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Posts Tagged ‘Regency Etiquette’

Mr Darcy, Colin Firth, astride a white horse

Mr Darcy, Colin Firth, astride a white horse

Is chivalry alive and well? Good question. I venture to guess that a large number of Jane Austen’s readers subscribe to the traditional hero as embodied in Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Colonel Brandon, and Captain Wentworth, all admirable men, who despite some flaws, are wont to treat a lady with respect and come to her rescue out of a sense of duty, or from good breeding or a besotted heart.

Just in time for Valentine’s day comes Queendom.com’s tudy on gender roles in courtship behavior, which reveals that while most courtship conventions have changed, some age-old romance rituals are still going strong. Pulling up on a white horse isn’t necessary for the modern woman, but some chivalry is still a heart-melting must. (Inquiring readers, I have ventured to put my own spin (in blue) on this contribution from lona Jerabek, Ph.D.)

Some men hurtled, on horseback, with a giant stick in their hands. Emperor Shah Jahan built The Taj Mahal as a final resting place for his most beloved wife. Both Cleopatra and Juliet refused to live in a world where they couldn’t be with the one they loved. Thankfully, courtship conventions and romantic gestures need not be this extreme. According to Queendom’s data, most men and women take a modern approach to dating, but a little chivalry can still go a long way.

Jane Austen’s rules of courtship vs modern times

Collecting data from 950 men and 1621 women, Queendom’s research on gender roles and courtship reveals that:

  • 77% of men and 70% of women feel that a date can be initiated by either gender. In fact, 65% of the women have either asked a man out on a date, or would be willing to do so. (This would be a big faux pas in Jane Austen’s book, for a gently bred lady would NEVER make the first move, lest she be thought forward. There were those who had powers of persuasion through beauty and words, like May Crawford, or who took advantage of a man during a moment of weakness and, like that rat terrier, Lucy Steele, never let go. Others, like Marianne Dashwood, ignored society’s strictures, but all in all, a young lady of good breeding would hesitate to step out of the bounds of propriety and bring shame upon her family by acting upon her impulses and brazenly ask a man to pay court. Her actions would be much more subtle than that.)
Mr. Darcy listens to Elizabeth about Lydia's predicament, then quietly goes about rectifying the situation and helping Lydia out of a scrape. A true romantic hero.

Mr. Darcy listens to Elizabeth about Lydia’s predicament, then quietly goes about rectifying the situation and helping Lydia out of a scrape. A true romantic hero.

  • 67% of men and 60% of women believe that chivalry is important (e.g. opening doors, pulling out chair, etc.). (This number would have been 100% in Jane’s day. A man who failed to follow the rules of propriety, like John Thorpe, would instantly be regarded as deplorable and wouldn’t stand a chance.)
  • 60% of women still like to be wined and dined, at least in the initial stages of dating. (Courtship was much more constrained, with the virginal girl guarded like hawks by her chaperons and family. After her coming out, a woman would NEVER be seen alone in her swain’s company. The only time they could touch or talk at length was during the set of a dance. They could never dine alone in an inn, for instance, without damaging her reputation. As for drinking wine, a gently bred girl might be given a glass of watered down elderberry or orange wine, but nothing that would make her tipsy and lose control.)
At first blush it is Willoughby who seems heroic, but it is the quieter Colonel Brandon who rescues Marianne from her untidy tendencies.

At first blush it is Willoughby who seems heroic, but it is the quieter Colonel Brandon who rescues Marianne from her untidy tendencies.

  • 26% of men want to be the one who controls how the relationship plays out (i.e. how many dates they should have, how fast the relationship moves, when to meet each other’s family). 39% of men would prefer to let the woman control the direction of the relationship, 35% prefer it to be a mutual decision. For women, 27% want to be in full control, 31% prefer to let men decide; 43% prefer it to be mutual. (Back in the Regency era a wily woman could manipulate the situation behind the scenes, like Charlotte Lucas, in order to snare her man, but most, like Jane Bennet, were passive and took their cues from their suitor’s actions or family’s wishes. A Regency miss who takes control of her courtship or acts in a hasty and willful manner was regarded a hoyden, as with Lydia Bennet and Maria Rushworth,  two stupid girls who were the instruments of their own undoing.)
Anne yearned. Anne desired. But it wasn't until Captain Wentworth penned his letter that he opened up the way to their blissful romantic reunion.

