By Bella E. Bennett
This article was originally published in our newsletter and has been moved her for your reading pleasure.
Where shall I begin? I hardly know what to write! My dear friends, to say that the Day with Jane Austen was a grand occasion would be a complete underestimation worthy of disapproval from all of my fellows! But, I still have great difficulty finding the words to describe such an event!
Between the accomplished ladies and dashing gentlemen who attended, to the delicious dining experiences, one can only be ambushed in ones’ mind with such adjectives as; ambitious, gratifying and certainly at the top, elegant.
True elegance was at every turn though out this full day of festivities. It started in the early morning and was not concluded until very late in the evening. We were lucky enough to have a wonderful Events Coordinator for the Jane Austen Society in our Mrs. Heil, who saw to it that there was the best food, band, speakers, workshops, and plenty of the best candles so that we could dance away into the late night!
I will not bore you, my dear friends, with the details of the planning, for I, too, was on the committee that planned this event. Even with nearly two years of planning, I still had no idea that it could be so magnificent! I daresay my head was in a whirl from the time that I arrived!
Everyone began to arrive between 9:45 and 10:30 in the morning. Many were very taken by the lovely Assembly Rooms that we had arranged to accommodate our guests. We found them by way of the Glendale Women’s Club, which has been in the village of Glendale for the better part of a century. There was very attractive woodwork throughout the building, and Mrs. Hesley agreed upon seeing it that the floors were quite preferable for dancing. The kitchens were very satisfying for our cooks and service staff – graciously lent to us by Lady Sylvia Hom – and the dressing rooms were also quite pleasing.
When one entered the room, the first thing met was a group of amiable ladies in our society and a colorful assortment of delightful baskets filled with a variety of fun, creative, and exciting prospects for winnings of the raffle! Everything was thought of, from music, to exquisite porcelain dolls, books and puzzles, and oodles of I know not what! At the end of the day, many ladies and gentlemen went home with some of the sumptuous goodies that were in these lovely gift baskets. I am sorry to say that not only did I not win one this time around, but I am ashamed that I do not know every detail about who contributed to these amazing gifts. However, I heard it from Mrs. Gorham that Mrs. Heil spent nearly a year collecting the items that were lovingly put into them. I am sure that she had help from her two most agreeable sisters, Mrs. Glaze and Mrs. Robertson. They are always so willing to assist in all of our brilliant events which their sister does such a great job coordinating. And speaking of being of assistance, dear friends, I would be very much a coxcomb indeed if I neglected to tell you how much Mrs. Robertson’s son Stephen worked to make this occasion fabulous. Not one detail went unnoticed by him. He would anticipate what was needed before it was! Such a dear young gentleman! He is quite devoted to and compatible with his Aunt Heil, which is what accounts for his expertise in this area.
The festivities began with a delectable break-fast, and then Mrs. Heil introduced Dr. Joan Ray to open our Day with Jane Austen. Not only is she a brilliant scholar, and a fine, dignified lady, but she is also the sweetest, most amiable of friends to all of us here in Arizonashire. She has always supported us since we started as a region and travels quite a distance to support us and enjoy our society.
Mr. Hesley then shared with us the new proper fashion of men’s neckwear. We were in awe of his knowledge, but not surprised, for he is the most au courant and knows a great deal about many things. He is quite dashing, so his presentation was a big hit with the ladies, as well as the gentlemen, in the room. Now we can all teach the men in our lives the correct way to wear their cravats.
At nearly noon, Mrs. Kim Wilson did a presentation on her latest book Tea with Jane Austen.
It was fascinating to hear about the origins of our favorite drink and how people enjoyed it at different times in history and different cultures. I must say that I was very intent on getting my hands on a copy of this book. “I must win a basket with this superb book in it!” I said to myself throughout the talk. But what do you think? I was presented the very bequest later by Mrs. Gorham, Mrs. Heil, and Mrs. Hilton, for helping with the committee! The book was signed to me by dear Mrs. Wilson herself! I am much obliged. I must say, she is a very elegant lady indeed.
