I have written so many pieces within my Saga that were sheer fun to write, but one of my all-time favorites was the Pemberley Summer Festival in Loving Mr. Darcy. Just one aspect of why that chapter was so entertaining to pen was the clowns. This blog from my September virtual tour highlighted that part with a bit of history and an excerpt. Hope you have fun reading it too.
Ever wonder where today’s common events or things come from? I always have. I am one of those people who loves playing Trivial Pursuit not only to test what superfluous knowledge may be lurking in the buried recesses of my wee brain, but because I learn so much. Most of it is utterly useless, but intriguing nevertheless. This thirst for education, both necessary and pointless, has helped me tremendously in the course of writing my Regency Era saga.
In my first book of the Darcy Saga – Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy – Darcy tells Lizzy of a family tradition that has not continued after his mother’s death: A summer festival to honor the workers of Pemberley. At the time it was a throwaway comment. But the more I thought about it, and as summer approached within the pages of my story, I decided I really liked the idea of hosting a festival.
The next logical question was, “What would a festival in 1817 include?” I ended up discovering that many of the festival/carnival entertainments that we enjoy today existed hundreds of years ago! How cool! Among the numerous amusements that take place at the Pemberley Summer Festival (Guess you will have to read the book – LOL!) I included clowns.
The concept of individuals performing humorous stunts to entertain is as old as time. The ancient Greeks had their pantomimes, the French later borrowing the idea in their mimes. Royal courts had jesters and the Medieval common-folk had mummers. The Italians perfected the harlequin know for his amazing feats of acrobatics. Clown troupes of all types traveled the breadth of Europe for centuries, sometimes as part of an actors’ troupe or on their own.
The types of clowns and tricks they performed are too many to name here. Always the objective was to bring laughter through outlandish outfits, pratfalls, silent pantomime, and zany acrobatics. The men and women who pursued this profession did so very seriously. They studied the art, perfected their routines, and performed with mastery every bit as precise as a stage actor.
Clowns became associated with the circus in the late 1700s and we can thank Englishman Philip Astley for that. Astley was an ex-cavalryman who was a virtuoso horseback rider. In 1768 Astley opened an equestrian school to train riders. He used the opportunity to conduct shows –for a fee, of course – displaying his “feats at horsemanship.” The trick-riding phenomenon took off as a wildfire. He called his shows a circus based on the round ring he created. He discovered that the horses ran best in a circular ring and that the audience had better visualization. After trial and error the perfect size of 42 feet became his standard and is still so today.
His shows grew and within two years he closed his riding school, devoting all his time to perfecting the circus. He added tightrope walkers, jugglers, tumblers, musicians, and yes, clowns. Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre opened in London in 1773, the Parisian one in 1782, and before he was done another 18 would arise in cities throughout Europe. The modern-day circus was born!
Lizzy and Darcy tapped into this entertaining reality during their Summer Festival extravaganza. I had a marvelous time learning the facts and then writing a series of shows to dazzle the guests. Here is a small sampling of the Pemberley clowns:
A sudden hush fell over the audience as the tent flap opened to reveal a small man sedately walking onto the arena. He was costumed in a loose, garish patchwork suit of every shade in the spectrum, enormous blue shoes, face painted with colorful stripes, and head bald. If all that was not enough to awe the crowd, the little clown was walking on his hands! He advanced across the field unhurriedly, gigantic feet flapping and florid face grinning, until he reached the very end whereupon he abruptly crumpled into a heap, lying still as death. The audience collectively gasped, some even rising or taking involuntary steps forward, only to halt mid-stride when the tent flap exploded open and out blasted two more clowns. One was dressed as outrageously as the hand-walker, a fluttering ball of color with hundreds of brightly patterned strips of fabric apparently glued onto every inch of his body, a scarlet wig, oar-sized boots of green, and red circles about his eyes and mouth. He was running pell-mell and steering a rickety wooden wagon, inside of which sat the third clown. He was costumed as a proper English gentleman, only highly exaggerated. The collar of his waistcoat extended way past his ears, the cravat knotted at least three dozen times and some eight inches beyond his chin, jacket tails touching the ground, baggy breeches with three-inch wide knee buckles, and, of course, huge shoes. All this topped off with a ridiculously high beaver hat.
I hope you enjoyed my brief history lesson and the tasty treat!