Pride and Prejudice

The Role of Balls and Gossip in 18th Century England

Jane Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra, written between 1796-1801, shed much light upon the social events Austen includes in Pride and Prejudice. Frequently, the entire substance of Jane's letter was a description of a ball she had just attended, a ball she was going to attend, a ball her sister might go to, and references to balls in which her sister's name was mentioned. During the time period these letters were written, Austen was composing Pride and Prejudice. A modern reader of Pride and Prejudice might conclude that Elizabeth is a reflection of Jane's personal nature, and that Jane was therefore above all the gossip that transpires during these balls. However, when viewed in the context provided by these letters, these conclusions may not be entirely accurate, as the girlish glee and deliciously catty descriptions that appear in Austen's letters are almost identical to her descriptions of the assembly at Meryton and the ball at Netherfield.

Although not immediately obvious to the reader of Pride and Prejudice, "ball society" during the 18th century provided a safe way for young people to come to know each other, court, and compare experiences. The number of guests at a ball becomes an...

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