My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne, Part 1
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: This short work of fiction depicts clever wit, satirizing a young girl’s first season out in society. The “Season” has historically referred to the annual period when it is customary for members of the upper class to hold debutante balls, dinner parties and large charity events. It was also the appropriate time to take up residence in the city rather than in the country, in order to attend such events. In this story, young Gwendolyn Hawthorne is experiencing her first season, attending parties, balls, and even participating in a privately-produced play. The story depicts a very lush lifestyle of frivolities and carelessness—especially among youth like Gwendolyn—as well as the irony associated with finding a lover.
Advisory: This story contains anti-Semitic and racially insensitive terminology.
This entry was published as the first of five parts:
- My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne, Part 1 (1890)
- My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne, Part 2 (1890)
- My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne, Part 3 (1890)
- My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne, Part 4 (1890)
- My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne, Part 5 (1890)
FLOURISH OF TRUMPETS. Curtain rises. Enter, en grande toilette, the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne.1Literally meaning “a grand toilet” in French but probably meant as “être en grande toilette” which is French for “fully dressed”.
For you must know that the plunge is over. I’ve done it—I mean I’ve come out—and, do you know, I like it! And what is more surprising still is that mamma likes it. You know how she talked about the sacrifice she was making for “darling Gwenda’s sake”—how she was giving up all her occupations, and leaving Hawthorne for so long at her time of life. But Maude and Gracie say she exerts herself for me much more than she ever did for them. They really seem quite annoyed about it. Well, I do think that in one’s first season one ought to do as much as ever one can; and you would never believe how many things one can get through in a day, even though one doesn’t get up at cockcrow. And, no doubt, it is very good for me, as Gracie says my colour is quite preposterous, and that I look a perfect country bumpkin. Perhaps dissipation will improve me. You never went to three parties in one night, did you, Miss Wisdom? And Monsieur voire père will disapprove of such frivolity, and will say that I had much better be riding Daisy on the common and teaching in his Sunday School than devoting myself to those amusements which, as old Mrs. Bennett says—rather profanely, I think, don’t you?— befit that station of life, &c.
But all this time I’m sure you are dying to hear about my first ball. Well, I came out at the Bürger’s last Tuesday week. Mamma was quite shocked at first to hear that any one knew them, because you know he’s a Jew moneylender; and they say Mrs. Bürger’s father was a golden dustman—I’m sure I don’t know what it means—and she drops her h’s; but though you might not like that in the country, in London it doesn’t matter in the least. The Duchess of Dashshire has taken them up, too, and their dance was to be the success of the season, every one was going; and of course you see nothing of the host and hostess in a big crush like that.
Gracie arranged my frock—oh, such a frock! as simple as possible, but quite, quite delicious—all white silk and tulle, with sprays of hawthorn in front and in my hair, and long trails down the skirt. Célestine did my hair divinely, and I really did think when I looked in the glass—— Well, just then mamma came in (she had sent up to me three times before), and said the horses had been waiting an hour and a-half, and papa positively ordered me to come down.
So, as I was really quite ready, I came down; and I went straight up to papa and made him a little curtsey. Some people are afraid of papa because he looks so fierce, but he is not really grumpy, only poetical. So he took me by the shoulders (I believe he crushed my bows) and stared at me, and said:—
“H’m! I rather think the last bud is the best of the cluster, after all. Go along, and be a good girl.”
When we got there, there was a crush, and heaps of people still arriving. Mrs. Bürger was standing at the top of the stairs, looking as if the photographer had just said, “Now try and look pleasant.” She was blazing with diamonds, like a chandelier, and I heard some rude person say, “Old Lady Midas would have looked better with less illumination.” I didn’t feel a bit inclined to dance in such a crowd. But then some one came up and said, “May I have the pleash-ah?” And I said, “Yes,” because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Then a quantity of young men were introduced to me, and they all looked just the same, and they all asked if they might have the pleash-ah. When I had danced with one or two of them once or twice, I began to sort them out a little; and of course there were differences when you came to look into them. Some of them didn’t wear eye-glasses, and some had no moustaches. But they all said, “Did you go to Barnum’s?” and “Have you had the influenza?” so that at last I nearly said, “I can’t talk about either of the two things you’re going to ask me, because I didn’t go to Barnum’s, and I’m not, I hope, going to have the influenza!”
