Friday, August 3, 2018

The Ball

From The British Library:
In reality, Austen loved balls, which were the most exciting events in provincial life. In her novels, she uses them brilliantly for their combination of propriety and passion. In Pride and Prejudice, the mutual attraction of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy is established through their behaviour towards each other at a succession of balls. They approach and retreat, tease and repel each other, as in an elaborate dance. At the assembly ball (where anyone who pays for a ticket can take part) Mr Darcy fancies himself above it all. With extraordinary rudeness, he lets Elizabeth overhear his description of her as ‘tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me’ (ch. 3). He later tastes his own medicine when he offers himself as Elizabeth’s dance partner at the Lucases and is turned down. Finally, at the Netherfield ball (a grand occasion, entry by invitation only), he suddenly asks for ‘her hand’ and ‘without knowing what she did’ she accepts (ch. 18). ‘Without knowing what she did’ because at the ball Austen shows us Elizabeth’s unconscious interest in Mr Darcy.

Codes of behaviour were exacting. At the Netherfield ball Elizabeth must dance with Mr Collins because if a woman turns down one request for a dance she must turn down all others. Say no to Mr Collins and you must stand out for the whole evening. Elizabeth’s first two dances (the maximum you were allowed with the same partner) are therefore ‘dances of mortification’. Mr Collins, ‘often moving wrong without being aware of it’, gives her ‘all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give’ (ch. 18). He, of course, thinks that he has done brilliantly, the dance being a preparation for his proposal of marriage the next day. (Read more.)
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