‘The Elusive Minuet in Eighteenth-Century English Novels’

An ability to dance the ballroom minuet, which for some decades opened every ball and assembly of quality, was essential to survival in polite society throughout the eighteenth century. Guidance on how to dance a minuet abounds in dance manuals and treatises of the time, and many of their readers were no doubt also keen readers of novels; indeed many English novels included ballroom scenes as a way of providing a recognisable and acceptable social context in which the main protagonists of the story could meet and interact. Yet, with some exceptions, the minuet does not figure significantly in those fictional assemblies, perhaps because its exclusive nature did not serve the needs of the story well, or that people did not want to read about a social dance form which was as daunting as it was ubiquitous. It thus posed a dilemma for English novelists, some of whom simply ignored it or had their main protagonists arrive at the ball only after the minuets were over, while others included it only as a brief comment to establish a genteel context. Other novelists however used it as a means making moralising comment on the actions of some of the characters in the story, or even of ridiculing specific characters or situations. This paper looks at a selection of eighteenth century novels to examine the ways in which the minuet was used or ignored as a literary device; and will also include a demonstration of the ballroom minuet as described by the middle of the century

Jennifer Thorp
Symposium Title: 
Dance and the Novel – 2011