At about one in the afternoon we took tea in the great hall of the assembly rooms. The sandwiches were quite delish. I do not remember when I have had such tasty wraps! The tertian bread was so fresh and so delectable that I had meant to ask the service staff where they acquired it. We had a wonderful spread of food, and also some scrumptious little bites of all things that you would want with your tea; yummy scones, mouthwatering biscuits and the like. We were all a very merry bunch. We were, at this time, able to become acquainted with new friends, and enjoy the society of our old ones.
After tea, we were riveted by the author Mrs. Stephanie Barron, who discussed her book series which feature our very own Jane Austen as the heroine who solves astonishing crime cases with uncommon grace at great risk to her own safety it would seem. Since I can identify with these remarkable tales, I had wondered why I myself had not yet read any of her books! I heard it from Dr. Ray, who takes Jane Austen literature very much to heart, that these books are quite extraordinary and that she could not do without them. There is nothing she likes better than to curl up on her favorite chair next to the fire and read these very tales during those cold nights in Coloradoshire. I shall order them directly.
Next, our own Mrs. Gorham came out to do a demonstration all of the proper ways for the gentlemen to wear their diverse and assorted garments for both evening and daywear. I must say that I took for granted all of the pains that the gentlemen must take to dress and to dress accurately! The layers! I thought that it was bad for us ladies … especially with the weather here, but the gentlemen I should say, have it a great deal worse. Just thinking about the underthings alone had me reaching for my fan! Of course, Mr. Gorham graciously agreed to be her model for the occasion which worked out well, for who better to style than your own husband. And it helps that he is exceedingly handsome as a model should be, if he possibly can. With Mr. Hesley lending a hand as the valet, Mrs. Gorham educated us with her knowledge and delighted us with her presentation.
After her very informative demonstration, Mrs. Gorham gave closing remarks to our participants, as many who came for the day were ready to make their way home. We were sorry to see them go, but then we always are! Those who stayed dined on fine meats and more tea, and prepared for the ball, which we were calling Mr. Weston’s Ball in honor of the character in Emma, which is a book celebrating its 200th year of publication. I think of it now, and realize it is most ridiculous to even write that, as the persons reading this will probably be well aware of that fact. But still, it is always sign of good breeding to place compliments where they are due, and in this case, I feel it is well deserved.
The check-in for the ball started at quarter to six, leaving me less time to dress as I than I thought I would have after dining. But I had the best of lady’s maids, so I was ready to help my friends receive the guests. They were all quite eager to dance, as Mrs. Hesley, our dance mistress, was ready to lead them to it. She was very considerate of some of the guests who might be a bit rusty, or had traveled far and needed to stretch their legs before the main event began.
The band themselves had traveled for the occasion and we were all most grateful, for a better band could not have been found! They cleverly called themselves the Syncopaths, and seemed to anticipate the exact dances that we wanted to do, although I am certain that Mrs. Hesley had much to do with that. She is very attentive about these things.
The ladies all arrived in their finest gowns. Quite a variety of muslins and silks were seen in the Great Hall, which was prepared earlier while we dined. Most of the gentlemen were very fashionable as well, wearing their best coats and vests. Mrs. Gorham, whom I consider an authority on such matters, thought that everyone looked quite well indeed, as did most of the Jane Austen Society ladies with whom I am acquainted. Mrs. Gorham was also very pleased with my gown and particularly bids me to say that if you could see me in it for five minutes, she is sure you would be eager to make up your own. (I have been obliged to mention this, but have not failed to blush the whole time of my writing it.) I wish I took a better account of how many couples were in the room, but I will venture to say that there were several. Not enough to make the assembly rooms unbearable, just enough so that everybody was happily situated and comfortable.
If I try to recall the exact number of dances, I may bore you by perhaps bringing on a more particular account of the ball then you may care for. That is, it might seem arrogant of me to go into the several dances that I danced, or quite immodest of me to discuss the many handsome partners that I danced with, for you see, my dearest friends, I danced them all! I will risk immodesty to say with joy that I danced the night away! Although, I am contented to remember that I was not alone. I will hope that this is encouragement enough for everyone to want to participate in the next event planned by the Jane Austen Society here in Phoenix. They are all most diverting!
Until next we meet,