Perhaps it might make more sense to begin by advising you how to spend your evening at home, rather than abroad. But parties are infinitely more fun, as a general rule, and so we shall begin this way. We shall get around to cosy, homely evenings in due course.
So, imagine the scene. You have been invited to The Big House (or maybe The Bigger House, or simply Another Really Big House) for dinner. Perhaps you will be staying there for some time, as part of a house party. You know how to get yourself through the meal, but all that socialising afterwards… How do you behave? What should you do? And more importantly, what shouldn’t you do?
Once again, Behind The Past is here to guide you and allay your fears.
Well, once dinner has finished the hostess and assembled ladies will ‘retire’ to another room. The gentlemen will remain behind to entertain themselves with port, cigars and rather unsuitable conversation for the ears of delicate ladies.
The company will then come together again, normally after half an hour or an hour. Tea and coffee will then be offered.
It is also important to be aware, at this point, of the potential inebriation of the gentlemen. Respectable ladies should avoid intoxication at all costs, but Regency drinkers are generally heavy ones. The gentlemen will have taken a good amount of wine at dinner, and port afterwards, and they’ve probably helped themselves to much else besides in the course of the day. Consider yourself aloof from any impropriety displayed by the gentlemen. Simply give them their coffee and hope it improves their condition.
Around this time, guests who have only been invited to drink tea, but not for the full dinner, will arrive. You should greet them warmly and express your delight at meeting them, or at seeing them once more. It is exceedingly ill bred to crow about the higher social status implied by your own, longer invitation.
Suitable evening entertainments might include cards, music, or maybe even dancing.
Whist is a popular card game at the present time, and it is polite to offer to make up the numbers at a table if others seem disinclined. Doing so may earn you the goodwill of the hostess, and another invitation in the future. However, take care that the stakes will not be higher than you are able to pay. That might lead to social (and financial) ruin. And scandal!
If called upon to play the piano, do so modestly, but without so much modesty that it appears false. If you happen to be on the lookout for a husband, this is a brilliant opportunity to not only exhibit your accomplishments, but your kind and pleasant nature. Do not waste the chance!
Dancing is another means by which you might show yourself to an advantage. While dancing after a dinner may not have all the excitement and romance of an actual ball, it certainly affords you the chance to captivate an eligible bachelor when there is less competition from other young ladies. Ensure you keep up a conversation through the dance, and keep up with all of the steps required. Falling over, or being dull and silent, would be unfortunate indeed!
In short, if you do your best to behave respectably and politely, you will be fine. Try to make sure that those around you are enjoying themselves and having a good time. Be attentive to what card games they want to play, or what topics they would like to discuss. In doing so, you will probably enjoy yourself, while also improving your friendships and acquaintances. The hostess will most likely look upon your conduct favourably as well. That is a sure and steady route to Regency social success.
If you can be sparkling, gracious and all together wonderful as well, then buy yourself a new bonnet as a reward.
Jago, Lucy, Regency House Party, (London: Time Warner Books, 2004).
Lane, Maggie, Jane Austen’s World: The Life and Times of England’s Most Popular Author, (Great Britain: Carlton Books, 1996).
Sullivan, Margaret C, The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills From Regency England, (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2007).