Anne yearned. Anne desired. But she could do nothing. It wasn’t until Captain Wentworth took pen in hand and wrote his swoon-worthy letter that he opened up the way to their blissful romantic reunion.

  • When it comes to popping the question, 66% of men and 65% of women think it’s fine for the woman to do the asking. (Not in Jane Austen’s day, when men were obligated to do the asking. A women’s sole power, that of choice, was exercised before marriage. It was up to her instinct and good  judgment to refuse a cad or accept a good man for a husband. Heaven forbid if love clouded her good sense. Unless she was an aristocrat, the family would accede to her wishes, for once she married, she would have no rights and lose control of her money, land, and children. Thus a young woman (girls in many instances) had to be smart about her choice of mate or rely on wise council. Unfortunately for Miss Anne Elliot, her wise council, Mrs. Russel, turned out to be wrong and poor Anne had to wait eight long years before she could marry Captain Wentworth and find happiness in his arms.)
Wickham, a handsome fortune hunter

Wickham, a handsome fortune hunter

  • In terms of who pays for the first date (a long-standing debate), 47% of men feel that the man should pay; 24% feel that the bill should be split; 29% stated that whoever initiated the date should pay. On the women’s side, 31% feel the man should pay, another 31% feel that the bill should be split, and 38% indicated that whoever initiated the date should pay. (Now this is a tricky one, for in Regency times many a fortune hunter was able to inveigle an invitation to dinner or a party for which others paid, including his intended’s family. There were some bachelors who traveled from house to house and, aside from their personal expenses, never parted with a penny. The woman might not literally dig into her reticule to pay for the cad’s board and food, but in the instance of a fortune hunter, he most likely did not foot the bill either, except for a trinket or two with which to woo his heiress.)
Snooty Elizabeth Elliot lost her chance to snare a man

Snooty Elizabeth Elliot lost her chance to bag a man

  • And that old “play-hard-to-get” theory? Still just a theory. Only 19% of men and 28% of women believe that a woman should be mysterious and play hard to get for the first few dates. (Elizabeth Elliot played hard to get and where did that get her? At 29 she’s staring spinsterhood in the face. Good old Charlotte Lucas took the horse by the reigns and saddled her man, albeit a fairly defective one. Mr. Collins had a house and a job, which was all that Charlotte wanted or needed. She encouraged him to garden, while spending her days alone in her private parlor.)

“Women no longer need to play the more submissive, demure role – and it’s nice to see that both genders support this progress,” states Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “This doesn’t mean that men are off the hook and don’t need to put an effort into romance anymore. The modern woman still likes romance, but it’s now a shared endeavor, with both genders putting an effort into the relationship. What fascinated us most about this study was that younger men and women had somewhat more traditional courtship views than older age groups.” (It is obvious from the following statistics that attitudes towards chivalry and courtship have changed drastically in 200 years. Imagine a young and spirited woman like Elizabeth Bennet adopting any of the following modern attitudes!:)

Age differences in courtship perceptions: surprising results

Queendom’s age comparisons reveal several interesting differences:

  • 28% of men under 30 and 22% of men over 30 feel that the man should plan most of the dates.
  • 60% of men under 30 and 76% of men over 30 feel that a woman should be able to propose to a man.
  • 20% of men under 30 and 13% of men over 30 said that they would feel threatened by a woman who took control of what they did on the first date.
  • 26% of men under 30 and 14% of men over 30 believe that it should be the man who asks the woman out, not vice versa.
  • 51% of men under 30 and 39% of men over 30 believe stated that the man should pay for the first date.
  • 66% of women under 30 and 71% of women over 30 have either asked a man out or would consider doing it.
  • 64% of women under 30 and 72% of women over 30 think it’s ok to be the one to ask a man to marry them.

