I thought that today I would provide one of the articles I have written for English Historical Fiction Authors. And should you happen to click on the link you can see another of my many musings that is published there. (February 24th 2012)
Waltzing during the English Regency? Preposterous!
One of the challenges that I have encountered as a writer is that history and what is happening around the characters be mostly true to what we know of the past. When I first read Regency Romances and saw inaccuracies, I wanted to fault the writer for what they should have known. Now that I am a writer I recognize that we bend the truth on occasion. Did Wellington really meet our heroine? Was Prinny an intimate of our Lord? But as a dance teacher of many of the dances of the period, nothing irks me more then to see our protagonist out for a spin on the dance floor before the waltz was accepted.
Our principals in uncovering whether this could be done our Thomas Wilson, dance master and author of the period, Tsar Alexander, ruler of all the Russias, and the Countess Dorothea von Lieven-a patroness of Almacks. The time period that this spans is 1813 to 1816, so recounting waltzing in England before then is verboten. Other writers might take exception to this. Waltzing was done on the Continent before 1812. Not as we know it now. The man’s hands were in completely different locations. The tempo of the music also was different, so the footwork is not the turning box step that we have today. Or even the floating circle that Victorian waltz was.
Waltzing on the Continent, in the midst of a war, where movement between society was very limited at the time, most likely would remain on the Continent. Many Romances set in the period of the Regency often turn a blind eye to the war and the effects of the war that went on for nearly 25 years. An entire generation lived at that time, and most books think of this as an after thought. It is clear that the war, and Liberated France had an effect on England. We look at the Regency as the years of 1811 to 1820 when Prince George served as Regent for his father, but culturally we can relate this as the end of the Georgian Era, say from the 1790s (the fall of Bourbon power in France) to the mid 1830s (William IV and Victoria.)
When I was first exposed to the issue, it was through verbal history that we have no waltzing in English Society until the visit of Tsar Alexander to Almacks. As a historian one knows that primary sources are best, and verbal history from 1814, just is very hard to verify at this time. (How old would someone have to be to have been at Almacks to have witnessed the event, 212 years old now?) But primary sources are also hard to track down, and sometimes if a thing is known by all to be true, then is it not true?
In all probability waltzing was known by some, the man’s right hand raised above, his left lowered in between he and his partner, not his left hand clutching the lady behind her back to bring her close to his chest. That of course is great for a romantic regency novel, and one where your hero and heroine can talk ever so intimately on the dance floor. But should the waltzing of the period been known by a few the Patronesses of Almacks had deemed it socially unacceptable.
Now trying to put in context what that means today. To do something deemed socially unacceptable would be like dining nude in public as if you were a minority in San Francisco (It was recently in the news.) Once you have done it, you find that your circle of friends shrinks a great deal. (It also seems a little unhygienic. The dining in San Francisco thing.) So back to Regency London, if you are at Almacks, well the musicians are not going to play any music for you to have a chance to do so. Their playlist is already set by the Patronesses.
If you have your own ball, and it is found that you had done this scandalous dance, (Men holding the hands of their partners throughout, absurd) then would you get vouchers to permit you back to Almacks, where all of society mingles? Not likely. You might be regarded as part of the fast set, those who are talked of in ondits all the time. And of course the waltz needs two to dance. So were you to do so, you also have to corrupt a partner to the dark side also.
Those of us who have learned to waltz, or who teach it, also know that doing so is not something that you snap your fingers and it is mastered. It takes time. So again, how do we allow that a country that does not want to have this dance done by its leaders of society see heroes and heroines in our novels know how to do it before it was taught?
Countess Lieven was a patroness of Almacks, in england as wife of the Russian Ambassador from 1812 to 1834, we see she was a beauty, and notorious for having several liaisons with many statesmen of europe. She became a Patroness of Almacks sometime around 1814. In 1826, she became the Princess Lieven. She was quite instrumental as a go between when Tsar Alexander slipped into England with his sister, Grand Duchess Catherine. The English adored the Russians much more then they liked their own royalty and this caused no few problems for the allies. (Russia and England were allied at the time against France.) The Countess smoothed matters and Prinny (George IV) became indebted to her.
It is possible that the Countess first taught the waltz, but as the verbal history goes, the Tsar came to Almacks, where there was a ball in the Assembly rooms for Society (having a voucher to Almacks so you could see and be seen was the difference in being part of the Ton, the ten thousand elite of England, and the elite of the Ton.)
It is more likely to my mind that the waltz for its intimacy, even though there was more separation between dancers then, then now, was not danced until the Tsar asked it to be played so that he could dance it.
One can see how perhaps the Countess may have showed off the waltz, but it was not yet accepted or allowed to be danced. She was not yet a Patroness of Almacks, she was the wife of an ambassador, she was not English. But in 1814 when she serves to intercede between the Tsar and Prinny, she rises in stature. Then she would have the presence in society to be a leader. She would be able to keep alive a cultural phenomena her sovereign introduced.
