Following on from my recent Heyer-fest, I have just been enjoying Pride and Prejudice – How to Host a Ball which was shown on BBC4 the other day. Various historians and so on have set out to recreate the Netherfield Ball to find out what light it casts on the book, with specific reference to things that would have been obvious to Austen’s original readers but need some explaining to us today. There were some interesting points – film and TV adaptations, for example, tend to put everybody in the height of Regency fashion, but of course there would have been a much greater range of clothing on display. Not everybody had the means or the interest to be rigged up to the nines, and given that all clothes were bespoke, they gave an even greater insight into people’s tastes than our off-the-peg things today. A fashion historian even went so far as to create a dress based on an 18th century model and then altered several times to reflect changing tastes. The idea being that this might be something worn by the Bennett sisters, handed down in the family and adapted for each present owner. And of course looked down on by the Bingley girls…
It was also interesting to see the food and the way all the dishes were served at once in the à la française style – rather like a large sit-down buffet, but with footmen serving and half the dishes cold! If you want to know what ragout of veal actually looked like, or what a flummery is, this is the programme for you.
Then there was the dancing, which was surprisingly physical given that it looks so decorous. It showed how much of an asset it was to be a good dancer, perhaps especially for the men, and also that the constant changing of partners would give you a good chance to check out all the talent on offer – take that in any sense you like!
I’m not entirely convinced that it was quite as essential to understanding P&P as the presenters fondly imagine, but that goes with the territory. It wouldn’t make good TV to say, “hey we’ve gone to all this trouble for no particular reason”, after all. Still, it was fun and worth a watch. If you didn’t see it, get thee to iPlayer before it disappears.
- Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball at Chawton House (janeaustensworld.wordpress.com)
- Pride and Prejudice: Dancing with Mr Darcy (telegraph.co.uk)
- Strictly ballroom (guardian.co.uk)
- Party like it’s 1813 (bbc.co.uk)