Monday 20 October 2014

A Salon Guest... Masquerades and Meaning

It is my pleasure to welcome Alicia Rasley to the salon to discuss the fascinating matter of masquerades, one of my favourite topics...


Regency Masquerades Cover

Hello, everyone! And thanks to Madame Gilflurt for inviting us! I'm Alicia Rasley, and I have a book in a boxed set named Regency Masquerades. All the books have something to do with masquerade or disguise, see? 

Anyway, I did some research on the history of masquerades, and I'd like to share some of that with you all!

In Europe after the Middle Ages, masquerades of various sorts were popular events, often connected to religious or public occasions. A famous early masquerade was held in celebration of the wedding of the French queen's lady-in-waiting. Several men, costumed like "savages" in flax cloth and pitch, got into close contact with the torches and caught on fire. This masquerade was memorialized as the "Burning Men" festival, and a distant descendant of it is held still every summer in the Nevada desert.

Later, masquerades flourished less formally in urban areas, where anonymity was possible and the masqueraders had reason to hide their identities and activities. Masquerade is always connected to societal instability and interaction between people who shouldn't interact (like illicit lovers). 

Generally, the masquerade required certain ingredients:
  1. A party or ball. In London, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, these were often held in the open air, at public gardens like Ranelagh. 
  2. Partygoers. It was more glamorous, of course, if these were naughty aristocrats, but in truth, in the public gardens this could be anyone with a domino and mask.
  3. A mask. This hid the partier's identity, and increased the surreptitious atmosphere. The mask let the masked person commit indiscretions among others also being indiscreet. It was quite "what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas," but it was very close to that.
  4. Costumes were generally expected, but in England, especially into the 19th Century, they became less than obligatory. This signified the trend away from public playfulness towards private use of the masquerade to commit indiscretions (and sometimes crimes). A nefarious harasser needed only to wear a "domino" (an anonymous cloak) and a face-concealing mask to engage in his abuse.

In England, masquerades were sometimes held at village festivals (especially those based on pagan ceremonies), but the events came into societal importance in the early 18th century. That was when a Swiss count named Heidegger figured out a way to make some money on this entertainment. He sold subscriptions and tickets to public masked balls at the indoor venue of the Haymarket Opera House, and outdoors at Ranelagh and Vauxhall gardens. T'hese were, of necessity, rather public affairs, and became notorious as places where the high-born and the low-born could interact, often violently.

Over the centuries, the idea of the masquerade has inspired much literature, including of course the famous Capulet ball scene where Romeo meets Juliet. (Here is a clip from the Prokofiev ballet. Notice that Romeo and his friends are masked – they are in the enemy camp—but Juliet's innocence is signaled by her lack of disguise.) Edgar Allan Poe used the masked ball as a symbol of aristocratic corruption—but death comes in disguise. (Here's a link to the trailer of the Vincent Price film.) Prof. Terry Castle pointed out that fiction and masquerade were natural partners as masquerades allowed participants a way to engage in stories and take on the personas of other characters: "Just as the actual masquerade gave people… a way of acting out memories of the traditional world of magic and folk belief-- as witches, conjurers, devils, and the like—so the masquerade set piece (had a) … second life in realistic … fiction."

In the Regency Masquerades set of six novels, we're exploring different aspects of masquerade in our stories, focusing especially in how disguise allows lovers to "reveal what they conceal"—their true selves. The mask or disguise they wear is a clue to their real identities, and that paradox is a clue to why the masquerade remains one of the most enduring motifs in fiction.

To see how each type of masquerade plays out, buy Regency Masquerades, a digital boxed set containing six full-length novels by award-winning authors. For a short time, this set is just 99 cents!
Buy at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes and Kobo Books. 

Written content of this post copyright © Alicia Rasley, 2014.


Alicia Rasley said...

Thanks for having us, Mme G!

Catherine Curzon said...

My pleasure!