At first I wasn’t entirely convinced by the need for this book. It seemed to be jumping on the Austen band wagon. A bit like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, having read it I am convinced it belongs in the library of all Austen fans.
It is split into 12 chapters ordered in the same sequence as a ball. That is, learning to dance, dressing for the ball, getting to and from a ball, etc.
The chapters are then further divided into a section on the novels, a section on Austen’s personal experience and some interesting historical detail.
For example, did you know James Austen improved his dancing as a method of securing a second wife or that gloves were always worn?
What Ms Fullerton does particularly well is to analyse the dance scenes in the novels.
For example, describing the assembly ball in Northanger Abbey
In fact, Jane Austen describes the crowd as a ‘mob’, requiring Catherine and her chaperone Mrs Allen to make their way through all its possible dangers (such risks as damaged finery and dresses ‘torn asunder’) with ‘necessary caution’ and ‘continued exertion of strength and ingenuity’. The rooms are so packed that Catherine cannot even get a proper view of them to search out handsome young men as potential partners. All she can see are the high feathers on the tops of ladies’ heads. The two women have to squeeze out for tea, get wearied by ‘being continually pressed by’ people and, worst of all, she finds no partner. She goes to a ball and she does not dance a single dance! The event is presented by Jane Austen with light irony as a form of ‘imprisonment’ and near-torture. Just as Gothic heroines in the fiction Catherine loves to read are locked away and ill-treated in dungeons, so Catherine is trapped and pressed by this assembly ball crowd.
This book is beautifully presented and the illustrations are lovely.
More reviews …