The Mad Hat­ter’s Tea Party in

Friday - - Leisure -

the tra­di­tional novel for­mat, Mrs Dal­loway cap­tures the ebb and flow of the pro­tag­o­nist’s thoughts as she goes about her er­rands for a party she’s host­ing the same evening. Set in early 20th-cen­tury Lon­don, Clarissa’s party sym­bol­ises the life­style of the rich and pow­er­ful and the dom­i­nant English class struc­ture, tak­ing place in a grand man­sion full of sil­ver­ware and chintz, star­ring splen­did dresses, and com­pris­ing a guest list of no­bil­ity and the prime min­is­ter – not to men­tion the stressed, ap­pre­hen­sive host­ess, who mea­sures the suc­cess of her event based on how much her guests in­ter­act. As the pro­tag­o­nist says, what is a party but an ex­cuse to min­gle?

The Duchess of Rich­mond’s ball in

Wil­liam Thackeray’s cut­ting satire on early 19th-cen­tury Bri­tain is part-fic­tion and partly based on re­al­ity. This literary ball sees him bor­row freely from a real one hosted by the Duchess of Rich­mond on June 15, 1815 in Brus­sels. The ac­tual event has gar­nered leg­endary sta­tus af­ter guests aban­doned the party at the height of its rev­elry when Napoleon Bon­a­parte’s army in­vaded the city.

Thackeray deftly weaves in so­cial com­men­tary un­der the veil of the ball, ex­pos­ing guests’ hypocrisy and ul­te­rior mo­tives. The pro­tag­o­nist, Becky Sharpe, has all eyes on her, but doesn’t mask her cru­elty when she crit­i­cises her best friend Amelia. When the men leave for war, char­ac­ters like Ge­orge Os­borne change for the bet­ter al­most im­me­di­ately, em­pha­sis­ing the at­mos­phere of reck­less­ness and false bravado a party can cre­ate. The pro­pri­ety of for­mal tea par­ties is turned on its head as Alice sits down to tea, but­ter and bread with a dor­mouse, a March hare and a mad, mad hat­ter in­Won­der­land, where it’s al­ways tea-time.

What en­sues is the most ridicu­lous tea party in lit­er­a­ture. Lewis Car­roll’s ge­nius as a writer and satirist is ev­i­dent in how he takes con­ven­tional tea-party con­ver­sa­tion and spins it into fab­u­lous non­sense, re­veal­ing the ul­ti­mate ab­sur­dity of tra­di­tional so­ci­ety for­mal­i­ties.

The sec­ond Mrs De Win­ter’s Cos­tume Ball in

Af­ter all the guests have ar­rived the pro­tag­o­nist only known as the sec­ond Mrs De Win­ter makes her grand en­trance down the stair­case in a ‘sur­prise’ cos­tume, which the house­keeper (also the vil­lain) Mrs Dan­vers helped her to se­lect. But in the vein of gothic nov­els, there is dis­as­ter ahead in Daphne Du Mau­rier’s 1938 clas­sic.

Mrs De Win­ter’s dress turns out to be an ex­act replica of what the late Mrs De Win­ters, Re­becca, wore the pre­vi­ous year. The cos­tume is a catas­tro­phe and up­sets Maxim De Win­ter at the mem­ory of his late wife – all part of Mrs Dan­vers’ cruel plan to tor­ture the new Mrs De Win­ter psy­cho­log­i­cally into leav­ing Man­der­ley.

The les­son? Choose your own fancy dress cos­tume and it should all be fine.

by The Swingle Singers 5. Wal­ton’s Bels­haz­zar’s Feast

by An­dré Previn 6. Haydn’s Heiligmesse by

Richard Hickox 7. Han­del’s Dixit Domi­nus by

John Eliot Gar­diner 8. Har­ris’ Faire is the Heaven

by St Ge­orge’s Chapel Choir 9. Tal­lis’ Spem in al­ium by

Jeremy Sum­merly 10. Vaughan Wil­liams: Dona No­bis

Pacem by Brian Rayner Cook What’s your favourite kind of mu­sic? I love mu­sic from the late Baroque era for its el­e­gance, lively rhythm and com­plex har­mony within the con­fines of the fairly rigid struc­tures of the day. Which singers do you ad­mire? English tenor Ian Bostridge. He is very in­tel­li­gent and has a beau­ti­ful, light tone. He has made some de­fin­i­tive record­ings of Brit­ten and Schu­bert songs. What’s your all-time favourite song? Glo­ria from Bach’s Mass in B mi­nor. I defy any­one lis­ten­ing to this to feel any­thing but ex­u­ber­ant and op­ti­mistic. If you are feel­ing low, it is guar­an­teed to lift your spir­its.

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