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Posts Tagged ‘celebrating pride and prejudice’

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

More on the topic:

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Image copyright @Venn Studios 2013

Image copyright @Venn Studios 2013

Congratulations to the four winners of the previous two books contests, which ended on April 1 and April 3 respectively. They are Raquel M. for Jane Austen’s World, Brenda B for The Jane Austen Handbook, and Rosalie A. and Monica Z. for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It was fun to read your comments! Continuing our Pride and Prejudice celebration is this Kickstarter project which aims to produce a new fine-art silhouette print of Jane Austen. The project details (and gently amusing video) can be be found by clicking on the image below or this link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/443052805/jane-austen-poster-print-and-pride-and-prejudice-c.

Jane Austen Poster

Image copyright @Venn Studio 2013

As a companion piece to the silhouette, a ‘pamphlet series’ will also be produced featuring much-loved characters from the book. Each pamphlet will feature a delightful illustration by Hugh Thomson – the talented artist commissioned to produce a series of drawings for the 1894 publication of Pride and Prejudice. The back of each pamphlet will contain a literary synopsis outlining the characters and their personalities. Each individual pamphlet measures 165mm x 78mm.

Jane Austen character pamphlets

Image copyright @Venn Studio 2013

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Jane Austens World LaneI am continuing this blog’s giveaways in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice and 6 millionth visit to my blog with one free copy of the reissue of Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s World, courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Jane Austen’s World takes a look at Jane Austen’s private life and examines the world she inhabited—a time when England was developing into a colonial power, the Napoleonic Wars raged, and the Regency took hold.

Maggie Lane is an active committee member of the Jane Austen Society and has written several highly acclaimed books on the author, including Jane Austen and Food (Hambledon Continuum), Jane Austen’s England (Robert Hale), and Jane Austen’s Family (Robert Hale). She has also appeared on television as a Jane Austen expert.

jane austens world

Like the 2005 reissue (left) this book features a short introduction by Brian Southam and a Jane Austen timeline, and is filled with colored plates and illustrations. Interestingly this reissue was printed and bound in Dubai. The reason I say this is that I found the color in the plates to be brighter. It’s a matter of taste, I know. Some will like these images over the somewhat more subdued color palate in the other edition.

If you already own a copy of the book with the cover on the left  (first published in 1993), be aware that only minor changes have been made. For those who already own the book, this reissue will be the perfect gift for their Janeite friends and relatives.

To Enter the Contest: This contest is open only to those who live in the U.S. Tell us what you want to know about Jane Austen’s world that eludes you or will help you understand her novels better. Contest closes April 3rd. Note: Click here to enter another giveaway on this blog of The Jane Austen Handbook and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That contest, open to those who live in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, closes April 1st. CONTEST CLOSED. Congratulations, Raquel Muniz!

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Inquiring Readers, my friend and frequent contributor, Tony Grant, sent me a gift that went straight to my heart – the Royal Mail’s new Jane Austen stamps. These were printed to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. The packaging, as you can see from my scans, is divine, with Jane’s name printed in a font based on her handwriting.

BeFunky_jane austen stamps.jpg
For a lucky few, letters that were posted during a designated week in Chawton in Hampshire, where she lived during the last 8 years of her life, and in Steventon near Basingstoke, where she spent her first 20 or so years, will bear a special postmark. To read the information on the packaging, click on the images.

Jane Austen

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In the scan below the Pride and Prejudice stamp is blown up and sits in the center. Again, click on the image to read the text.
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Elizabeth views Darcy’s portrait as she wanders through Pemberley, guided by the housekeeper and escorted by her aunt and uncle. The scans overlap a bit. In the one below you can see the six stamps affixed at the bottom.

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The special postmark for the  set features the Pride And Prejudice quote: “Do anything rather than marry without affection.” Royal Mail’s Andrew Hammond said: “It is an honour for Royal Mail to commemorate [Jane Austen’s] work.”

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Illustrator Angela Barrett was commissioned to illustrate the six stamps that make up the st. One can only wish that somewhere up in heaven she and her family are aware of how very far her fame has spread. If you will note, the Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice stamps make up the first class stamps.

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In 2007, a BBC poll for World Book Day voted Pride and Prejudice as the book most respondents could not live without. – BBC News

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Published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice was Austen’s second novel and she described it as her “own darling child”. – The Guardian

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Below are the enlarged stamps of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Jane Austen 200th anniversary Royal Mail stamps

Information and images from ExpressGazette,  Radio Times, and BBC News.

 Thank you, Tony, from the bottom of my heart. These Jane Austen stamps are the perfect gift for a Janeite.

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Gentle readers, in celebration of Pride and Prejudice’s 200 year anniversary, Jane Austen’s World will feature a regular article about Jane Austen’s most popular novel throughout 2013. We can count on frequent contributor Tony Grant from London Calling to provide us with a unique perspective. Enjoy!

All good films have a car chase. Some originate from well written, exciting, nail-biting, on the edge of your seats, breathless descriptions in a novel.

Steve McQueen in mustang

Steve McQueen in mustang

Let it not be said Pride and Prejudice doesn’t have it’s nail biter, it’s moment of burning rubber and screeching tyres that is right up there with Steve McQueen ripping up the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, hurling his Ford Mustang over the lips of hills and down daredevil slopes with a street fighters aggression or Michael Caine escaping the Italian police with wheels spitting gravel and door smashing bravado in his supercharged mini cooper GT along the Corniche, “not many people know that,” or John Thaw in The Sweeney, as gritty streetwise cop Jack Regan thundering through the Isle of Dogs in his 3 litre V6 Ford Consul GT. Mr Bennett has his contenders, but not, may I dare say, his equals, oh no.

