The AGM in Brooklyn brought many pleasures, and one of the most pleasurable was meeting and talking with Susannah Fullerton. I have long been an admirer – she is the President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and a quick perusal of their website shows the extent of what she and her organization do, from annual meetings to conferences and the JASA publications Sensibilities and The JASA Chronicle. Susannah also leads a number of literary tours for ASA Cultural Tours [Australians Studying Abroad], and lectures on Austen around the world. And I must add that she was perfectly cast as the close-to-hysterical Marianne in the “Austen Assizes” script by Diana Birchall and Syrie James staged in Brooklyn!
Susannah has written many articles and a few books, one on which remains an all-time favorite, Jane Austen and Crime (Jones Books, 2004), wherein Ms. Fullerton gives us the real world that Jane Austen alludes to in all her works, the realities of such pieces in the narrative as Willoughby as serial seducer, Lydia’s “elopement,” and even the gypsies in Emma. In her newest work, A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters went to the Ball (London: Frances Lincoln, 2012), Fullerton offers up the same detailed analysis of what Austen so off-handedly tells us, most of which we don’t quite “get” as 21st-century readers – the dressing for the dance, getting to the Ball, the various types of balls, proper etiquette, the music, the conversation, the Men! – all of it to enhance our understanding of Austen’s time and therefore her stories…
I have asked Susannah to join us today to tell us a little about her book, and her publisher has generously offered a copy for a giveaway – please see the information below on entering to win!
SF: Some years ago I was having dinner with Joan Strasbaugh of Jones Books, the publishing firm which had brought out the American edition of my book Jane Austen and Crime, when Joan suggested that a book that really needed to be written was a book about Jane Austen and Dance. I was taken aback for a moment! Surely, with dances playing such a vital role in Jane Austen’s fiction, that subject had already been covered. But when I stopped to think, I realised it had not. Many Austen scholars have written about her dance scenes as part of other works, but there was no one book devoted entirely to that subject, a book that explored the social etiquette of the ballroom, the vital role dance played in courtship, the suppers served and the music played. Would I be interested, Joan asked, because if so, she could recommend the project to Frances Lincoln UK Ltd. And so I started writing.
What I wanted to do, I decided, was to follow Jane Austen’s characters to a ball. Had I been Jane or Elizabeth Bennet, what would the whole process of going to a dance have involved? How did a heroine get to a ball in the first place if her family had no carriage (the case for Emma Watson), how did she dress for the occasion, what rules governed her behaviour while there, and what differences did she find between assembly balls and private balls? When she stood up with a young man, what were the possibilities for flirtation and courtship, and how does Jane Austen show this happening with Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, Emma and Mr Knightley, Catherine and Henry, Marianne and Willoughby, when they are dancing with each other? Poor Fanny Price suffers the day after the Mansfield ball when she has no suitable confidante with whom to talk it all over, but for luckier young ladies often the ‘post-ball discussion’ was almost as much fun as the event itself.
Jane Austen loved to put on her satin slippers and go off to dance. In my book I wanted to provide information about the balls she attended, from the Basingstoke assemblies of her youth when she danced happily with neighbours and family friends, to the later balls where she chaperoned nieces and preferred to sit by the fire with a glass of wine rather than dance. She too enjoyed courtship in a ballroom when she danced with Tom Lefroy; she too knew the excitement of being asked by the right man, and the challenges of avoiding the wrong one.
As I wrote my book I discovered patterns in Jane Austen’s use of dances in her fiction. Several of the novels have one informal dance and one more formal one, and she uses each to progress her themes, characterisation and relationships. In some novels what happens is romantic, as is the case when Darcy and Elizabeth are partners and you can almost see the sparks between them, but in Mansfield Park everyone always seems to be dancing with the wrong person and balls in that novel illustrate selfishness, not romance. Jane Austen makes a great deal happen at a ball!
A Dance with Jane Austen is beautifully illustrated with contemporary pictures or illustrations from the novels. I include a brief chapter about dances in the film versions, but decided not to make this extensive because so often film-makers get it wrong and put in a dance, such as Mr Beveridge’s Maggot, which Jane Austen would not have danced. However, there are some lovely pictures from some of the movies that I chose to include.
For the past 17 years I have served as President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. In that time I have lectured extensively about Jane Austen and her works, and have seen the joy that her books give to readers around the world. I hope that my book will increase the enjoyment of those readers by taking them into the ballrooms to discover that there is “nothing like dancing after all.”
JAIV: One question I would ask Susannah is ‘What is your favorite dance scene in a Jane Austen novel and why?’
SF: My favorite dance scene is the Crown Inn ball in Emma. This is the evening when Emma first starts to view Mr. Knightley as an attractive male, rather than as an old friend and family connection. She watches his “erect” figure move about the room, sees him rescue Harriet Smith from the embarrassment of being rejected as a dance partner, prods him into asking her to dance with him, and can hardly take her eyes off him all night! Jane Austen achieves so much in all her dance scenes – she gives a sense of a full community of living people, progresses courtships, reveals character and shows faults and foibles – but this scene is particularly rich. The moment when Emma reminds Mr. Knightley that they are “not really so much brother and sister as to make (dancing together) at all improper” and he replies “Brother and sister! No, indeed!” is one of the most erotic moments in all of Jane Austen’s fiction. It thrills me every time!
Oh I agree – I love this scene! Thank you so much Susannah for sharing your love of Jane Austen and dance with us!
Gentle Readers! please ask any question you might have for Susannah Fullerton or post a comment here and you will be entered into the random drawing for a copy of A Dance with Jane Austen. Please do so by 11:59 pm, Sunday November 4th, 2012. Winner will be announced on Monday Nov. 5th – Worldwide eligibility!
For a review of the book, please visit:
About the author:
Susannah Fullerton is President of JASA, and author of Jane Austen – Antipodean Views, Jane Austen and Crime and the forthcoming Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece (due out Jan. 2013) – note that the UK title of this work is Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
A Dance with Jane Austen
Frances Lincoln, October 2012
Upcoming book: (Feb. 2013)