The modern way vs Jane Austen’s way of beguiling your beloved

  • Forget the dozen roses. Buy one, wrapped with a ribbon. (200 years ago: Give her a posy of fresh wild flowers that you picked in a field.)
Marianne draws Willoughby's silhouette

Marianne draws Willoughby’s silhouette in the drawing room

  • Show up at your partner’s workplace and whisk him or her away for lunch. (200 years ago: Sit in the drawing room with your intended and let her wind her wool skein over your hands or suggest that you draw his silhouette.)
  • Place a love note in your partner’s lunch bag or on the bathroom mirror. (200 years ago: sing a duet at the pianoforte and make sure that the bench is a tad small.)
Archery as sport

Archery as sport and a means of courtship

  • Grab a blanket, a bottle of wine, and drive out to a place where you can see the stars. (200 years ago: arrange a walking party with your sisters and cousins and ask him to tag along. Have the servants grab the blankets and wine, and drive you to your location.)
Darcy and Elizabeth

Darcy and Elizabeth

  • Slow dance in your living room. (200 years ago: Make sure to solicit her hand for the supper dance, wherein you shall spend another pleasurable hour in her company.)
Elizabeth Bennet, 1980

Elizabeth Bennet, 1980

  • Avoid embarrassing lingerie no-nos. Take him to a lingerie store and show him all the naughty things you like. (200 years ago: drop your handkerchief near your exposed ankle for him to retrieve, or make sure that your loveliest eye-catching locket nestles snugly between your well-exposed breasts. )
Darcy and Elizabeth make goo goo eyes at each other across the room

Darcy and Elizabeth make goo goo eyes at each other across the room

  • Meet at a local hang-out and pretend you’re two strangers flirting with each other. (200 years ago: make goo goo eyes at each other in the drawing room while others play a musical instrument, or pretend that you don’t like each other and trade bantering insults.)
  • Build a little bonfire in your backyard and make chocolate Smores. (200 years ago: engage in a game of archery and set out an al fresco tea.)
  • Get tango or salsa lessons together. (200 years ago: ask the music master to visit the village to teach the latest dances.)

As you can see, gentle readers, while the rules of romance have changed over the years, the game remains the same! What would Jane Austen have thought of today’s courtship rules, I wonder?

Queendom.com , a subsidiary of PsychTests AIM Inc. , is a site that creates an interactive venue for self-exploration with a healthy dose of fun.  PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996, providing psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world.  

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Lady Catherine de Bourgh's formal table: Pride and Prejudice 2005

When dinner is announced, the mistress of the house requests the lady first in rank, in company, to shew the way to the rest, and walk first into the room where the table is served; she then asks the second in precedience to follow, and after all the ladies are passed, she brings up the rear herself. The master of the house does the same with the gentlemen. Among the persons of real distinction, this marhalling of the company is unnecessary, every woman and every man present knows his rank and precedence, and takes the lead, without any direction from the mistress or the master.

When they enter the dining-room, each takes his place in the same order; the mistress of the table sits at the upper-end, those of superior rank next [to] her, right and left, those next in rank following, the gentlemen, and the master at the lower-end; and nothing is considered as a greater mark of ill-breeding, than for a person to interrup this order, or seat himself higher than he ought. – John Trusler, 1791

The Bennets seated at table en famille, with the two oldest daughters next to their father at the head of the table. Mrs. Bennet sits at the lower end. Pride and Prejudice 1995

As the eldest daughter, Jane and Elizabeth sat nearest their father during family meals, with Jane to his right. When Lydia returns as Mrs. Wickham, she unceremoniously bumps Jane to a position towards the middle of the table, for her married state gave her a higher rank than her eldest sister:

Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up and ran out of the room; and returned no more till she heard them passing through the hall to the dining parlour. She then joined them soon enough to see Lydia, with anxious parade, walk up to her mother’s right hand, and hear her say to her eldest sister, ‘Ah, Jane I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman.’ – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Sumptuous dining table at Castle Howard. Image @Tony Grant

As hostess at her father's table, young Emma Woodhouse sat opposite her father at the upper end of the table. The ladies sit next to Mr. Woodhouse in hierarchy. As in the description by John Trusler, the gentlemen are seated nearest Emma's end of the table.