One—who looked and talked rather like a big, jolly schoolboy—told me he found it just as difficult to remember the girls he was introduced to.
“Sometimes I make a note of the colour of their dresses, you know,” he said; “but when it comes to white—why, half the girls in the room have got on white dresses exactly like yours!”
Poor me! But I hid my feelings, and said, “Well, what do you do then?”
“Oh, then,” said he, “I—I just put down anything I can think of,” and he got very red, and said, “Shall we have another turn now?”
But I would not be put off, and I said, “I wish you would show me your programme!”
He got still redder and pretended to look for it, and said, “’Pon my word, I would, you know, but I think I must have lost it!”
“Oh, no, you haven’t,” said I; “here it is!” —for I had seen him throw it under the seat, and I fished it out by the little pink pencil, and said, “Now, of course, you don’t mind my looking at it?”
And this was the list of his partners:— “1. The Cassowary. 2. Dot-and-go-one. 3. The Outsider. 4. Crock in Green. 5. Ditto in Blue. 6. Innocentia.”
“‘6. Innocentia,’” said I; “why that’s me, of course. But what makes you call me that?”
Poor fellow! he made the most abject apologies; but I told him I really didn’t mind, and I gave him another dance to show there was no ill-feeling.
I don’t remember anything particular about any one else except a man I danced with nearly the last. He was less like the other young men than all the other young men were, and I’m not sure that I liked him. He didn’t pay me a single compliment, and he never mentioned Barnum. At first he talked to me exactly as if I were not grown up, but afterwards we had a most interesting conversation, for he was rather clever, though he was such a cool hand. He could not waltz a bit, so we sat in the conservatory— which was quite like Fairyland— and I was surprised to find how much I knew about books and that kind of thing, you know; but then one is never appreciated at home. I told him how much I wanted to meet some celebrated authors, and he burst out laughing, rather rudely, and said he thought that with any luck I probably should, as he understood there were a good many about just now. Then I found that he knows Maude, and he was beginning to tell me of some interesting people I should meet at her house, when a horrid little man came up, and I had to go and dance those abominable Lancers.
When we were coming home in the carriage, momma was quite brisk, though the milkmen and sweeps were about.
“I need not ask whether you enjoyed yourself, dear,” she said. “ And I was so glad, Gwenda, to see you getting on so well with Lord Lakes, a most charming young man. You are sure to meet him a great deal this season, and his mother is one of my dearest friends.”
(Mamma has so many “dearest friends!”)
“Oh, was that Lord Lakes?” said I, for I did not remember their names and could not read a word on my programme.
“He will be at Maude’s dance to-morrow,” said mamma.
One does not sleep well after a ball—especially one’s first ball, because the music runs in your head, and you have so many things to think about; so I was up early, and went for a ride in Row. The first person I met was Lord Lakes.
“Ah, Lady Gwendolyn,” said he, “I see you take an early ride before settling to the day’s work—so do I. There’s nothing like it for the complexion.”
“I shouldn’t think you had much work to do,” said I, for you know he has got about twenty castles and estates.
“Well, it’s not of course of the same serious nature as yours,” he said, “but, frivolous as my avocations are, they serve for pot-boiling purposes.” (Did you ever hear such a way of talking? He’s the very oddest man I ever met, and I never know whether he is joking or serious, which is so hateful, I think.) He asked me before he went if I could give him two dances at Maude’s this evening, and I said yes, as I knew mamma would be pleased.
M. A. B
This story is continued in My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne, Part 2.
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13 July 2020
1 December 2023
|↑1||Literally meaning “a grand toilet” in French but probably meant as “être en grande toilette” which is French for “fully dressed”.|
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