What is my last clue to how things play out, is how does one teach the waltz? Unlike country dance, where we have documentation going back over 150 years at the time to Playford and his The English Dancing Master, we don’t have an english text on the waltz until Thomas Wilson writes A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing, the Truly Fashionable Species of Dancing, in 1816. Wilson presents a dance as described before, different then we are familiar with now, a five step movement.
Are these clues, and pieces of historical fact enough to give us the definitive first day that one can cite that waltzing is allowable in England? Perhaps.
Perhaps it is enough when we take into account the society of the times. We know the attitude of the period, and we have documentation showing us when others could learn how to do the dance. This research affirmed for me what the verbal history had shown and given me a predilection to. Waltzing before the Tsar visits London, never! But after, well if it is good enough for an Emperor, how can anyone question it being good enough for the Ton.
Elizabeth Aldrich From the Ballroom to Hell, 1991
As mentioned last time, I was interviewed at J.A. Beard’s Unnecessary Musings. I have been interviewed a few times these last months. Here is the post of that interview for your entertainment as promised. Though please click on the hyperlink and have a visit at JA’s site.
Dancing, Ghosts, and Jane Austen: An interview with author David Wilkin
Today I’m talking with David Wilkin, an author who normally specializes in Regency period novels. For this latest work, he satirically takes on the Jane Austen/monster mash-up trend in JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS.
1) Tell us about your book.
JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS is a story about the making of the classic works of Jane into a movie with the twist that has recently come these last few years of including everything Jane with some type of monster. The novel is set in the here and now at a movie studio. Jane, being deceased, now falls into a category that we could include with zombies and vampires, werewolves and other monsters that Hollywood has done to death, so to speak. Jane now would be a ghost.
And were Jane a ghost, from the other side, she in my interpretation would not like at all what so many have done to her stories. Thus a haunting by Jane who most assuredly has been rolling over in her grave seems in order.
2) What inspired this book?
I actually have a cousin at the studios whose job is much like my protagonist, Ellis Abbot. Elizabeth, I mean Ellis Abbot is a finder for the studio. He looks for works that would make a great movie, and when he sees PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND Z*****s it was only natural for him to think that this would make a great camp movie. I played with that idea in my mind and what my cousin does, but I thought Jane would hate to see these movies made. She would probably hate to see these books having been written. (Though I never read one until I had finished the first draft of JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS, I was then very much surprised that the first seemed a graft onto Jane’s writing.)
Playing with the idea that Jane had rolled over in that grave in Winchester Cathedral (I visited her grave in 2007 and also looked for the God Begot House then as well which my cousin Arnold once ran a store out of just a few feet away) I thought what other Ghosts might accompany Jane to set things to right. What could come of that, and then how to link my knowledge of Hollywood (I worked at Dick Clark Productions when younger and taped every single American Bandstand there ever was) to that of Jane Austen.
3) For over two hundred years, people have been reworking Jane Austen. Besides simply mild setting time shifts, we’ve had modern updates, such as EMMA being reworked as CLUELESS and more extreme cultural transformations such as the Aishwarya Rai-lead Bollywood take on Austen, BRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Why do the works of an English woman who wrote so long ago about a fairly narrow socio-economic range of characters still appeal to so many people all over the world today?
I think that we have a love story in this and it is a little complicated. Thank you, Wickham, Lydia and Georgiana. That love story is a key to why we return to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as perhaps the favorite of the tales. (I have to admit to liking PERSUASION at this time of life more.) The characters and the stereotypes we find in the work are all well detailed and where some parts of Jane’s writing would be far from considered a great novel today, her ability to spin a good story endures.
I look at the Regency Romances I delve into, including COLONEL FITZWILLIAM’S CORRESPONDENCE, my Jane sequel, as a dance with the beginning our seeing the Hero and Heroine. Then one or the other takes a fancy to the other, but that can not be returned. Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl, and of course Boy loses Girl. The next part is critical, Boy endeavors to get Girl back. Wentworth shows up in Bath and crosses paths with Anne, or Darcy after Elizabeth is found at Pemberly goes to London to make things right between Lydia and Wickham. Our Heroes must then do something heroic to show their love. In Jane Austen and Ghosts, Ellis has to do something to show his affection has something behind it as well.
4) Despite the various direct updates and the re-imaginings, it’s only in recent years that it’s become popular to try and fuse Jane Austen’s work directly with rather discordant elements such as zombies or sea monsters. Do you feel this nothing but a gimmick, or does it imply something deeper about our interface with Austen’s work?
I have to think that the mashups of the Austen stories with Monsters are gimmicks. Not a deep exploration of the theme of Love and love in a society where arranged marriages were normal. I can not speak to having read the first of the monster mash-ups beyond the Assembly Ball scene. With that book showing so much in the way of using Jane’s own writing and not original from the author, I think that highlights that it is riding on Jane’s work. Kudos to the author for a creative idea, but perhaps more kudos if the story had been completely written by the author and not grafted onto Jane’s writing.
