I really had such fun with these two documentaries - it reminds me how much I wish the BBC would create a BBC America 2 just to play this sort of thing. I'd definitely subscribe. Of the two, the first is the longest, but probably the best if you're wanting to glory in the clothes, dancing, and food. The second is shorter, but a bit lightweight compared to the meat and scholarship of the first.
Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball
YouTube link (90 min long, May 2013)
Lots of screenshots at this blog post: Austen's World: Pride and Prejudice Having a Ball at Chawton House
Images and most of the high points (and many clickbait phrases! because it's the Daily Mail!): Daily Mail: It's sex and sensibility! Don't wear knickers and get a killer WMD (White Muslin Dress). 200 years after her classic book, a TV show analyses Jane Austen's delicate dating etiquette.
Short version: Multiple scholars are gathered to recreate a regency ball, specifically in the winter 1813. For the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, the idea was to take the ball and analyze it by trying to understand what Austen's audience would have known and understood about such an experience. The focus is on the dancing, the outfits, the food, and the manners of the entire event. Filmed at Chawton House, which was once owned by Jane Austen's brother, Edward.
Things I learned:
- Austen's cousin Eliza's husband was guillotined in 1794. (I'm wondering how I've missed that bit of history!)
- Dancing was an incredibly physical and long lasting exercise and you had to be extremely fit to dance every dance. Suddenly all the lines about compatibility of someone with their dance partner takes on a very physical meaning! (Er, besides the sexual wink-wink-nudge-nudge allusion - which of course they wouldn't be hinting at - oh no, not at all the thing.)
- I am so in love with the idea of a fan that you can use as a crib sheet to remind you of what the steps to certain dances are.
- Laughing was a sign of sexual availability, so it wasn't something ladies were allowed to do. Or at least not in a noticeable way - I'm pretty sure giggling behind your fan was allowed.
- Solomon's Temple jelly - a gelatin mold dessert - was a big deal, and a way for the chef and host to show off. You apparently don't see much of it these days except in re-enactments like this.
- The costumers for this production were incredibly good - I didn't see anyone wearing similar outfits or hairstyles. And that was a fairly large cast to all have unique and historical looks for.
- I've never seen a reenactment use period makeup (hand made by Sally Pointer) on all the cast.
- I really wanted to try that multi-alcohol Georgian ice cream-ish drink: Roman punch. I'm not saying that I know I'd like it - but I'd definitely try it. Not so sure about the Parmesan cheese ice cream though.
- I also admit to being thrilled to see a doodle on one of the Austen family music books.
Professor Hillary Davidson, on men's pants: "We're really starting to see - frankly - teh groin area."
- and on women's underwear: "Crotchless knickers were the norm."
Ian Day, on the menu and eating habits, about the entire cooked chicken being served: "A lot of people enjoyed eating the head of the chicken. You'd suck the eyes and the brains out through the beak."
On to the next documentary, which is broken up into 5 parts (each segment about 15 minutes):
The Many Lovers of Jane Austen (2011)
Some of the video is fuzzy, just so you're warned in advance.
Blog review with multiple screenshots: Jane Austen's World: Review of The Many Lovers of Jane Austen
Short version: Answers the questions how is it that Austen has continued to be read and remain relevant and interesting? What sort of people were reading her and why? Covers Bronte's popularity vs Austen's, an unpublished manuscript of Austen sold at auction, and how Austen's world was portrayed on film.
Things I learned:
- The Jane Austen Society of North America's annual convention was in Fort Worth, Texas when this was filmed. At the end they have some guys singing Happy Trails. I was all cringe-y at that bit. (I've had relatives living in Texas and have lived there myself. As I was also born there I suppose I can claim it as my state. Except in moments like this when, sigh.)
- The 1980 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is the version of Austen I was all hearts and flowers over first. I still think that those versions of the sisters seem really well cast. And David Rintoul's Darcy makes Colin Firth's Darcy look absolutely jolly. After saying that I have to quickly say that I think Firth was yummy, but Rintoul acted more prideful. ...And now I think I need to see a double feature of both and re-judge!
- The portrait of Austen that's now on a bill in the UK is actually a prettied up version of a sketch by her sister Cassandra. The prettied up sketch was created for the book by her nephew:
That link to wikipedia's take on the memoir is good for pointing out what's been left out of that memoir. For example: Austen's brother George, who was handicapped.
I'm not sure how much we can know for fact about what George's handicap was and how much it kept him from communicating. But then I also haven't read the books that are linked - so again, additions for my To Read list.