Dancing with Tom LefroyWe now encounter Jane Austen in the winter of her 20th birthday. She is a bright, lively girl who, like her much-loved heroine Elizabeth Bennet, enjoys music and dancing, wit, laughter and lively conversation.
Jane grew up in the small Hampshire village of Steventon. Here she enjoyed dancing at assemblies in nearby Basingstoke and at local balls given by friends and neighbours.
In January 1796 Jane met Tom Lefroy – the young man who was ‘laughed at’ by his friends about her, and with whom her biographers often claim she was in love.
They certainly enjoyed each other’s society. ‘Imagine to yourself’, she wrote to Cassandra, ‘everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.’
Listen to an extract from Jane’s letter 🎧 or read it here 📖
But Jane knew they couldn’t marry. Neither had the money to make such a match possible. A few days later she wrote: ‘At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & when you receive this it will be over—My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea.’
We don’t believe she was heartbroken, however – her letter sounds like a joke, very much in Jane’s style. She is renowned for her dry wit, and the tears she mentions are no doubt really a twinkle in her eye.
We all like the idea of a fairytale romance however, so for this scene we have reunited Jane and Tom, in clothing. These are the costumes worn by Jane and Tom (played by Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy) in Becoming Jane, and on the table you will find the makings of a feast fit for a ballroom…
Negus was a hot punch beloved by the Georgians. It was created by Colonel Francis Negus in the early 18th century and is very similar to the mulled wine we enjoy today. During the early Regency it was expected at balls, although by the Victorian times it was no longer fashionable and was generally considered a children’s drink.
The recipe varied from one household to another but we like to make it with port wine, sugar, lemon, nutmeg and cloves. It smells like Christmas!
White Soup was an elegant dish made of a meat broth, cream and ground almonds, and would have been served as part of the supper at private balls. Served around midnight, this late meal would give the party the energy to continue dancing until the small hours.
Mr Bingley famously mentions White Soup in Pride & Prejudice, when planning his own ball at Netherfield:
‘as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards.’
For a recipe, we can refer to Martha Lloyd’s Household Book. This was a book of household recipes and remedies collated by Jane’s friend Martha, who lived with them here in Chawton. The book survives in the museum collection and is a treasure trove of information on Georgian cooking.
Martha’s recipe for White Soup is as follows:
Make a gravy of any kind of meat, add to it the yolks of four eggs boiled hard and pounded very fine, 2 oz. of sweet almonds pounded, as much cream as will make it a good colour.
Listen to the recipe 🎧