For JANE AUSTEN AND GHOSTS, I hope those who read it find that I have been very creative in telling a light hearted romp that plays up Hollywood, Jane, B-Movie actors, and Hollywood legends, and the books that are in this recent trend. I think that the tale will bring a smile to the face of Janeites and others who read it.
5) What is the most common thing you feel people misunderstand about Jane Austen’s work?
I think that Jane is not the be all and end all of what the Regency period was about. Jane’s work gives us a great glimpse of country life for the edges of the Ton, where she was firmly ensconced. But so many Regencies talk of Dukes and Earls and with Jane we do not see that lifestyle at all. We have to look elsewhere to glimpse it and even when we look at someone like Darcy, or the Elliots, we do not see the members of the first stare.
6) You became interested in the Regency by studying period dance and teaching it. My own dance knowledge is fairly limited compared to yours, but I’ve noticed more than a few times, for instance, a film tossing the waltz in before it’d been introduced to England. Do you feel film and television adaptations of Regency, Georgian England, and Austen works tend to get the dance right, completely wrong, or something in-between?
They get dance wrong. Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot is one of our favorite dances, and the one done in the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P where they dance together. Choreographers of the period had to redo the steps that were on film because so many had done what they had done on screen and it was wrong. (The real version is better IMO) There is a lovely piece choreographed in Paltrow’s Emma, again beautiful on the screen but wrong. Or in the Olivier/Garson P&P, the Assembly Ball is filled with dances that come after the period.
There are plenty of great dances for the period, but the movies are just not correct. And waltzing is just out. Jane Austen died in 1817 and waltzing, as I wrote in an article at http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/ in an article on waltz in the period, would have been about 3 years done. It would seem a stretch for Jane to have learned it, decided to have her characters master it, and then be able to dance it in such a short period of time.
7) Which do you prefer: contra dancing or the waltz?
I like them both. I had been known a few decades ago, to dance 4 nights a week, several of that contra dancing. (Great exercise, lost lots of pounds) But for wooing and it is Valentine’s Day, nothing beats the waltz, and after a couple years of waltzing, I was able to be proud of my waltzing. A sought after partner here in Southern California at the local balls we have.
8) You’ve written several works set directly in the Regency. Can you briefly describe those for us?
I have 3 Regencies currently available. COLONEL FITZWILLIAM’S CORRESPONDENCE, THE SHATTERED MIRROR and THE END OF THE WORLD. I consider all three a little different. The first of course is a continuation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. We look at the war through the Colonel’s eyes, and we look at society through Kitty’s. As the Colonel is away in Portugal and Spain, letters are sent back and forth and we catch up what is happening with our favorite characters as life moves on. That this lasted sometime, we have developments in all the lives of the characters continuing even as our heroes in this story become united, and parted, in their own ways. And of course we can not forget Lady Catherine. She is present as well (Though my interpretation is more that of Edna May Oliver)
In THE SHATTERED MIRROR, I deal with the effects of the war on our hero, and how a man wounded in the war, as so many were, might think that there can never be love again for him. As a Regency, we know that somewhere along the way there will be love, so our Heroine is young and vivacious and wanting to find love with a real hero of the war. Not realizing that our wounded hero might very well be that man.
Last I have THE END OF THE WORLD, where our heroine does not expect to find love being in the shadow of her sister. Here my hero also is not looking to fall in love as he runs from his own demons only to find the girl and her family beset by neighbors and those who once were friends.
Jane Austen and Ghosts
The Kindle version has been out since last week. It is also available now at Barnes and Noble for your Nook, or at Smashwords. The iTunes edition should be available in the next few days and the proof copy of the trade paperwork is on its way so it will be available physically in print as well in a short while
New this week is the availability on the iBookstore for your iPad, and in Trade Paperback. I uploaded all of that yesterday and though it may take a few days to become available, you will have access to this by the end of the weekend, I am sure. The Trade Paperback is now available for $8.99 US and of course available in other currencies for other countries based on that US price. Digital versions across all platforms are $4.99.
A brief synopsis of the story:
In the world of moviemaking, nothing is as golden as rebooting a classic tale that has made fortunes every time before when it has been adapted for the silver screen. Certainly any work by Jane Austen made into a movie will not only be bankable, but also considered a work of art.
That is of course until the current wave of adaptations that unite her classic stories with all the elements of the afterlife is attempted to be created.That these have found success in the marketplace amongst book lovers may not be quite understood by those who make movies. But that they are a success is understood and a reason to make them into movies.
All that being said, perhaps it would also be fair to say that the very proper Jane, were she present to have anything to say about it, would not be pleased. Of course she has been away from this Earth for nearly 200 hundred years. But does that mean were she upset enough, she wouldn’t come back?
Ellis Abbot found stories for tinseltown to make into movies. His most recent find were the batch of stories set in the regency world of Jane Austen. Jane Austen and Monsters.
Meeting with the various authors of those works, it did not seem that Ellis could get one coherent plot of script out of any of them. At least not until he got help from the best source of all.