled hybrid dress that the Bennet sisters might have refashioned from a combination of old clothes and newer fabrics.  If you were a good needlewoman, such a gown might have been embellished with embroidery, lace, or ribbons.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Simple hybrid dress, much as Elizabeth Bennet might have worn. Notice the coral necklace.

Shoes were changed in the cloak room, for some people walked quite a distance to get to the ball, and even soldiers exchanged their Hessian boots for dancing slippers. Over the course of the evening, delicate dance slippers might be worn down to a thread.

Historical makeup and rouge pots. Too much, and a lady might be labeled a trollop.

These are Sally Pointer’s historical makeup and rouge pots for rosy cheeks (even for the redcoats, like Wickham). Apply too much color and a lady might be labeled a trollop. Image @BBC2

Everything – one’s clothes, actions, and relationships – how you arrived at the ball – could be read and interpreted. This was one of the main points made by the programme.

It’s not so different today, really, is it Tony? At a glance we can tell who is fashion forward, who is a frump. Whose jewelry reeks of Tiffany’s and who shopped at Walmart. We know from each others speech, friends and business associations, educational background, and other social signifiers who belongs in our social strata and who does not. My mother especially had a keen sense of which of my suitors suited and who did not. Her primary social signifiers were persons of moral character and compassion. It was who that person was inside that mattered, not what they wore or what possessions they had acquired. I suspect that during the Regency such distinctions were also important. Jane Austen was a genius at distinguishing wheat from chaff, and ferreting out the foibles of her contemporaries.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns.

Walking to the ball carrying lanterns. The hooded cloaks reminded me of the medieval era and monks. Image@BBC2

I noticed how most of the actors in the production walked to the ball holding lanterns. Carriages were expensive. If possible, those who had carriages would arrange to pick others up and bring them. If not, the guests walked to the ball. A similar scene was shown in Becoming Jane, where guests arrived on foot and walked along a lane strung with lanterns. Back in those days balls were planned to coincide with a full moon for maximum light at night and for a bit of safety from bandits and robbers. One wonders about such well-laid plans in rainy England, where a blanket of storm clouds would block the moonlight and rain would soil the hems of delicate ball gowns.

The most interesting thing I found from the programme was the meaning of the dance. This Darcy quote, “every savage can dance,” is used to highlight that the dance alludes to something primal. Elizabeth and Darcy have their most unguarded conversation during a dance. Interestingly, the Savage Dance was a craze in 1813 and taken from a song and dance routine from a musical based on Robinson Crusoe.

Balls, to quote Amanda Vickery, were sexual arenas of social interaction. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth dance around their sexual attraction for each other. The truth is that in those days single men and well-protected young and unmarried ladies could not spend one moment in private with each other before they were officially engaged. But at a dance they could touch each other (through gloved hands) and flirt and talk at length without a chaperon breathing down their necks. The long dance sets were strenuous and required stamina, however. To quote Amanda Vickery, “The entire ball is hard work, with physical, social, and emotional investment and cost.” The cost being one of expenditure (looking one’s best) and exertion (maintaining one’s stamina.) 

dance chawton

Dancing the cotillion. Image @BBC2

Young ladies and young gentlemen practiced and prepared for the balls from childhood on. They had to be good and graceful at dancing to be admired and looked at. This was necessary for their futures, for they were actually dancing for their lives. You were likely to dance with a person from the same rank and expertise: they endured these dances for a very long time with one partner. There were moments of physical contact and movement. Aristocratic young men like Darcy sought strong and accomplished women to be the mother of their children for the sake of inheritance and future generations of their families. Young women needed to attract a good catch for their happiness and futures too. So much effort and hope was invested in the “ball,” for a girl’s future could be sealed at a dance.

No wonder the excitable Lydia Bennet went ballistic when the Netherfield Ball was announced! She was not only man crazy, but she had a competitive streak in her, frequently pitting herself against her older sisters. I was also struck by how much dancing masters could make per person from dance lessons. Every young boy and girl from a respectable family was expected to practice dance steps. It was quite a telling detail for Jane Austen’s contemporary readers that Mr. Collins is a poor dancer and that Mr. Elton exhibited such ungentlemanly conduct towards Miss Smith at the Crown Inn ball, where Mr. Knightley (a true knight in shining armour) came to her rescue and saved her from public humiliation. Mr. Elton’s reaction towards Miss Smith pointed out how much Emma misjudged Miss Smith’s tenuous connection to the gentry, for Mr. Elton thinks too highly of himself and his own social standing to ally himself to the bastard daughter of a gentleman.

 Alaister Sooke makes the comment that for all its finery and sophistication the ball (it was decorous and tightly controlled) was also primeval, with the subconscious very much in play. The way the dancers were dressed, with women revealing lots of cleavage and the men revealing their groins in tight-fitting trousers, was totally sexual in nature.

men's breeches

The dancers get fitted for their breeches, which revealed quite a bit of the male anatomy, especially the groin area. Image @BBC2.

You are so right, Tony. Let’s take the case of menswear ca. 1813. Although the colors were muted, the silhoutte was quite athletic. The front of a man’s coat was cut high so that his body was fully revealed in front from the waist down. Men tucked their long shirt tails between their legs, which served as underwear. Because their calves were exposed, it was important for men to dance well, since all their steps were in full view. Women’s legs were hidden by their skirts and they could make a mistake or two without much notice.  I was struck by how much the modern dancers enjoyed the evening and how much their costumes and the setting affected them.

corset

The ladies in the series wore authentic underwear. Underneath the muslins  and silks they wore undergarments consisting of a chemise and petticoat. There was actually a lot going on below the skirt, but the ladies  generally went knickerless. Even when women wore underdrawers, the crotch area remained open and they remained so until the late 19th c. or early 20th century.  Crotchless knickers were the norm! Image @BBC2

A courting couple made sure to reserve the supper dance for each other (or the dance just before the evening meal), for this meant that they could extend the time they spent together to include the meal, which was generally served at midnight. In the series, Ivan Day and his staff slaved to make the dishes, for they were served à la française (in the French style), or all at once. Preparing dishes for such a service required a great deal of skill and Herculean effort, for hot meals needed to be served hot, while delicate ices needed to remain frozen until they were consumed. At the dinner table in this special, a mild scene of chaos ensued, with servants bringing platters from one end of the table to the other, guests handing platters around, and others reaching across the table to sample a tidbit. Ragout of Veal, one of Jane Austen’s favorite dishes, was served. This dish was frequently mentioned by her, particularly in Pride and Prejudice. As an aside, one could readily discern at the supper ball which guests had manners and those who did not.

Ragout of

The ragout of veal at the supper dance was associated with high living. Image @BBC2

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