Emma Woodhouse (Kate Beckinsale)

Custom, however, has lately introduced a new mode of seating. A gentleman and a lady fitting alternately round the table, and this, for the better convenience of a lady’s being attended to, and served by the gentleman next to her. But notwithstanding this promiscuous seating, the ladies, whether above or below, are to be served in order, according to their rank or age, and after them the gentlemen, in the same manner. – John Trusler, p 6

From: The honours of the table, or, Rules for behaviour during meals : with the whole art of carving, illustrated by a variety of cuts. Together with directions for going to market, and the method of distinguishing good provisions from bad; to which is added a number of hints or concise lessons for the improvement of youth, on all occasions in life. By the author of Principles of politeness, &c. … For the use of young people, John Trusler

Other posts on this blog:

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I’ve owned Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades and Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross for a number of years. It is a small book (133 pages), very pretty, and filled with charming illustrations like the one below painted by Henrietta Webb. The language is slightly old-fashioned, as if the book was written in the 19th century. The rules of etiquette and manners are lifted from Jane Austen’s novels, and thus we know they are authentic. The eight chapters are divided logically: Manners; Forms of Introduction; Calling and Conversation; Dancing and Dining; Dress and Taste; Matrimony; Family; and Servants.

Each chapter is divided into “rules”, which serve as guides to the rule of etiquette that will be discussed. For example, Rule 1. Do not be presumptuous in offering introduction. The example comes from the scene in Pride and Prejudice in which Lady Catherine de Bourgh charges angrily into the Bennet home and does not ask for an introduction to Mrs. Bennet, who, awkwardly, has not been granted permission to speak to that grand lady in her own house. Lady Catherine’s rudeness towards Elizabeth and her mother is exacerbated by her pointed cut and lack of manners!


The book would make a wonderful gift for a Jane Austen fan who would like more background into the Regency era. Someone like me, who owns several books of etiquette of the period, would find the lack of index irritating. It is hard to find the precise rules of etiquette quickly. If I must hunt and peck, I infinitely prefer consulting original sources: The Mirror of Graces (1811) by A Lady of Distinction and Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son, for instance.

But for clarifying exactly what Jane intended in terms of behavior, this book is a tiny gem. Josephine Ross, the author of Jane Austen: A Companion, knows whereof she speaks.  I give Jane Austen Guide to Good Manners four correct rules out of five.

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Inquiring Readers: This is the third of four posts in honor for Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball and my second post talked about the dances. This post discusses the suppers served during Jane Austen’s era, and concentrates on what kinds of food and drink might have been served at the Netherfield Ball.

“As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.” – Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

Mr & Mrs Bennet sit down to supper. Notice the lavish bowl of fruit.

The sit-down supper served at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice probably occurred around midnight. By that time, people would be famished after their physical exertions or from playing cards nonstop in the card room. They had most likely eaten their dinner between 3-5 p.m. (earlier in the country, and later in Town). Dinners consisted of between 5-16 dishes and could last several hours. The best families would serve up two courses, for a meal’s lavishness depended on the number of courses and dishes that were served. Dishes representing a range of foods, from soups to vegetables and meats, would be spread over the table in a pleasing arrangement and would be set down at the beginning of the meal.

Large Derby porcelain supper dish from Ruby Lane

It is conjectured that by the time the covered dishes arrived from the kitchen and the family and guests were seated, the food had turned cold. Diners would be confined to eating from the dishes placed closest to them. In the Bill of Fare from the Universal Cook, 1792 (Francis Collingwood and John Woollams) one can see the foods that were available in November.

Bill of Fare, November 1792

The evening meal, which also included a dessert course, lasted as long as two hours, leaving the diners sated. Suppers were therefore served quite late and were simple and small in comparison. Often called a “tea board”, this small repast was frequently served on a tray between 10-11 p.m. If more than one person was hungry, a cloth would be laid on a small table, not the dining table, and a limited assortment of cakes, tarts, biscuits, pastries, jellies, cheeses, cold meats, sandwiches, savories, salad, dessert, or local fruits – whatever was at hand – would be made available. (One can imagine how tired the servants must have been, rising early as they did.)

Mr. Darcy observes the Bennet family during supper and is accosted by Mr. Collins

Suppers served at private balls were an entirely different matter for they reflected on the splendor of the event. Balls generally began at 8-9 p.m. and the dancers sat down to a lavish spread at 11 p.m. or midnight. A gentleman accompanied his dance partner into the supper room, which makes one think that it would have been wise for a suitor who wished to further his acquaintance with a young lady to reserve a dance just before the meal.

