Every ball in the 19th century started at night about 8:00 with as many as 200 to 500 guests. It always included a sit down meal (a supper) at some point in the evening and may last until 3:00 in the morning. Here are a few things that we don’t experience in the 21st century.
If you lived during in early 19th century, you would have danced at a ball by candlelight. Electricity was not yet invented. Gas lighting was invented before electricity, but it was not a safe way to light your home or business. Plus, it could be smelly. Everyone in the 21st century who has been without electricity from time to time. We sometimes pull out candles, usually more than one, if we don’t choose to use a flashlight. Can you imagine always having to read a book by candle light?
Of course, dancing by candlelight could be very romantic, but was it back then? To light up a room you could always count on the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The problem was the hundreds of candles that were burning, melting, dripping . . . I think you get the picture. Not so fun to have hot wax falling on your head. I can’t even imagine what it was like for the servants to scrape all that wax off the floor the next day.
3. Ball Gowns:
A lady (young and old) wore a white ball gown. Actually, it was more of a bluish white. You can imagine, after your experience with reading by candlelight, that a gown would look yellowish in the candlelight, hence the bluish white material of the gown. In the movie, “Pride and Prejudice” (2005)with Keira Knightley you can see a good example of the white dresses ladies wore at Mr. Bingley’s ball minus the bluish tinge.
4. Crowded Room:
In the ballroom there was an area where couples danced. While couples danced, other guests stood around the edges and watched the couples. Don’t think they just stood there doing nothing, they talked or gossiped, but it was usually standing room only. Remember, there was anywhere from 200 to 500 guests. Think about what it would take to walk to the refreshments table or how long it would take. Again, in “Pride and Prejudice” (I love that movie) you can see this at the public dance. Not to be confused with a private ball, the public dance anyone could go to and ladies didn’t have to wear white.
Guest at a ball could roam from room to room looking for other activities. The doors to the library, the drawing-room and other rooms might have been open for guest. Your would have found a game of whist, which was a card game that was very popular or refreshments in any of these rooms. In the following short video clip you will see Elizabeth Bennet looking for Mr. Wickham. See if you also notice lighting, gown color, and if it’s crowded.
It doesn’t take a genus to figure out that a private ball was a very large party. To think it was all done in hopes of marrying off your daughter.
What do you think is the most romantic part of a 19th century ball? Or you can tell me what you think is romantic about the 19th century.