Today let’s talk about how aristocrats from the 1830s behaved at balls and parties. The quotations below are from primary sources from the early 19th century, while anything in brackets is my own snark just for this blog:
Balls, parties, and social gatherings were often considered the ‘work’ of the aristocracy–a way to maintain or demonstrate the extent of one’s social position and a means to forge new alliances and relationships. Hosting was a duty expected by all participants in upper circles.
Receiving an invitation was an honor, if the host was socially above you, or a request for a favor, if the host was below you. Not accepting an invitation could be seen as a deep insult, and people paid close attention to whom was invited to (and actually attended) these gatherings, in order to gauge one’s own place on the social ladder.
Very often you will read of Almack’s — a series of balls held every Wednesday night during the London Season. Almack’s was run by a committee of lady patronesses: society women with an enormous amount of social and even political influence. It was exceptionally exclusive and had a very strict dress code. Tickets to Almack’s were highly coveted, to the point that even the Prime Minister would have to call in favors to secure a ticket.
- “’Never dance with any man without first knowing his character and condition, on the word of two credible chaperons.” (Granby 1:95). [Background checks: the basis for all healthy relationships]
- “’consider what you come for – to dance of course, and not to converse; therefore, never talk yourself, nor encourage it in others’” (Granby 1:95). [DANCING IS A SOLEMN ACT, NOT A SOCIAL ONE]
- “’I don’t let Caroline waltz – indeed she does not wish it herself. Some people think it not correct’” (Granby 1:69) [Waltzing: the sluttiest]
- “’hang dancing, ‘tis so vulgar’” (Pelham 2:14). [Which is precisely why we decided to attend a BALL]
- “’Poor or rich is all the same to me . . . but when one must dance, it is more agreeable and creditable to dance with a pretty girl than with an ugly one’” (The Davenels 1:36-37).
- “’Agh! ‘tis an odious dance . . . I tell Eliza she will never be married as long as she waltzes’” (Finesse 1:45). [“I was thinking of proposing to this girl I met . . . but then . . . Oh, Tarquin, it was horrible . . . she started waltzing. How could I have fallen for a girl like that?“]
- “’Lady Lilfield observed . . . that no daughter of mine would commit herself by such abominable levity. She indeed never approved my allowing Helen and poor Jane to waltz even with the governess’” (Women As They Are 1:130-131).
- “’Lady Willersdale waltzes continually, and remarkably well too; – I waltz myself – we all waltz . . . For my own part I dance upon principle, in order to avoid the dangers of idleness” (Women As They Are 1:131). [You’re damned if you waltz and damned if you don’t]
- “’I consider dancing as the worst part of a ball . . . disorders the hair and the dress, and makes one such a figure!’” (Domestic Scenes 1:221). [“My idea of the perfect ball is one where everyone stays perfectly still–no talking!–until dawn!” “Augusta, I think you just described sleeping.” “Oh, shit, yeah”]
Invitations and Guest Lists
- “’It is the commonest thing in the world to go to a ball without an invitation. I know one or two, (I shall not mention names), that always go into the first lighted house they come to – they ask no question, and nobody asks them any” (Granby 1:276). [“We’re here for the party! Wait. Where’s all the dancing? Why are there only four of you, and why are you sitting around that table? Stop putting food in your mouth, this is a party. We gon’ have a good ole fashioned breaking and entering hootenanny!“]
- “’The good-nature arises from her good set of teeth . . . if ever you want laughers, George, to make up a party, study the ivory. Be sure your guests have good teeth, and they’ll laugh at the worst story of a dinner-going wit, rather than not shew the ‘white and even’” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. I 213). [“And if you want good card players, invite people with sexy wrists. And if you want good listeners, invite people with elegant ears. And if you want jolly drinkers, invite the finest livers you can find!“]
- “Almack’s is of immense consequence, and fashionable people think of hardly anything else; and the Patronesses can do almost anything; and it is such a favour to let people in – even the Prime Minister must beg very hard” (Arlington 1:302). [“Yeah, Wellington. You beg. You beg like the naughty little boy you are.” Sorry, sometimes when I read between the lines in silver fork novels, they turn into pornos. I’m sure this is very common.]
Parties in the Country
- “The agitation caused by a country ball, is not confined to the house at which it is given. All the neighbours are called upon to offer beds to their own or the inviter’s friends; and no one can presume to retain an empty corner in their house” (The Davenels 1:239).
- “Never be guilty of taking your daughter to country-balls: she can only acquire bad manners, rude habits, and vulgar notions. A girl of rank and fashion ought to feel that London is her element” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 55-56). [“People in the country haven’t invented fire yet. And don’t even have toilets. They just defacate wherever they stop. And their taste in wine is abominable!“]
- “It is for the new member [of parliament] to open the [county] ball, with the lady of the highest rank present” (Mrs. Armytage 2:119).
- “It was, moreover, the scene of innumerable pic-nic parties during the summer, – a species of gregarious amusement proverbially begun in folly and ending in matrimony, – in such cases, probably, the greatest folly of all” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 1:105).
Schedules and Timing
- “I must there advise all young ladies who wish to be admired, never to stay later than two at a ball in the summer; for after that hour the morning sun appearing, its brilliancy does not well accord, with flushed cheeks, faded dresses and straight ringlets; besides, only inferior men stay after that hour” (Tales of Fashion and Reality 63). [Also, we’re vampires.]
- “Lord Arlington . . . apportion[ed] his time as follows: an hour to White’s [a gentleman’s club], half-an-hour to the House of Lords, – from six to seven a saunter on horseback by the Serpentine – a dinner at eight – a party at eleven – and three balls from twelve till day-light” (Arlington 1:125). [Since he doesn’t sleep, Lord Arlington was also probably a vampire].