At the 2015 AGM of the Jane Austen Society of North America, held last week in Louisville, Kentucky, Victoria and colleague Susan Forgue presented a program on “London High Society in Austen’s Novels.”
We discussed the multiplicity of reasons people in Jane Austen’s works travel to London, many to partake of the Season’s pleasures and responsibilities, not the least of these being the “Marriage Mart.” Only one of Austen’s characters was described as being part of a Royal Court function, when Sir William Lucas was knighted for his speech to the King while Mayor of Meryton. As you will recall from Pride and Prejudice, Sir William suggested to Mr. Darcy that they would probably meet someday at the Palace, to Darcy’s evident disdain.
Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, was presented to Queen Charlotte at a Royal Drawing Room in St. James’s Palace in 1787, and she also attended Almack’s that night, under the sponsorship of none other than the high stickler lady patroness, Mrs. Drummond-Burrell. Eliza later married Jane Austen’s brother, Henry.
Austen did not specify that any of her characters attended the exclusive balls at Almack’s Assembly Rooms, presided over by a self-selected group of lady patronesses. However, Susan and Victoria view themselves as thoroughly qualified to choose the lady patronesses of Almack’s and as such, we invited our audience to accept or reject the applications of several Austen characters.
And who made the select list, you might inquire?
Sue Forgue created the vouchers with their red seals and each participant received one or two, for Mrs. Darcy and/or one with a blank in which she could insert her own name! Sue did a brilliant job.
Being unable in the turmoil of the closing moments to decide on Mary Crawford’s application, we distributed ballots and asked people to vote.