This one is a definite fun and frivolous documentary. It is also a history meets reality TV documentary. It is also a History Meets English documentary. Today I will introduce to you Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball.
Over 200 years ago, Pride and Prejudice was published. It was one of Jane Austen’s most beloved novels. To appreciate and understand the novels in the world Jane Austen lived in, a group will perform an experiment. They will recreate a regency ball. What would have really happened at the ball? This is a way to help understand what Jane Austen was trying to say. This group will recreate the sites and sound of the ball and will reveal the hierarchies involved in the Regency Era.
The setting for the ball is the home of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen and for one night a regency ball will be thrown. The participants will eat the food Austen would have enjoyed. Dressed in the way Austen would have dressed and listened to the music from the Austen family music book.
Elizabeth Bennett is a nobody who is wooed by Mr. Darcy a wealthy owner. Their love story takes place at a ball. The experts came together to recreate the regency ball. No detail is too small to look at. This helps fill in the details of what Austen would have experienced in a real regency ball. Jane Austen recreated her world in the novel. She provides a critique on the world around, a world that the modern mind finds challenging to understand.
Pride and Prejudice kick off with the arrival of Bingley. Bingley brought his friend Mr. Darcy and, in their world, they were young men looking for young women who could bear them sons. However, contact with the opposite sex was strictly controlled, except on the floors of the ballroom. Dancing provided the ritual of courtship. The first ball of the book was held in the assembly rooms which would have been a more public event, where anyone could come. The Netherfield ball was a more private thus a more exclusive event. In a public ball, a lady could dance with anyone. The Netherfield ball however was very different because only the higher classes were invited to those balls.
Dancing was central to the ball. The dancers would have been very well trained in dancing, something that would not have crossed the modern mind. A dancing master would have given Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters a few dancing lessons. Dancing was central to the courtship of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. In the novel, Mr. Lucas commented that the pair were well matched because of how well they danced together. If you refused a dance that meant you were not dancing at all that night.
Not only did Austen write about the world of dancing, and she also wrote about the clothing of this world. Clothing dictated people’s social class. In the countryside, the women would have made or altered their own clothes. The cut of your cloth indicated who you were in society. Darcy would have been dressed in more expensive fabrics and his clothing was tailored to his specifications. Clothes were expensive, so they were altered over the years and passed down to a younger family member.
The conditions of a regency ball will be recreated at Edward Austen’s house. Edward Austen was Jane Austen’s brother and he had money. He had a grand house called Chawton House and this house had a ballroom. Mr. Bingley would have had a similar ballroom in his house at Netherfield and he would have lit his room with thousands of candles and mirrors to reflect the light. The ball would have been a place where conspicuous consumption could be displayed. The candles alone would have been expensive, which would have caused Mr. Bennett fits.
What can this recreation tell us about Jane Austen’s world? How can a recreation give us additional insight into Pride and Prejudice? Watch the rest of this episode to find out more about a regency ball and the world of Jane Austen.
This would be a good episode to show in an English literature class to help students understand Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.
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