Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BBC Recreates the Netherfield Ball

To celebrate the bicentennial of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, BBC decided to recreate one of the pivotal moments in the book, the Netherfield ball. The ball, held by Mr. Bingley, becomes the venue for our Lizzy Bennet's many embarrassments and misunderstandings.

Every savage can dance. Source: BBC News
The hour and a half Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball documentary with Amanda Vickery and Alastair Sooke is a wonderfully detailed recreation of the food, fashions, manners and dances of the Regency. While a lot of this is not ground breaking material,  for anyone who wants a crash-course in Regency fine living or looking to understand the nuances of Jane Austen's writing, this program is the perfect place to start.    

The food at a 1813 ball would have been highly ornate and grand. But to our modern sensibilities it would have also looked slightly disgusting. My favorite weird food was the whole chicken with legs and head, beak and all, still in place and a jello with about six little crayfish inside.

Whole chicken was quite a delicacy. Source: BBC News 
Regency fashion, unlike our contemporary duds, was not mass produced. Most dresses were made at home or with the help of a seamstress. That would have meant that at a ball one would see a much broader range of fabrics, patterns, flounces and styles than one could possibly find at any modern party. The individual style of the wearer would be that much more visible. And so good or bad taste would be that much more important.

All  dressed up and ready to party. Source: BBC News

Fun fact about candles during the time is that they were sold by length. There were four hour or six hour candles. So just by looking at the candles the guests would know how long the party was going to last. The rich could afford beeswax candles that gave off more light, while the poor had to be content with tallow candles that were made of animal fat and smelled foul.

Beeswax candles - a real status symbol. Source: BBC News
Balls in period films often look like stately affairs, with lots of slow, pristine gliding around the rooms. But most English country dances actually involved a lot of complicated steps and quite a bit of jumping and prancing that would leave even modern professional dancers slightly out of breath. What's more, some dances were so complicated that special paper fans were available with little cheat-sheets on the back, that showed the music and the steps that one had to follow.

Are they feeling warm or trying to memorize dance steps? Source: BBC News 
You can watch the the whole documentary here. Or visit the BBC website for more fun facts and mini-documentaries.

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