Guest post: Susannah Fullerton on her A Dance with Jane Austen and book giveaway!

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!

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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.

image: Republic of Pemberley

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!

image: Brock illus Mansfield Park, Mollands

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.”

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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!

image: theloiterer.org

Oh I agree – I love this scene! Thank you so much Susannah for sharing your love of Jane Austen and dance with us!

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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
ISBN-13: 978-0711232457

Upcoming book: (Feb. 2013)

US edition title and cover

UK edition title and cover

31 thoughts on “Guest post: Susannah Fullerton on her A Dance with Jane Austen and book giveaway!

  1. The front cover of A Dance with Jane Austen is beautiful and for that alone I would like to own it. My question to Ms Fullerton is do you choose all the pictures and illustrations in this book including the cover? How long did it take to complete this undertaking (from conception to final draft)?

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  2. I would love to read this book! I have often felt my lack of understanding of dances and dancing of the period has caused me to miss some of the nuances of the JA stories. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention!

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  3. The dance scenes in any Jane Austen movie are among my favorite. Lovely to looks at & wonderful to read too.

    What a beautiful book for my little ‘ library’.

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  4. Luthien84 asked about the selection of illustrations for my book.
    I had to supply the book designer with a great range of illustrations – from books, the web, film versions etc. The designer then decided which to use and my next job was to organise good quality images and copyright permissions. I must admit I found it terribly hard – it can be very difficult to find out who owns the copyright for a particular picture, and then you have to try and contact them. It is also a very expensive process, as you often have to pay a considerable amount for copyright permission, especially if it comes from a film version. I must admit I’ll never look at an illustrated book in the same way again. Once I’d done all that I then had to start all over again with the illustrations for ‘Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’, which also had truly gorgeous illustrations.
    After all that, I decided I’d rather write ten books than have to find pictures for another one! However, when I finally held the book in my hands I was so delighted with the appearance of it that it made all the hard work worthwhile. I do hope my readers enjoy all the beautiful pictures!

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    • Thank you for answering my question, Susannah. Such a long and tedious process it must have been to contact each of the copyright owners and then pay them royalties for using their pictures. Kudos to you for your hard work.

      I would definitely buy this book and your upcoming book if I don’t win it.

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  5. This looks like a wonderful book! How often would Jane Austen have gone to a ball or to the assemblies? Dancing seems so socially important. I wonder whether the assemblies were a long looked-for event, or was she able to go fairly frequently?

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  6. Oh, golly, would I love to receive this book! I would read it cover to cover. I had to miss this year’s AGM due to my son’s wedding the following weekend but my heart was there.

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  7. Very interesting post about this subject and all the aspects connected with it. The book seems to be a great source of information and a pleasure to read and enjoy. Yes, I definitely want to read it!

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  8. I think this would be a fascinating book to read. It is on my TBR list on Good reads. Even though the dance scenes are small in comparison to the novels so much happens during a dance or because of a dance.

    I bet you were thrilled when you noticed all the nuances of the dances Austen wrote of when writing your book. Has this led to research any other details of her writing?

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  9. I would love to read this book! I’m always looking for books that will help me, as a 21st century reader, better understand the context of Austen’s works. I’d like to know more about the etiquette surrounding who opened a dance, who had precedence, and who was allowed to dance with whom. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

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  10. Questions: Did they take a supper break at the ball? Did the musicians get a break, too, or did the music continue straight through? And if they did not take a formal supper break, would refreshment have been buffet style?

    I am so excited about this book. I am surprised to learn that Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is not authentic because we dance it every year at the Jane Austen Ball in Los Angeles! Thank you! Marguerite

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  11. Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot dates back over a century from Jane Austen’s adulthood. That’s why it wouldn’t have been danced in the fashionable assemblies of the day. It’s typical of tv & movie productions to not be 100% historically accurate when this dance or any other detail would work better for filming.

    Yes there would be a supper at the ball and yes, the musicians would get a break from playing. It would be a social no-no not to have a formal supper break at a private ball. At assemblies, the refreshments would be tea but still not a buffet. People would want to sit down after all that dancing.

    Congratulations Susannah on publishing another book. I enjoyed meeting you at the AGM, reading your previous book on crime & very much look forward to Santa bringing this one on dance.

    Sue

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  12. Dear Sue and Susannah, thank you! When you say guests would sit down for a supper break, do you mean at round tables or long tables in another room such as a dining room? Or would tables be set up at one end of the ballroom? Or would chairs be placed along the edges of the ballroom?

    What would they serve at supper break? Cold meats? Hot food too? Thank you! So fascinating! Best, Marguerite

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  13. Hi Marguerite,

    I don’t want to hijack this thead with explanations when this thread should be about praise for Susannah.

    You can find a lot of the answers to your questions on my website, The Regency Encylopedia, http://www.reg-ency.com. User ID JAScholar, Pw: Academia (both are case sensitive)

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  14. I attended the AGM in Brooklyn, and my only regret was that I didn’t get to Susannah’s “Dirty Dancing in Jane Austen’s Ballroom” session.

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  15. I love Susannah’s writing, and I have long been a great admirer of her awe-inspiring range of abilities. That is why I cast her as “my Marianne”! I must and shall own this book, but they ran out of them at the AGM, and I haven’t got mine yet. I just won a fabulous biography of Keats on the Dovegreyreader blog, and my mother-in-law’s electricity got restored in NYC today, so let’s make it good luck comes in threes. Please enter me to win Susannah’s book!

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  16. One of my favorite scenes in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice is when the girls are getting ready for the Netherfield ball! The balls are some of the best part of the novels too. Balls are definitely a big part of reading Jane Austen!

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