the BBC recreated the ball that was held in the novel at Netherfield, in an attempt to better understand the world and society of Jane Austen. The ball was recreated at Chawton House, one of the homes of Jane Austen's brother Edward Austen and a house she knew well. (BBC IPlayer link here.)
Watching it was fascinating. To begin with, the ball was a private one, by invitation only. Public balls during the Regency were public assembly balls, where everyone could come and therefore possibly more vulgar than the quality could wish for. Private balls were more exclusive.
A private ball was a sign of status and rank. After the dancers put on their dancing shoes and lined up to start, the guests of highest rank were closest to the orchestra. Costumes were hand-made, bespoke, and the cut, fabric, fitting and details would reveal class. The way the ball was lit with expensive beeswax candles, fine mirrors reflecting their light, showed status. The food served in the dinning room was expensive, with white soup being a popular choice and game seen as a symbol of the aristocracy. When everyone was seated at the dinner table, people helped themselves and each other, so this was a chance to show off fine or not-so-good manners.
Whether public or private, the ball was a chance to shine. For young women it was a rare opportunity to flirt, to see and be seen. A girl could show off her talents in sewing by hand-making her gown and her skill in dancing and music through dances such as the cotillion. The Regency's stress on accomplishments for young ladies might seem a little irrelevant to us, but at the time these were practical skills. In an age before supermarkets and chainstores, clothes were often made or remade at home. Sewing was therefore important. Reading, dancing, singing and making music were all useful social skills in a time before the movies, radio or television. Reading was also important in the management of the household.
For young men, too, a ball could be a vital meeting place. In the Regency, a young man wanted above all to pass on his estate. He wanted to secure a good marriage for himself in order to produce heirs. So the dancing and the clothes were designed to show off male virility. A young lady might be able to have a cheat-sheet at a ball by using a fan with the dance steps printed on it. A young man had to know the steps.
Not surprisingly both sexes had dancing masters.
Balls were also pure fun for the participants. The dances - such as the Savage Dance and the Boulanger - were saucy, with lots of chances for touching and looking. The supper was always eagerly anticipated. The Roman Punch and other drinks served at breaks through the ball made everyone rather giddy.
A Regency ball was a place of romance and for romance.
Writers! Does your historical romance have a Regency ball in it? Is it a Regency or Georgian romance? If so, please feel free to give details of such stories in the comments section of this blog.
If you like historical romance outside the Regency - medievals, ancient world, Western, Japanese, whatever you choose - come over to my other blog and share your favourites there.
[Illustration from Wikimedia Commons.]