Jane and Elizabeth at supper

Mr. Bingley most likely served a sumptuous supper on a magnificent table set with his finest china and silver. The food would consist of white soup, which during this time was made with veal stock, cream, and almonds; cold meats, such as chicken or sliced ham; poached salmon; glazed carrots and other seasonal vegetables; salads; fresh fruits;biscuits;dry cake (which meant unfrosted cake, like the pound cake recipe from the Delightful Repast at the bottom of this post); cheeses; short-bread cookies; pies; ice-cream; and trifles. One must not forget that during this period cockscombs and testicles were considered delicacies, and that bone marrow was routinely added to pies for richness. (Fancy Tripe or Trotters for Supper?)

Kitty and Lydia tippling, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

Drinks of tea, coffee, lemonade, white wine claret, and red wine (sweet madeira wine was especially popular) were served. Regency cups were filled with punch, negus (wine mixed with hot water, lemon and nougat); orgeat (made with a sweet syrup of orange and almonds); or ratafia (a sweet cordial flavored with fruit or almonds). Port was reserved for gentlemen, though I am not sure that they were allowed to imbibe this liquor in front of the ladies.

A footman holds a tray of drinks, Netherfield Ball, P&P 2005

A private midnight supper at Netherfield was a more splendid affair than the suppers served up at the weekly Wednesday night balls at Almack’s. These subcription dances coincided with the three months of the London social season. Alcohol was not served to discourage drunkenness among gentlemen, who were known to imbibe several bottles of wine per day, and only an assortment of thinly sliced stale bread (which was a day old), dry cakes, lemonade and tea were provided. Simpler balls given by hosts who were not as rich as Mr. Bingley  might offer a little bit of hot supper consisting of six dishes, including salad, dessert, and fruit, and coffee, tea, lemonade and wine.

Trifle, The Delightful Repast

The links to the two recipes in this post were created expressly for us by Jean at The Delightful Repast. The pound cake (dry cake) recipe is one that even I am able to attempt with some success, and Jean’s solution of serving trifle in individual dessert dishes is sheer genius.

The last to leave the Netherfield Ball. Kitty and Lydia sleeping off their drinking. P&P 2005

The Food Timeline shows when meals were served during the Georgian and Regency periods, and how the hours changed.

  • 1780: Breakfast 10AM; Dinner 3-5PM, Tea 7PM, Supper 10-11PM
  • 1815: Breakfast 10AM (leisurely), 9AM (less leisurely), 8AM (working people); Luncheon Midday; Dinner 3-5PM; Supper 10-11PM
  • 1835: Breakfast, before 9AM; Luncheon (ladies only) Midday; Dinner 6-8PM; Supper depending upon the timing and substantiality of dinner

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Rowlandson illustration from Wikipedia

‘What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing, after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.’

‘Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world; every savage can dance.’

Sir William only smiled. ‘Your friend performs delightfully,’ he continued, after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; ‘and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy.’

‘You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir.’

‘Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight.
– Conversation between Sir William Lucas and Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter VI.

Dances figure prominently in Jane Austen’s novels. Whether performed in public assembly rooms in Meryton or in private at the Netherfield Ball, dances offered social opportunities for young people to mix and mingle and converse in an acceptable fashion. In an era when a young lady of good breeding was strictly chaperoned and escorted everywhere she went, she would find it difficult during a routine day to meet privately with a single gentleman, even one who was courting her. Indeed, such conduct was strictly forbidden (and the reason why Marianne Dashwood’s behavior with Willoughby was considered shockingly forward). The ballroom, however, afforded a social situation in which a couple could arrange to be together for one or two sets. Since a dance would often last for half an hour, the dancers had ample time to converse, flirt, and even touch one another in an accepted manner.

A gentleman would, of course, never ask a young lady to dance unless he was first introduced to her. This is one of the reasons why Henry Tilney made sure to arrange a formal introduction to Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen through the Master of Ceremonies.

During this era people were often judged for their ability to dance skillfully, and a gentleman was pressured to cut a fine figure on the dance floor. In his advice to his son about manners and deportment, Lord Chesterfield wrote: “Now to acquire a graceful air, you must attend to your dancing; no one can either sit, stand or walk well, unless he dances well. And in learning to dance, be particularly attentive to the motion of your arms for a stiffness in the wrist will make any man look awkward. If a man walks well, presents himself well in company, wears his hat well, moves his head properly, and his arms gracefully, it is almost all that is necessary.”

