An invitation to the ball – a guest post by Katherine Woodfine

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Today sees the publication of one of the books my girls and I have most eagerly been awaiting this spring – The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Katherine Woodfine. It’s the second novel featuring two terrific, daring and delightful Edwardian detectives, Sophie and Lil, as they solve a new mystery involving East End gangs, sparkling jewellery with a curse upon it, and powerful and dangerous aristocrats. Masters of disguise, Sophie and Lil get to pass themselves off as debutantes enjoying their first season in London’s high society, providing plenty of opportunities for dressing up and a little bit of mischievous fun at the same time as cracking a puzzle that’s been a problem even if Scotland Yard.

It’s with great pleasure that I today welcome the book’s author, Katherine Woodfine to share with us some of the background information she learned about social events like afternoon tea and fancy dress balls whilst researching The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth.

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“The London Season was jam-packed with parties, balls, events and dinners – so much so that many a debutante found herself completely exhausted by the frenzy of social activity! In The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth we follow Veronica and her debutante friends to some of these events – from garden parties to afternoon tea gatherings, grand dinner parties, and of course, coming-out-balls.

Balls were an especially important part of the London Season. They usually began later in the evening – guests might have already attended a dinner party or another event. During the Season, balls were typically held in grand London houses, where guests would dance, eat a delicious supper, and perhaps stroll out onto a terrace to cool off between dances. 

On arrival at these balls, young ladies would be given a dance programme: a small card listing all the evening’s dances, with a tiny pencil attached. They then had to wait patiently by the side of the dance-floor with their chaperones, hoping for a young man to approach and ask them to dance – young ladies were never allowed to ask men to dance with them! He would then write his name in the appropriate space on her dance-card. Most debutantes would dread being left to sit on the sidelines, and their great hope would be to fill their dance-card up as much possible before the dancing actually began.

A dance card to fill up at the ball! Illustration © Júlia Sardà
A dance card to fill up at the ball!
Illustration © Júlia Sardà

The most important of all the dances was the supper-dance, because after this, a young lady’s partner would take her through to have supper, meaning that they would have chance to spend more time together. But even this was not really an opportunity to talk privately with a potential suitor: even whilst chatting over supper, a debutante knew that her chaperone was always watching! The sharp eyes of Edwardian high society were always on the look-out for even the slightest signs of improper behaviour.

As well as more traditional balls, the Edwardians enjoyed themed dances such as the Royal Caledonian Ball, where men dressed in Highland attire and everyone danced Scottish reels. They also loved fancy-dress balls – though their costumes are perhaps a little different to those we might wear at a fancy-dress party today!

In The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, Veronica’s coming-out-ball has a fancy dress theme, which gives Sophie and Lil the chance to disguise themselves and go undercover for some investigation amongst London’s society set. Here they have a chance to see a grand Edwardian ball for themselves – but it doesn’t take them long to discover that they are not the only people at the ball who have secrets to hide…”

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A little bit of glamour, lots of intrigue, excitement, quick thinking, confident heroines – all of these are wonderful ingredients in The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth. Thankyou Katherine for creating such enjoyable and thrilling stories to share. Our only problem is that now the long wait for the third book in the series beings…

  • Here’s Playing by the Book’s review of the Sophie and Lil’s first adventure, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
  • Follow Katherine on Twitter @followtheyellow
  • Find out more about Katherine on her website: http://katherinewoodfine.co.uk/
  • Follow Katherine’s blog: http://followtheyellow.co.uk/
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