Even now, if I was forced to choose, I still would struggle. Mr Darcy or Mr Knightly? I mean really… that’s a tough one.*
One thing I’ve always known though is that Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors (I’ve read everything several times) and that the world she lived in and recreated for us is a fascinating one.
If you can ignore the poverty of the lower classes, the difficult political times, open warfare with France and the lack of antibiotics, electricity and adequate bathing facilities, it is a joyous one to inhabit.
And what better way to inhabit it than to attend the Jane Austen Festival which takes place annually in one of the cities most associated with her: Bath.
A solid week of costumed activities including afternoon teas, balls, promenades, open air theatre and talks from writers and actors takes place in September but one of the most popular events, and one that myself and a friend were lucky enough to attend, is the Annual Summer Ball.
On one of the hottest days of the year we attended a dance workshop in the afternoon before the ball in order to learn the basics of some of the dances and we were glad we did. They are pretty complicated but the dance mistress and the live string group were wonderfully patient with us.
When it came to doing it for real everyone really got into character. Even walking up to speak to someone involved a demure curtsey first.
The heat didn’t abate and we were glad of our fans as we entered the stunning 18th century Guildhall Banqueting Room. Both having usefully Austenian Christian names we were announced by the Major Domo as Miss Emma Woodhouse and Lady Susan, presumably having met in one of her unwritten sequels and deciding to hit the town together.
You can imagine my inner-Lizzie’s delight walking into that room and seeing everyone so committed to recreating that world; some of the most wonderful costumes and accessories in such a wonderful room, the ideal setting to see fluttering fans and swirling skirts in their natural habitat.
In acknowledgement of the 30°C heat, the gentlemen were permitted to remove their jackets, though one brave red-coat managed a whole night of dancing in his full regalia looking most frightfully dashing.
We danced every dance with abandon and, gaining confidence, added some swagger and flair and felt every inch the grand Regency ladies.
I was able to borrow some accessories and it took me some considerable time, pins and backcombing to manage enough of an up-do to secure a gorgeous pearl headdress and some ostrich feathers, through my front ringlets were soon drooping in the heat.
Our gowns were hired from Complete Costumes who were super helpful and everything was exactly as we had hoped for, evening including matching shawls and reticules.
After a delicious late supper and a few more turns around the ballroom, we strolled back to our lovely Air BnB through the quiet dark streets of Bath just after midnight.
As we watched the silhouettes of our two Regency ladies projected against the Georgian townhouses we couldn’t help but wonder… if someone turned into the street just now to see us disappearing into the darkness… might they think they’d seen ghosts?
We should have been attending the Summer Ball again this year but sadly the events have been cancelled for obvious reasons. Fingers crossed we can get our gavotte on next year!!
*Has to be Knightly. Much less of a knobhead.