For those who have seen a ballroom dance scene in a Jane Austen movie adaptation, or witnessed a group of ladies and gentlemen dressed in Regency finery engaged in a country dance, you know the awe and energy that it generates can be quite thrilling. Then imagine what it would be like in Jane Austen’s day and you have a good notion what to expect in Susannah Fullerton’s new book A Dance with Jane Austen. Everything from frocks, carriages, music, dancing and flirting, and so much more are included in this tidy volume. Ready your fans ladies and take a stiff bracer of brandy gentlemen; we have entered the ballroom.
Did you know that Austen featured dance scenes in all six of her major novels and that Pride and Prejudice has no less than three? (The Meryton Assembly, an impromptu dance at Lucas Lodge, and the private ball at Netherfield Park.) Our heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters meet, spark, fuel, or flee from romance illustrating how dance was not only the pinnacle of social activity – but key to attracting a mate. Yes. I may be pointing my inelegant finger, but there it is. Balls and dances where the primary stage to attract the opposite sex and snag a partner. Jane Austen knew this fact very well and used it to her advantage in each of her novels. Here is a foreshadowing of its importance from the Bennet household:
The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to every female of the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it as given in compliment to her eldest daughter, and was particularly flattered by receiving the invitation from Mr. Bingley himself, instead of a ceremonious card. Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of their brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of everything in Mr. Darcy’s looks and behaviour. The happiness anticipated by Catherine and Lydia depended less on any single event, or any particular person; for though they each, like Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham, he was by no means the only partner who could satisfy them, and a ball was, at any rate, a ball. And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it. – Pride and Prejudice chapter 17
Written in a lively and accessible manner Fullerton delves into the subject with the energy of a fluttering fan cooling an overheated dancer. As an Austen enthusiast, and president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, her knowledge and authority take us on a journey from learning to dance, dressing for a ball, types of balls, transportation, music, food, etiquette, conversation and even a short bit about the movie adaptations. It is primarily a cultural reference, but she liberally uses quotes from her novels, letters and family recollections throughout making it very personal and incisive.
Aimed at those who crave more knowledge of the cultural history of the Georgian era and insights into Jane Austen’s novels, A Dance with Jane Austen is inspiring, discerning and richly crafted. The illustrations add to each topic, but are sadly not credited, so the reader does not know who created them or when. However, there is a partial list of image credits, a plump bibliography, and short index to assist the reader with the paper trail.
It was a pleasure to dance with Jane Austen and her characters. I now have a better understanding of the importance of social position and wealth in marrying the right partner and how instrumental balls and dances were in attaining them.
4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters Went to the Ball, by Susannah Fullerton
Frances Lincoln, Limited (2012)
Hardcover (144) pages
© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose