S&S Saturday– Leaving Norland

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It’s not until Chapter Six that the Dashwood ladies leave Norland, their home of about ten years, and make their way in the world without the benefit of a husband and father. In terms of story structuring, this is the inciting moment. The women leave and nothing will ever be the same again. Every story needs such a moment.

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This is a little later than most modern-day writers structure their stories. In the first five chapters of Sense and Sensibility, we meet the two protagonists, their mother, younger sister, half-brother, and sister-in-law. Oh, and Elinor falls in love. That’s not a small thing or anything.

However, it is not the loss of their father that makes the girls lose their innocence. Neither is it Elinor falling in love. No, it is this permanent estrangement from the home which symbolizes the last time they were happy, content, and care-free. Every thought must be different now and not because their father is dead or they’re in love. I don’t mean to say these things didn’t affect them–how could they not? I only mean to point out that it is the severing from this relationship to a house that is the turning point.

It’s worth noting that the move to Barton Park comes through Mrs. Dashwood’s family. They are now to be like sojourners in a land where Dashwood means nothing. For the very first sentence we read is that the Dashwoods had long been settled in Sussex and they are now to live in Essex. In a world where having the right name could open doors for you, it means something that these women have no protector in truth and their name offers none in his stead. This should shame John Dashwood more than anything.

While all the departing women felt the loss of Norland, it is Marianne who displays her emotions the most clearly.

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“Dear, dear Norland!” said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; “when shall I cease to regret you!—when learn to feel a home elsewhere!—Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence, perhaps, I may view you no more!—And you, ye well-known trees!—but you will continue the same. No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!—No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!—But who will remain to enjoy you?”

In addition to being the inciting moment, this passage shows very clearly Marianne’s issue. She is not crying that she will miss memories of family. She is not saying she will miss the comforts of a large house and all the securities and luxuries that went with it. She is not complaining about the difficulty in going so far or expressing anxiety or fear of the unknown. No, she will miss trees! She knows she ought to miss Norland and its grounds are worthy of praise but somewhere along the way has gotten it in her head that it is merely the leaves and branches she will miss. All the while she congratulates herself on openly displaying her emotions and ardently feeling them at some spiritual plane in which Elinor cannot comprehend.

Let me translate that for you. She is faking it. The sorts of things she is trying to espouse were popular in the era. Jane Austen wrote on the cusp of the Romantic Era (characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.) William Wordsworth might have written about wandering as lonely as a cloud or rejoicing at a field of daffodils but I do not think he missed all genuine human emotion at the loss of connection with people in preference to nature.

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Trust me, I’ve moved a lot. I’ve hardly ever missed a house or a tree as much as I missed the people or memories in the house. Now, I’m aware as anybody that some people just feel different than others. The irony, however, is that Marianne holds herself as an authority on feelings. If others don’t feel as she does they must be heartless. Keep telling yourself that, Mar. Does it make sense to ask others to feel about trees the way you do? Does it not make more sense that they would miss their father, their home for ten years, good memories? Something tangible about human interaction?

Now, I don’t hate Marianne. I am merely pointing out what her fatal flaw is. It is as though she takes a page from Mr. Darcy’s book. She was given good principles–the Romantic works are not wrong in and of themselves. She borrows from Emma–better to be without wits than to misapply them! Like Catherine Morland, she has allowed literature to over-influence her. It gets even worse under the direction of Willoughby much like Catherine’s understand suffers at the hand of Isabella.

Why all this focus on Marianne at the story’s inciting moment? Well, Elinor doesn’t really evolve as a character. She moves just an inch or two but it is Marianne that has the real transformation. Elinor’s romantic conflict is presented earlier in the story and seems to resolve last but it is Marianne who is in real danger of become a victim to sensationalism. In future posts, I will delve more into the story structure but if you know the story, I bet you can guess what each highlight from the three-act structure above is.

Tuesday Trivia–Northanger Abbey

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Halloween is in just a few days, so it seems fitting to make this Tuesday Trivia about the book in which Jane Austen satirized gothic novels. Let me know if you knew any of the factoids below about Northanger Abbey!

Northanger Abbey was published posthumously in 1817 in a two-volume set with Persuasion.

It was completed for publication in 1803, making it her first work that she attempted to publish.

Jane Austen was 28 when this work was originally completed.

It was originally titled Susan.

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Although purchased for publication, it was never printed until after her death.

The publisher resold the book to Austen’s brother, Henry, in 1816 for the same price it was originally sold.

Austen made changes in 1816-1817, including renaming the heroine.

The working title during this time was Catherine.

The 1817 set with Persuasion was the first time any of her works bore Jane Austen’s name.


I had previously read and remembered these tidbits but I had forgotten that it was the first work bearing Jane Austen’s name. Was any of this new information to you?

Theme Thursday– Opening lines

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I bet you know a few of Jane Austen’s opening lines. Critics will tell you the first sentence of a novel is crucial, even in a world where readers are browsing in the book stores and picking up books at random less and less. Today’s online buyer will typically select the genre and category before they start browsing. Then the cover and the blurb will entice. Some buy without reading a sample, but many others do. Experts say that the purpose of the first sentence is to convince a reader to read the second and then the third and so on.

I would argue that reading the first sentence is important to begin the emotional journey the reader has with the characters. In the 21st century, characters is what sells a book, not the setting or theme.

How does Jane Austen hold up to that demand?

Sense and Sensibility: The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.


Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.


Mansfield Park: About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.


Emma: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.


Persuasion: Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.


Northanger Abbey: No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.


Lady Susan: MY DEAR BROTHER,—I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted of spending some weeks with you at Churchhill, and, therefore, if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with.

Well, if you can see that very few of Austen’s books begin with anything that connects to a character, let alone the protagonist, what is the purpose of her opening lines?

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Sense and Sensibility rapidly opens with the death of the patriarch and the history of wills which leaves the females in such dire straits. We know they will soon have to leave Norland–unless their brother asks them to stay. Elinor then meets and falls in love with Edward and there’s a shred of hope that the distress of losing their father will lead to an unexpected blessing. The real turning point in the story happens when they leave Norland. There’s no going back. Life is going to be nothing like it was before. In this case, the opening sentence sets up the old world and lets us know that it is likely to forever change. Austen suggests the conflict of the story (how do Elinor and Marianne make their way in the world once they are no longer privileged and sheltered at Norland?) from the very beginning.

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Again, in Pride and Prejudice, we get the crux of the conflict immediately. Whoever thinks any wealthy unmarried man must be interested in marriage is full of both pride and prejudice. Suggesting it is a universal truth tells us that our characters will be working in a world where this is the basic assumption. We can only expect that any sensible character we would bother liking would reject such a ludicrous idea. However, what will be the ramifications for rejecting such a societal truth? In the end, the interesting fact is that while Elizabeth Bennet wasn’t exactly husband hunting, did she ever consider that a man might be tired of the game? Did Mr. Darcy ever consider that not every lady was playing it as well? Both of them claim to reject the “truth” presented at the beginning and yet they unintentionally prove it.

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Mansfield Park gets trickier. Is there a conflict introduced in the first line? No. Is a character introduced? Yes, but she ends up being no one of consequence to the story. In fact, she’s arguably the character with the least impact. The thought of that never ceases to delight me. What is Jane Austen attempting to tell the reader with this beginning sentence? One, it was unlikely that this Maria Ward would obtain the status she did. Very few people live as an island. No, they have relations. These lower relations are now thrust into a baronet’s orbit. We must read the second sentence to gain more information.

She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage.

Ah. Yes, the relations we previously guessed at are sisters. Sisters that are just as beautiful as the first. Did they marry well? If they did not what was it about Maria Ward that gave her advantage? What became of these sisters? We are told this whole thing happened about thirty years ago so what does all of this mean about the present? It is not exactly a gripping opening but does the job in making the reader ask questions and need to read to find the answers.

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Jane Austen has famously claimed in a letter that no one will like Emma Woodhouse as a heroine except herself. Here we do meet a character. However, we are told she has nothing to vex her. She seems to have every blessing in life. Let us recall that the typical heroine of the era was more like Fanny Price–innocent but at a disadvantage in some way. The Dashwood sisters and Elizabeth Bennet both suffered financially compared to those that would judge and demean them. Now, we have a woman with every reason for joy and contentment. We can expect she will either have all of that taken away or should be a paragon of virtue with an endlessly charitable heart so we won’t hate her. However, that’s not the Emma Woodhouse we get. Instead, we are told in the fifth sentence that Emma has real evils. She gets her own way and thinks well of herself. The reader can see these are unlikable traits and the added description of pretending as though they are great flaws prejudices the reader even more, in my opinion. What will make the reader continue? Curiosity and a desire for the lady to get her just desserts? Kind hopefulness that even a rich lady can learn to have a more charitable view of the world? We are told what to think about Emma…and yet we are not so certain. The uncertainty impels us to continue. This fits all the more as some literary critics consider Emma the precursor to a mystery novel. The central question in that framework is “Who can Emma marry?” whereas the opening sentence makes us wonder “Who is Emma really?” People are always more than the sum of their appearances to others.

vlcsnap-00067.pngIn Persuasion, we meet Sir Walter Elliot and how well he thinks of his family legacy. Personally, reading the sarcasm about the baronetage hooked me as a reader. I love a book that begins by poking fun of someone or something. I dearly love a laugh! As the chapter continues, we learn that Sir Walter’s family lacks a crucial thing: an heir of his body. We also learn the youngest daughter has married but the two elder ones have not. We then learn that the family is in debt and will need to leave this ancestral home and pride of place. While we do not understand what the conflict of the story is yet, we know the cause of it is this misplaced pride. Ah, but the family is going through a change. Surely they will amend their views and whatever it has cost the heroine will be reversed! Do you see where Austen sneaks in the fact that it won’t be as simple as that? Cleverly, by exposing Sir Walter as so ridiculous in caring about his position in the world, Austen tells the reader that merely reversing the family’s position will not fix the problem for any sensible person doesn’t care about that. It won’t be enough for someone to see that the heroine’s family must no longer have their pride–even if they were capable of letting it go–for that was not the root of the problem on the other side. She slyly tells us there is a dual conflict. Once we get to know Captain Wentworth, it’s easy to see how that’s the case.

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I would not be the first to point out that the traditional heroine of a gothic novel looks more like Eleanor Tilney than Catherine Morland. Austen laughingly points this out right away. Well, if Catherine is not the traditional heroine then who is she? Like Emma, we are introduced to the heroine right away and told what to think about her. It is no wonder that Austen’s working title for this story was Susan and then Catherine. Unlike Emma, we are given a sympathetic view of Catherine. We can’t help but want her to do well in life, even if she doesn’t so desperately deserve it as other heroines do. I think in this way, Northanger Abbey fits as the most modern story. Today’s books quickly introduce the protagonist and convinces us why we should care about him or her. As the story continues, we can see how Mr. Tilney has what Catherine lacks in life and how she can lift his spirits and encourage his sense of humor while preventing him from falling into cynicism.

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Lady Susan‘s opening line immediately exposes her selfish and manipulative way. The reader instantly wonders how this family will survive her visit and what this woman will continue to attempt to gain from it.

I have postulated that present-day readers prefer to learn about one of the protagonists . Experts have claimed that the opening line makes the reader continue reading. In some cases, Austen’s lines expose the conflict (S&S, P&P, P). In others, she introduces a character (Emma, NA, P, LS). Another possibility is exposing the setting or theme of the book (S&S, P, LS). Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s least popular book and by examining the opening line, we might see why. Although it compels the reader to continue to make sense of the importance of the first line it does not introduce a character we can have an emotional reaction to. It does not present a conflict or theme. It’s worth noting that many critics think Mansfield Park is Austen’s greatest work but I would argue that it is also her most subtle. The indifferent beginning continues throughout the work and the true meaning of Austen’s themes, the conflict, the very reason why Fanny is the heroine and not one of her cousins or Mary Crawford all remain mostly hidden in the same way someone may miss the importance of the book’s opening line.

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In conclusion, opening lines are pretty crucial for a book. However, a book may be well-written without having a strong opening–if that serves the author’s intent. I like to think that Jane Austen was not surprised when fewer people enjoyed MP than they did her other works. I imagine she knew not many people would see all her deeper meanings and she wanted them to remain hidden as she opened the story in such a way. On the other hand, to become a popular book, you must have a memorable opening. Critics may think Mansfield Park is the superior story but more readers will know Pride and Prejudice‘s opening line.

Wacky Wednesday–Scott’s Grotto

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I was watching the 2009 production of Emma the other day when I realized Pride and Prejudice is the only Jane Austen story in which the primary male and female characters do not go on an excursion together. Of course, in each scenario there are annoying people amongst them. It made me wonder what it would be like for the Bennets and the Bingley group to go on an outing together. Could you imagine Caroline having to sit in a carriage with Lydia for hours?

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Thus I began researching to find a suitable place in Hertfordshire to send our beloved Pride and Prejudice characters. However, I also wanted to post about it for today’s theme. I knew it had to be “wacky.” After a few hours, I found Scott’s Grotto in Ware. It’s about 4 miles from Hertford, which I tend to use as my base for Meryton. I’ve read somewhere, now lost to my memory, that it’s a possible inspiration for Meryton.

 

Scott’s Grotto is not just any grotto. And for those that don’t know, a grotto is a cave. Think Ariel’s grotto from the Little Mermaid. I am a bit biased on the topic of grottoes as I grew up in a town called Grottoes and, if I may say, we have the best caverns in the US. If you ever find yourself in Virginia, be sure to stop by Grand Caverns.

Back to Scott’s Grotto. It’s the largest in England. Built into the chalk hillside, it has six chambers and is 65 feet long and 30 feet below the surface. There are connecting passages and the area is complete with air and light shafts. Its walls are covered with sea shells, colored glass, and stones. It was made by John Scott, an 18th century Quaker who also wrote poetry and owned the property of Amwell House in which the grotto is located. Scott also had other romantic items in his garden, including a gazebo. From 1779 to 1787, Scott recorded 3,000 visitors to his grotto. Famed writer Samuel Johnson visited in 1773 and called it a “fairy hall.”

Upon Scott’s death in 1783, the estate was inherited by his only daughter, Maria. She married a wealthy Quaker named John Hooper. Unfortunately, when she died in 1863 the property was divided up. The grotto was repaired in 1990s. Both the house and the estate are under management of the Hertford Regional College.

So…how will I work this grotto into a story? You’ll just have to come back and see! 😀

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott%27s_Grotto

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000918

http://www.scotts-grotto.org/

Tilney Tuesday–Austen’s best conversationalist

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If you’re a reader of Jane Austen’s works, then you might notice a trend for the most talkative gentleman to be the villain of the story. Let us consider the books. In Sense and Sensibility, the man who enters into lively conversation is Mr. Willoughby. Wickham fills the role in Pride and Prejudice. Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park has superior powers of conversation–if Mary’s constant critique of Edmund’s scolding is any indication. While Frank Churchill is not truly a villain, he’s not the hero and Mr. Elton is downright slimey for all his ability at small talk. William Elliot has a conversation with Anne in Persuasion about what makes the best company and he ranks conversational abilities at the top of the list.

Honestly, it’s a let down. Can’t a girl have a decent conversation and he NOT be the jerk of a century?

Enter Henry Tilney.

What makes him so appealing is that he mocks those moments of small talk but still understands the rules of society. He pays homage to them without telling you how a poem has moved his soul or all about his three decade long feud with the current master of the estate he grew up at before he even knows your surname.

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Contrary to the scene in the 2007 film, Catherine Morland was introduced to Mr. Tilney before they spoke. The master of ceremonies provided Tilney as a partner, in what seems very much like Sir William Lucas’ want of pairing everyone up. While they did not speak very much during dancing, they did when they sat for tea afterward. Originally, the spoke of such things relating to the ball when Henry seized upon the fact that he had not asked the “usual” sorts of questions new acquaintances ask in Bath. What follows, is a scene that makes my heart go pitter-patter.

Then forming his features into a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, “Have you been long in Bath, madam?”

“About a week, sir,” replied Catherine, trying not to laugh.

“Really!” with affected astonishment.

“Why should you be surprised, sir?”

“Why, indeed!” said he, in his natural tone. “But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed, and not less reasonable than any other. Now let us go on. Were you never here before, madam?”

“Never, sir.”

“Indeed! Have you yet honoured the Upper Rooms?”

“Yes, sir, I was there last Monday.”

“Have you been to the theatre?”

“Yes, sir, I was at the play on Tuesday.” “To the concert?”

“Yes, sir, on Wednesday.” ”

And are you altogether pleased with Bath?”

“Yes—I like it very well.”

“Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again.” Catherine turned away her head, not knowing whether she might venture to laugh. “I see what you think of me,” said he gravely—”I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow.”

“My journal!”

“Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings—plain black shoes—appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense.”

“Indeed I shall say no such thing.”

“Shall I tell you what you ought to say?”

“If you please.”

“I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him—seems a most extraordinary genius—hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say.”

“But, perhaps, I keep no journal.”

From this conversation, they move into a world where Catherine is a bit naive and innocent. She does not catch all of Tilney’s jokes, but he also expresses his belief in equality between men and women. It’s a hint about their characters. Isabella Thorpe would have a very different sort of reaction to Henry’s words. Likewise, while Catherine believes the only threat to her brother’s engagement to Isabella to be Henry’s brother, the fact is that Isabella is the one who puts it in danger and is just as capable of doing so as a man.

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Henry Tilney wins the Jane Austen award of best conversationalist because he can be both flippant and serious in a short span. His words are lively and entertaining while not being entirely inappropriate. They are welcoming and engaging but do not become overly personal. He has no foul intentions with his conversation. He is not trying to make Catherine fall in love with him or make others believe that he is in love with her to hide his affection for another. He is not grouching in a corner and refusing to dance.

Yes, Henry Tilney can take me on a dinner date any day. I am sure we will have the very best conversation.

Style Saturday- Caroline Bingley’s Gowns

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Be honest. Either you or someone you have known has criticized Caroline Bingley’s gowns in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. They look shocking to our modern sensibilities–even more so when paired with gowns which fit the aesthetic of the period better. But are they really so inaccurate? I’ll be going over the Meryton Assembly and Netherfield ball gowns, both featured below.

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First of all, it’s hard to establish a specific timeline for the 2005 production. I’ve read that the director wanted it placed nearly ten years earlier than the book’s published date of 1813. Critics usually place the events of the book from 1811-1812. However, that is not perfect as there are a few dates which do not match up perfectly in any year. We know Jane Austen began writing the first draft (titled then as First Impressions) in 1796. Personally, the difficulty with dating the work doesn’t bother me. It’s fiction and it must have been nearly impossible to keep track of dates.

The dating only matters for this post in the fact that after 1795, the fashion world adopted a very different silhouette. France had a brutal revolution to change its political regime and this was reflected in clothing as well.

Caroline’s gowns seem shocking compared to what we think of for the era and compared to other ladies her age in the film. Below is the first hit I got when I googled “regency era gown,” as well as Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Jane at the Meryton Assembly.

By comparison, Caroline’s gowns practically look like something a stripper would wear. However, did the production team really leave history so far behind?

First, let’s consider how thin Caroline’s gown is at the Assembly. You can see the outline of her corset (which is not period correct but we can worry about that another time) and her shoulders and arms.

The 1798 portrait attributed to Louis-Leopold Boilly on the right shows how thin a single layer of muslin is. No wonder Mr. Woodhouse worried for Harriet Smith’s health in the portrait Emma painted of her friend. It was common in the era to see the chemise and/or petticoat underneath the gown. It’s worth mentioning that I don’t see anyone slut-shaming Elizabeth Bennet of the 1995 production for her thin fabric.

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Where is her petticoat? That’s the end of her chemise I see and then *gasp* leg!

Nor is Caroline the only one to wear such thin fabric in the production:

Ok, so thin, flimsy fabric was acceptable. What about the fact that the sleeves are barely there? If the portraits I’ve included aren’t convincing enough, here are fashion plates of the era.

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But her shoulders are so visible!

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Fine, but what about the Netherfield ball dress? She’s practically wearing spaghetti straps and those just weren’t invented yet!

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But so much exposed at once? Bosom, arms, and shoulders! No, no, no!

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I see your bosom, arms, and shoulders and raise you backs and legs!

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Have I found evidence of a thin strapped ball gown from the Regency era. No, I haven’t. However, now that I’ve looked at the portraits and fashion plates of the era and I see the wide variety of acceptable sihlouettes and also just how much skin was exposed, I don’t think they took an extreme liberty. It shows very clearly how different Caroline Bingley’s sense of fashion and style–owning to her London life–is from the Bennets of Longbourn. The first gown seems to fit the era perfectly and yet is still just as astonishingly different from her peers. At the Netherfield ball, the Bennet girls seem to fit the Regency “norm” better: white on white, high waist, puffy sleeves. Yet, Caroline has to look even more extremely different. If she had shown up wearing something just like she wore to the Meryton Assembly not only would it have not enunciated the differences in her status, education, and experiences but it could easily be mistaken for the same gown. I’m SURE Caroline Bingley would NEVER do that, especially in a place like Meryton where she must always look and feel superior.

Other productions do this with MORE. More trimmings, more fabric, lavish fabrics, more jewelry, more headpieces etc., etc. That is accurate to the era. However, so is the idea of sensual simplicity. In fact, that was the entire point of the neo-classical revival.

If Caroline Bingley is the foil to Elizabeth Bennet, then consider what values Mr. Darcy must possess to turn her down and fall for Elizabeth instead. Was it all just turning down Caroline’s wealth and accomplishments? Or was it turning down pretend passions wrapped in pretension while Elizabeth’s earthy and natural charm pulled on his heart? By giving Caroline the more alluring and thin fabrics thereby making her the more overtly sexual being, the production exposes that Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth run much deeper than physical desire. If half an inch less on a shoulder strap exposes that, then I am all for it.

What do you think? Are you willing to give Caroline’s gowns a pass now or do you remain unconvinced?