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Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Mr Darcy Is Coming! Planning A Special Dinner

Mrs Elton with her housekeeper.

When planning a dinner or card party, hostesses set aside part of the day to organise menus with their housekeeper or cook. Emma’s new bride, Mrs Elton, complained: ‘I believe I was half an hour this morning shut up with my housekeeper.’ 
Mrs Elton and her pearls.
If only one course was served, the company was told ‘You see your dinner’ when they sat down to dine. But for a special dinner party, at least two courses were provided. When Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs Bennet invited Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy to a family dinner at Longbourn, she, ‘did not think anything less than two courses could be good enough for a man on whom she had such anxious designs, or satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a year.’

Perkins, 'Every Woman Her Own Housekeeper'.
All the dishes for the first course were placed on the table at the same time. Then the serving dishes were ‘removed’ for the second course, which was arranged in a similar fashion. Guests ate a little of what they fancy from the dishes closest to them, perhaps asking a servant to pass them a favourite dish, if wanted, from the far end of the table.

'The gentlemen did approach'.

Genteel hostesses dressed smartly though not over-grand, so that their guests did not feel inferior if only modestly attired; but for dinner parties, ladies and gentlemen normally wore full evening dress.
Charles Brock coloured illustrations for Emma, and black and white illustration for Pride and Prejudice, courtesy of Mollands.
A sample 3 course dinner for the month of March. John Perkins, Every Woman Her Own House-keeper, (London, 1796). Courtesy Google Books.

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