Last Friday BBC2 broadcast Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball which was an authentic recreation of The Netherfield Ball one of the key scenes in the book. I had planned to blog about how excited I was about watching this show as indeed were many other Janeites across the Internet however my blog was sadly neglected last week as other things took precedence, including reaching the 15k point in my novel but more about that later.
However I am kind of glad I didn't blog about my excitement because I'm sorry to report that I was rather disappointed. I was delighted to learn about the food of the regency era it was an interesting aspect of the show as food historian and chef Ivan Day had the stressful job of preparing a feast of regency, soups, fish, jellies and puddings which in authentic regency style were all placed on the table at once and the guests simply helped themselves. However the food seemed to take second place to the rather patronising tones of the two presenters.
The male presenter Alistair Sooke was someone I'd never encountered on TV before and I watch a lot of historical documentaries, a Google search reveals him to be an art historian so I fail to see the connection to Jane Austen. The female presenter Amanda Vickery is an expert on regency history and I have enjoyed watching her in previous programmes but I felt her presenting style here was a little high handed as though regency customs might be alien to the viewers, this seems a silly presumption because who else but an ardent Austen fan would watch a recreation of the Netherfield Ball on a Friday night. She also seemed more interested in discussing the frocks and frills which were no doubt a major part of any young person's preparations for a ball but the least interesting to me.
There was also a lot of focus on the dancing, which given that it was ball was fair enough but firstly all of the dancers were professionals, so that's cheating because the balls in Austen's books would have had a mixture of age groups, ranks and abilities. Also we were never introduced to any of the dancers even though several of them spoke on screen about their experiences and they appeared to be acting the part of regency belles and beaus but we didn't see them receive any coaching in manners or etiquette. In fact the strict codes of class and rank were hardly mentioned other than a few sentences uttered by the presenters/onlookers as they like Mrs Bennett watched the dancers from the side-lines. The other major problem with this programme was that Jane and her characters were conspicuous by their absence as the dancers were never introduced either as actors or characters I struggled to work out who they were meant to be. Which of them was Darcy? Who was Elizabeth and if they weren't there then why not? It all seemed a little impersonal. Yes it was a recreation of a regency ball but it was not the Netherfield Ball and that was rather a let-down.
I have also been marking the 200th birthday of one of my favourite books and back in March I attended a Jane Austen write-a-rama at the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire. This was the brainchild of writer and Jane Austen fan Sarah Webb. The workshop was for mothers and daughters, a brilliant idea which I haven't encountered before, of course Sarah made it clear that the participants could equally be Aunt and Niece or Godmother and Godchild or some other combination of adult and child but both had to be interested in Jane Austen and in writing. Sarah is an accomplished writer for adults and children and has organised many workshops and events in the past. I have had the pleasure of meeting her on a number of occasions and in fact when I was working as a Children's Bookseller for Eason O'Connell Street Sarah was the Children's Buyer and Marketing Manager so she was essentially my boss.
All who attended the workshop seemed to be Jane Austen fans and many of the girls made no secret of the fact that they were Sarah Webb fans with a couple of them announcing a desire to become writers when they grow up, me too I thought. The workshop was a great mixture of fashion; Sarah came in costume, weird jewellery; she brought along authentic 19th Century mourning bracelets made from the hair of some of her dead ancestors and writing; Sarah read passages aloud from Austen's books and brainstormed a story idea with the group. We also got a glimpse into the Austen mania with chat about the many books, films and merchandise related to Austen that is now available and we even found time to watch the memorable scene from the 1995 BBC production where Darcy emerges from the lake at Pemberley dripping wet so I imagine another generation of Colin Firth fans have been created. A morning well spent I thought.
I have also been marking the anniversary by re-reading the novel with my bookclub. I treated myself to a lovely new Vintage edition and reading a host of other books about Austen.
Pictured above are my new copy of Pride and Prejudice and my lovely Penguin edition of Sense and Sensilbility, May, Lou & Cass Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland by Sophia Hillan, Jane Austen the World of her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen by Marghanita Laski, A Truth Universally Acknowledged 33 reasons Why We Can't Stop Reading Jane Austen ed by Susannah Carson and the lovely new book by Paula Byrne The Real Jane Austen.