Home > Columns > Quarter Days by Alina K. Field > Mrs. Hurst Dancing, a Review

Pictures worth much more than a thousand words.

The Lord of the Manor and his family going out to a dinner party at 5 o’clock with a tremendous stile before them.

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen and other Regency-set fiction, Mrs. Hurst Dancing, a collection of 70 watercolors by Diana Sperling, is a treasure. The book is especially valuable for the often-confused author trying to envision the clothing, the transportation, and how everyone passed the time, especially in the country. Unfortunately, no one was posting helpful YouTube videos two hundred years ago.

The above painting is a good example of what you’ll find in the book. The tongue-in-cheek description is Sperling’s own. The “Lord of the Manor”, probably her brother Henry, leads three ladies (probably Diana and her sisters) to a neighbor’s house for a dinner party.

Staples of Country Life

All three ladies are wearing red cloaks, which I often forget were staples of country life, and also good indicators of class. The Sperling family were gentry, not super-rich nobility. The bonnets look like leghorn bonnets with flatter crowns. If you know what they are, please mention it in the comments.

Dinner in the country was earlier than in “town”. They’re not driving down the road to the neighbor’s in a coach and four–they’re walking cross-country! There’s no date on this picture, so we don’t know what season this is; probably not the dead of winter though, despite the cloaks. The three ladies are carrying their shoes for indoors, and it looks like Henry has his stuffed into the pocket of his coat. (Men’s pockets were in the tails of their coats.)

Hiking to Dinner

He’s also carrying a lantern for the walk home. No street lights in the country. Without our modern light pollution, imagine how dark it must have been?

And what about that “tremendous stile”? According to Merriam-Webster, a stile is “a step or set of steps for passing over a fence or wall”. Like this:

A stile allows people to pass, but not livestock. I don’t see stairs in Sperling’s drawing, but there does seem to be a space to the left. I hope the ladies don’t have to climb over those rails in their white gowns.

As I mentioned, there are seventy watercolors in the book depicting the country life of the gentry in this era. In one, Diana’s mother and the housekeeper stand on the window ledge “murdering flies”. In another, the ladies of the family are wallpapering a room. There’s a drawing of the family holding hands and experimenting with an “electrifying machine”. Horses, donkeys, dogs, chickens are all part of the country life depicted.

Mrs. Hurst Dancing is only available in hardcover, and is, I believe, out of print. Weirdly, Amazon has two entries for the book, one with used copies starting at $99, the other with used copies starting at $21.92. How wonderful if the copyright holder would release another edition of this book in softcover.

You can see a few more of Diana Sperling’s amazing watercolors on Pinterest.

For the authors and readers out there, do you make use of images to help you better “see” a story? What’s your go-to site?

Image credits:

The watercolor is from janeaustensworld.com via Pinterest; stile is from Wikimedia commons; book cover is from Amazon.com

Author Bio
Author Bio
Award winning author Alina K. Field earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and German literature, but prefers the much happier world of romance fiction. Though her roots are in the Midwestern U.S., after six very, very, very cold years in Chicago, she moved to Southern California and hasn’t looked back. She shares a midcentury home with her husband, her spunky, blonde, rescued terrier, and the blue-eyed cat who conned his way in for dinner one day and decided the food was too good to leave. She is the author of several Regency romances, including the 2014 Book Buyer’s Best winner, Rosalyn’s Ring. She is hard at work on her next series of historical romances, but loves to hear from readers!
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    Pictures worth much more than a thousand words. The Lord of the Manor and his family going out to a dinner party at 5 o’clock with a tremendous stile before them. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen and other Regency-set fiction, Mrs. Hurst Dancing, a collection of 70 watercolors by Diana Sperling, is a […]
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    Pictures worth much more than a thousand words. The Lord of the Manor and his family going out to a dinner party at 5 o’clock with a tremendous stile before them. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen and other Regency-set fiction, Mrs. Hurst Dancing, a collection of 70 watercolors by Diana Sperling, is a […]
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Award winning author Alina K. Field earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and German literature, but prefers the much happier world of romance fiction. Though her roots are in the Midwestern U.S., after six very, very, very cold years in Chicago, she moved to Southern California and hasn’t looked back. She shares a midcentury home with her husband, her spunky, blonde, rescued terrier, and the blue-eyed cat who conned his way in for dinner one day and decided the food was too good to leave. She is the author of several Regency romances, including the 2014 Book Buyer’s Best winner, Rosalyn’s Ring. She is hard at work on her next series of historical romances, but loves to hear from readers!
  • Veronica Jorge says:

    Hi Alina, Nice post. I love perusing actual art books, (touching and smelling the pages), or visiting a museum to fill myself with the images of a particular theme or time. I also use music specific to what I am researching or writing to help place me “there.”

    • Museums are fantastic places! And I agree about books. I’d much prefer to hold an art or other research book in my hands than read it online. Thanks for stopping by, Veronica!

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