Victoria here, admitting to a complete lack of grace on the dance floor. Though I once loved dancing and took lessons as a kid, I am now nothing but a klutz, so I would rather watch than particpate when the orchestra tunes up — at all the elegant balls I attend. Not!
However, that does not prevent me from enjoying others dancing — even in the form of this delightful volume, A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters went to the Ball by Susannah Fullerton.
A Dance with Jane Austen by Susannah Fullerton was published in October 2012, with a foreword by Deirdre LeFaye, by Frances Lincoln Limited, $24.95.
Two hundred years ago, local assemblies and balls were popular with the gentry, as were folk dances in the countryside. Jane Austen herself loved to dance and in her letters to her sister Cassandra often told about her encounters at various parties. Susannah Fullerton has turned her attention to this happy form of expression – after her previous book, which certainly surveys a darker side of life. Her Crime in Jane Austen is an excellent source for students of JA’s work as well as for the casual reader.
According to Fullerton, “Dances in the Regency era were almost the only opportunity young men and women had to be on their own without a chaperone right next to them, and dancing provided the exciting chance of physical touch.” Fullerton’s favorite dance scene “is the Crown Inn ball in Emma…when Emma first starts to view Mr. Knightley as an attractive male, rather than as an old friend and family connection…it thrills me every time.”
Fullerton analyzes each dancing scene in Austen’s novels, including her unfinished The Watsons which has an extensive scene set at a dance. In each case, she summarizes the scene and explains its role in the development of relationships among the characters and its role in the plot. Many of the novels have several dancing scenes, from country house parties to county assemblies to large private balls. Dancing offered the young lady a place to exhibit her charm, her fine person and her grace, or it offered an opportunity to be slighted, to be only a wallflower, or to choose the wrong partner, whether it meant having toes crushed or a blot upon one’s reputation by allowing the attentions of a rake. Jane Austen’s characters have experience of all forms of delight as well as disappointment.
In addition, Fullerton tells us about that most exclusive subscription dance series at Almack’s, the height of social achievement in London. She describes the role of the Bath master of ceremonies, such as Beau Nash and his successor Mr. King. Other sidelights tell us of the music and musicians, ball attire, and typical suppers at a ball.
Susannah Fullerton is president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. In addition to her writing and speaking engagements, she has led literary tours in her home country, in Britain, and in the U.S.