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The Dandies Ball

“The dandies’ ball, or, High life in the city”, illustrated by Robert Cruikshank, was published by Mr. Marshall in 1819 during the height of the dandy craze. It was sold as a children’s book, a peculiarly improper one, as a reviewer of the London Magazine* remarked, who criticized the “corrupting tendency” of a book full of slang, vulgarity, scandal, licentiousness, and „the vices, follies, affectations, and infirmities of worn out society“. This critique seems rather overdone. Indeed, the book does carry a morality. In ridiculing the dandy, the young generation that appeared to be so endangered by the follies of dandyism, a point that has repeatedly been raised by critics, was intended to shy away from the allures of high life and fashionable brilliancy.

“The Dandies Ball” was the first picture book the young Charles Dickens ever beheld. It was published anonymously, but Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton (1808-1877) and her sister Helen Selina (1807-1867), grand-daughters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, were credited with its authorship.** They wrote yet another book on dandyism entitled „The travelled dandies,“ and Caroline is also the author of „The Dandies Rout“ (1825). It does seem unlikely that some ten year old girls should have written such a thorough caricature, and William Maginn contradicted this theory accordingly. It’s authorship remains uncertain.

The illustrations depict various dandies in preparation to the dinner and ball given by Mr. Pillblister and Betsy his sister, with an emphasis on the minuteness of dress and the problems arising out of overtight lacing, namely fainting and the impossibility of dancing and eating, which renders the whole event mostly absurd.

The title of the book might refer to the Dandies’ Ball given by Beau Brummell, Lord Alvanley, Sir Henry Mildmay, and Henry Pierrepoint in the Argyle Rooms in July 1813. It featured the famous incident where Brummell cut the Prince Regent and turned to Alvanley asking: “Who’s your fat friend?”, diminishing any prospect of reconciliation.