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Author: Susannah Fullerton
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd.
The centrality of the role of the ball to Regency society is highlighted by the well-known Janeian researcher, Deidre le Faye, in her foreword to this guide to such assemblies, as presented in all of Jane Austen’s six novels, and as experienced in her own life, and recounted in her letters to her sister, Cassandra. In addition, Fullerton has, according to le Faye, “studied all mentions of dances in the novels to show how they advance the plot as well as adding to the skilful betrayal of the nature and motives of some of the characters in the tale.”
Not only, in fact, does Fullerton describe the significance of such occasions, which enabled young people of the time to meet together on their best behavior and in their finest dress in an extravagant form of courting ritual, as Austen herself wrote about them, but also how such grandiloquent events have been portrayed in the filmed versions of Austen’s work (to which Fullerton devotes an entire chapter). One aspect of this work that I did find rather scanty was the two-page index, which I felt could have been more fleshed out with the names of the characters involved, especially as their attitude towards dance, and all that it entailed (including mannerisms and dress), is so revelatory to their own development in the novels. How the protagonists choose to comport, and disport, themselves, within the strict confines of the rules of etiquette holding sway over such gatherings reflects the way in which they relate to the outside world. The author, consequently, pays great attention to discussing what the rules of the day were, and shows how woe betide anyone who flaunted them—such was taken as a lack of breeding, and as a very poor show of character!
Fullerton, as the president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, has plainly gone to considerable lengths to explore the minutiae of leading aspects of the ball (including transport arrangements and culinary feasting), within the context of Regency society. The multiple illustrations are colorful and represent the various aspects of such assemblies with great vividness and alacrity. For young people especially, many of whom are required to study at least one of Austen’s novels at school and college, A Dance with Jane Austen should provide both an instructive, and an enjoyable, glimpse into the world of the Regency period.
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