It is notable that Mr.Collins movements are awkward, and that his conduct on the dance floor mortifies Lizzy: “The first two dances, however, brought a return of distress; they were dances of mortification. Mr Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstasy.” (Pride and Prejudice) Mr. Collins’ ineptness as a dancer would have been immediately understood by the contemporary reader to mean that he was not a polished gentleman. To compound his lack of manners, he boldly walks up to Mr. Darcy to introduce himself.

Young ladies and gentlemen practiced their dancing steps, belying Mr. Darcy’s assertion that “every savage can dance.” Professional dancing masters were employed to ensure that a young lady and gentleman learned the steps to a variety of intricate dance movements. Such instruction also helped a young gentleman to keep his bearing upright. Lord Chesterfield wrote his son, who was taking The Grand Tour, “Remember to take the best dancing-master at Berlin, more to teach you to sit, stand, and walk gracefully, than to dance finely. The Graces, the Graces; remember the Graces! Adieu!” Learning the steps was easier said than done, since “between 1730-1830 over twenty-seven thousand country dances with their tunes were published in England alone.” Thankfully, the Master of Ceremonies would choose only a certain number of dances to be performed for the evening, most likely consisting of the most fashionable dances of that particular year.* (Thompson, The Felicities of Rapid Motion)

The most important lady present would open the ball by dancing the first set, as Elizabeth Elliot did as the eldest daughter. Emma Woodhouse would have also been given the honors. Mr. Darcy’s rank and friendship with Mr. Bingley most likely put his position at the top of the line of dancers. Thus, when he asks Elizabeth to dance at the Netherfield Ball they would figure prominently in the line of dancers. The other couples in a country dance set would follow the lead of the top couple, and progressively work their way down the line. Sets of five to eight couples were popular during this period, with partners standing opposite each other as the other couples completed a sequence of movements

Standing and facing each other in line, therefore, was typical for couples engaged in a country dance. However, they were expected to make some conversation as they waited for the next movement. A gentleman, if he applied himself, could skillfully lead the conversation and put a young lady at ease, or pretend to be interested in any topic she brought up. Mr. Darcy chose to remain silent.

They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. — I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well. — That reply will do for the present. — Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. — But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.” – Pride & Prejudice, Volume 1, Chapter 18

In a public assembly, where people paid a fee to attend, people from various walks of life would come in contact with one another. “Aristocrats would interact with gentry, tradespeople, or even servants who were called in to make up a set if there were not enough couples…” (Sullivan, p 168). Mr. Darcy chose to dance only with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley at the public assembly rooms in Meryton, thereby displeasing a wide variety of people, particularly Mrs. Bennet, who was vocal about her displeasure, for there was a scarcity of gentlemen and Lizzy had been forced to sit out two dances. For her part, once a lady refused a gentleman, she was honor bound to pass on other invitations to dance for the rest of the evening.

Private balls became more popular towards the end of the century, when many grand houses began to boast their own ballrooms. At private affairs, the host and hostess could invite the ‘right’ sort of people. These balls were not only more selective, but they provided music played by more professional musicians, and offered delicious and elaborate refreshments as well.

Illustration from The English Folk Dance and Song Society

Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is the music featured at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice 1995 (You can listen to it by clicking on the YouTube video above). The piece was written by Johan Playford in 1695, and published in Playford’s Dancing Master, a country dance guidebook. Maggot in those days meant “favorite,” and the term probably was used in conjunction with a favorite dance. “Today there are two modern versions of the dance – one published by Pat Shaw and one by Cecil Sharp. Shaw’s version of Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is generally accepted to be the most authentic since it follows the AAB structure of the music, and Playford clearly states that the second, or B, line of music should be ‘played but once’.”

Links and Resources:

Festival Ball Tickets for September 27, 2008 are now on sale at The Jane Austen Centre, Bath. Tickets this year are £65. To purchase tickets and for further information on the ball and dance workshop taking place in the afternoon of the ball, contact Farthingales or call 44 (0)1225 471919

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