Elizabeth Bennett, who is visiting Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, the Gardeners has received a letter from her sister Jane

Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred of a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid of alarming you — be assured that we are all well. What I have to say relates to poor Lydia. An express came at twelve last night, just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, to inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of his officers; to own the truth, with Wickham!”

Image of eloping couple. 1815

Image of eloping couple. 1815

This piece of information about Lydia sets in motion, literally, a series of coach journeys and desperate searchings that rivals anything Steve McQueen or Michael Caine partook of.

Michael Caine: Nuts to your watches! You just be at the Piazza at a quarter to..
Steve McQueen: Look, you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine.
Det. Insp. Jack Regan: Remember, no guns unless they use ’em.

Mr Gardner and Mr Bennett walking the streets of London, searching for Wickham and Lydia could well have used lines like those. What needs to be said, what needs to be done, never changes whatever century, don’t you think?

“…and all three being actuated by one spirit, every thing relating to their journey was speedily settled. They were to be off as soon as possible.”

Coach travel

Coach travel

And so Mr and Mrs Gardner and Lizzie Bennett sped south to Longbourn at the hair-raising speed of 10 miles per hour or more, on the occasion of increased velocity being achieved when long flat straight roads presented themselves; jolted and tossed about, no doubt, like three potatoes in a sack.

But Lydia and Wickham were as devious and cunning as any mafia on the streets of Naples, or ruthless bank robbers from the East End of London or murderous killers off the dangerous streets of San Francisco. Gretna Green was, dare I say, a red herring. They spread rumours, gasp, horror; they planned and they plotted, they predicted and they saw clearly with their crazed, devious minds thinking out brilliantly, their next move. They lived the heady adrenalin pumped life of criminals on the run.

Mr Bennett “… did trace them easily to Clapham, but no farther; for on entering that place they removed into a Hackney coach and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom.”

Oh gosh and golly, what subterfuge, what dastardly cunning. They actually changed from a chaise to a hackney coach.The evil mind games of those criminals. But they were hunted, yes, hunted, by Mr Bennett, he, a wily, ruthless backwoodsman who once he smelled the scent of his prey cannot, will not, be put off his quest. Mrs Bennett was right to be desperate in her concerns,

And now here’s Mr Bennett gone away and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?”.

Popeye Doyle himself could not compete with Mr Bennett surely in his ruthless endeavour

 The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I’m gonna get him.”

But our Mr Bennett in his utter, focused, desperate determination can but say,

“Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

Good gracious, the man is a titan of hot-blooded aggression. Surely nothing can prevail? Wickham has met his match.

epsom

Epsom Watch House & Clock c1840 from Dugdale’s England & Wales
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

Elizabeth was desperate to know what lengths, what depths her father would go to retrieve his wayward daughter, her very own sister.

He meant, I believe,” replied Jane, “to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions, and try if anything could be made out from them. His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them from Clapham. “

Of course, a touch of sheer genius; find out the number of the Hackney Coach. That would do it. He would be sure to find them then.
And after all this searching, this animal desperation, this wolf like howl of anguish ripped from the primeval instinctive depths of Mr Bennett’s heart, what then? What could be the consequences? So after many letters flying backwards and forwards, if anything, P&P appears to hinge very often on the writing, sending and receiving of letters, Mr Gardner has appeared to pay Wickhams debts,, Mr Bennet has only to provide a paltry £100 a year, he can’t believ his luck and can’t quite work out the finances as if he ever could work out his finances. (Aside: we all know who really has settled the finances, don’t we?? Ha! Ha! It’s getting more like a pantomime all the time this. Mrs Bennnet as Widow Twanky and Mr Bennet as Baron Hardup.)

He had never before supposed that, could Wickham be prevailed on to marry his daughter, it would be done with so little inconvenience to himself as by the present arrangement. He would scarcely be ten pounds a year the loser, by the hundred that was to be paid them; for, what with her board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expenses had been very little within that sum.

That it would be done with such trifling exertion on his side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for his chief wish at present was to have as little trouble in the business as possible. When the first transports of rage which had produced his activity in seeking her were over, he naturally returned to all his former indolence.”

Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet

So Wickham was to marry Lydia and Mrs Bennett was happy and all was well with Mr Bennett and he could return to his former state of,” indolence.” A sort of Popeye Doyle with carpet slippers smoking a pipe and reading his newspaper seated at his fireside; a Michael Caine reminiscing about his past, cold eyed and tough emotionless roles in Get Carter relaxing now in his easy chair or Steve McQueen sitting back on his ranch, his rocking chair gently calming his fevered brain and letting his motorbikes go rusty, crying into his beer, or, even a Jack Regan from The Sweeney who could at last ,” Shut it!” himself. Ah, all was well in the end. Colonel Forster could return too to Brighton, to the lesser dangers of defending our shores and leading his regiment against Napoleon knocking at the very shingle on Brighton Beach. Mr and Mrs Gardner could return to the hustle and bustle and shops and markets of Gracechurch Street in the city and Lizzie and Jane, yes, well, we know what becomes of Lizzie and Jane,

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs Bingley and talked of Mrs Darcy may be guessed.”

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham not so

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham apparently not so

So, in a novel dedicated to getting daughters married, a lot of horse and carriage mileage is accrued and many letters are written. We only hear of weddings, but we certainly know about how characters felt. Will, Lady Catherine ever get over being, “exceedingly angry” or will she just explode with high blood pressure?

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