Members Meeting - May 13 2017

A Charming Amusement: Dance in the Novels and Film Adaptations of Jane Austen

Every savage can dance.
— Mr. Darcy - Pride and Prejudice

For our final meeting of the year, Kathleen started us off with a very insightful look at dance in the novels and movies of Jane Austen. It was abundantly clear that Kathleen was speaking from a background in dance. She evaluated the dance in the movies as it may have been intended by Jane in her books. 

Dance in Jane Austen's time was multi-purpose:

Plate 43: two couples dancing holding hands in a line. 1812 Hand-coloured etching © The Trustees of the British Museum

Plate 43: two couples dancing holding hands in a line. 1812 Hand-coloured etching © The Trustees of the British Museum

  • Exercise

  • Hobby and Amusement

  • Performance

  • Most importantly, Social Mixing

There were very few opportunities for young people to mix and mingle with those of the opposite sex. Dancing provided a means of having genuine conversation, out of the earshot of one's parents.

Kathleen described the intricacies of the "contradance" and the general workings of the dance. She also went through the baffling assortment of rules, both and unwritten. She finished her discussion with a closer look at some clips of the dances from some of the Jane Austen movies. It was very interesting to have a dancer's commentary on the dances!

The Road to Enlightenment: Places in Jane's Life
Part I

Carole took us through the social history of Jane Austen's times. The "Age of Enlightenment" took place about 70 to 80 years before Jane was born. It essentially propelled England from the medieval to modern way of life, beginning with the Enclosures Act which enclosed farms. This brought about the building of roads and towns. Each town began to develop its own flair and character. This encouraged greater travel to these places by the higher classes. Brighton, for example was transformed from a simple fishing town to a fashionable resort. Gardening, landscaping, and architecture also became far more practiced than previously. In particular, all things gothic were embraced in architecture and novels.


Jane was a direct product of these changing times. The liberality of her father in encouraging her reading and access to his entire library would previously have been unknown. This broad access to so many different styles and subjects of books no doubt played a vastly important role in Jane's intelligent and witty style.

We can't wait for Part Two in the fall!

Thank you to all our volunteers and speakers.