Tea being a beverage very much associated with Britain, and Jane Austen being one of the foremost British authors of all time, it seemed fitting to have a teatime that incorporated the atmosphere her novels conjure — the Georgian Regency period amid the country gentry and simpler townsfolk.
The very language in a Jane Austen novel is rich, somewhat overdone, and certainly uses words and phrases that are out of the ordinary in modern times. They do, however, pull the reader deeply into Jane’s world where women in the upper classes were practically bartered off with promises to prospective husbands of fortunes to be had along with the bride. Of course, it was also a world of gentility where there were no wild car chases, knife or club wielding, karate fights, people dangling from helicopters that are careening out of control, and all of the other trash filling up today’s movies and fiction. The elopement of a young and silly sister, the deception of a young man flirting with one woman while secretly engaged to another, or the disinheritance of a son who wants to be a clergyman anyway are tame in comparison and about as wild as a Jane Austen novel gets. In the end, love triumphs over the chasing after a fortune to marry.
These novels are also full of teatimes, dances where the couples hardly touch, and coachmen waiting patiently to take their masters and mistresses home. People actually bow and curtsy to each other when meeting. Usually, they are not holding teacups full of hot tea when doing this.
So, how do you put on a Jane Austen teatime? Here is my suggested method:
- Select one of her novels — Not hard to do, since there are only six: Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion.
- Select a tea appropriate for that novel — For example, Emma is full of mispairings that get straightened out in the end, so select a tea that seems like it should be paired with a rich chocolate cake when you first sip it and then changes to more of an accompaniment for a tuna fish sandwich by the time you swallow. Many flavored teas are this way, and a classic you should include is Earl Grey, even though it was first created about 15 years after Jane’s death in 1817. The taste is just so British that it’s a must at your teatime.
- Prepare some appropriate treats to go with that tea — Scones are traditional, of course, but bread and butter and various cakes were also common during Jane’s day. You can serve petit fours, cupcakes, or fruit tarts, also, and name each one after a Jane Austen character. Just write the names on little toothpick flags and stick one in each treat. I would personally go for the “Mr. Darcy” or the “Mr. Knightley” and not worry about seeming a bit ill-mannered!
- Be sure the setting is in line with the Georgian Regency period in which Jane lived — If you can’t manage such opulence, never fear, just set out a table in the yard under a white tent, like they did in one version of Emma. Cover the table with a white tablecloth, and use real dishes and utensils instead of paper, plastic, or Styrofoam. Serve the tea in a nice teapot that sits on a stand of some kind, like the ones that use “tea light” candles, to keep the tea warm. If it’s absolutely too cold where you live to have a tea party outside, just set it up indoors near a fireplace or in a cozy corner.
- Set up a few teatime activities — One would be for your guests to select some of their favorite passages to read aloud. Another might be to do a little role playing, with one guest being Mrs. Bennett complaining about her poor nerves and another being Mr. Bingley making googly eyes at another guest playing at the role of Jane Bennett. And so on.
Just remember to have a bit of sense and sensibility when consuming those treats, never be too proud or prejudiced to try a new tea, and be careful what persuasion from your friends you listen to. Enjoy!
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