Today’s guest post is by Celeste Sargent who is an artist by nature, a scientist by nurture and a teacher by profession. This is the first in a series of posts about Regency Balls.
I am not a “Janeite”
I am not a “Janeite” or at least, I have not been. Janeitism is defined as
“the self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm for ‘Jane’ [Austen] and every detail relative to her”.
Like many, I first read Pride and Prejudice as a teenager and I literally couldn’t put it down. The story goes that on a school trip in Alberta I was so absorbed in the book that I missed the rest stop and, when we were stopped by a train crossing, had to use a snowy field. Since then, I’ll admit that I’ve read all of her books many (many) times. My personal favourite is Mansfield Park. But my enjoyment of her books has rarely led to interest in derivatives. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? No Thanks. A trip to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath? Yikes. When Miss Bingley tries to pigeon hole Elizabeth as “a great reader” who “has no pleasure in anything else.” Elizabeth protests, saying:
“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure, … I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”
Like Elizabeth, I object strongly to being labelled. But, as it happens the many things that give me pleasure include history, drama, classical music, singing and dancing. So it recently occurred to me that it would be a lot of fun to hold a Regency Era house concert and ball, which was a key feature in all of Jane Austen’s novels. Thus, 20 years after my first exposure, I find myself afflicted with a severe case of late-onset Janeitism.
The Spirit of the Age
I am a Baha’i and Jane Austen died in the same year that Baha’u’llah (the Founder of the Baha’i Faith) was born (1817). The approaching 200th anniversary of these two events seems like a good enough reason to hold a ball but is there also a connection between these two individuals? English Literature (and Western thought) changed dramatically in the early 19th century from Romanticism to Realism (also called “Victorian” Literature”). Indeed, all of humanity was changing dramatically at that time. Theologians believe that the coming of a Manifestation of God on earth releases spiritual forces that transform humanity.
“the Holy Manifestations of God are the centres of the light of reality…When the Holy Manifestation of God, Who is the sun of the world [shines] then the spiritual spring and new life appear, the power of the wonderful springtime becomes visible, and marvelous benefits are apparent. As you have observed, at the time of the appearance of each Manifestation of God extraordinary progress has occurred in the world of minds, thoughts and spirits.”
Often miss-identified as romance novels, Jane Austen’s work is actually an early example of realism. Is it possible that Jane Austen felt the gentle influence related to the re-birth of religion? Certainly Jane was influenced by her sincere Christian faith and she was in tune with the emerging zeitgeist, whatever your belief about it’s cause may be. Her understanding of human nature and clear-sighted moral reasoning seem ahead of her time and her writing continues to appeal to modern sensibilities. It therefore seems, if not apropos, then at least not inappropriate, to celebrate Ayyam-i-Ha this year by holding a Regency Ball.
Having a Ball
In order to recreate a house concert and ball as it would have occurred in 1817 England, I had to do a good deal of research, the fruits of which labour I share with you here (Chloë has very kindly allowed me to temporarily hijack her blog) in the 1817 Regency Ball Blog Series:
- Having a (Regency) Ball
- Ladies and Gentlemen, Regency Fashion!
- Easy P’easy Regency: From bed to ball gown in 30 minutes or less
- ‘Mary, play a reel! Nobody wants your concertos’: Regency Music and Dance
I am hoping that with a strict treatment of blogging, dressing up, dancing and reading fan fiction I can get over this late-onset case of Janeitism quickly. My friend, Melanie Kerr, who I recently discovered has chronic Janeitism, has written a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice titled “Follies Past”, which I look forward to reading as my very first fan fiction.
Disclaimer: This blog series and event is an independent, individual initiative, not associated with any institution or organization. It does not represent the Baha’i Faith or the Baha’i Community of Vancouver.