Julia: Look, I’m waving my mittens at you frantically. What’s going on?
Mike: I know exactly what’s going on because of our ‘language of gloves’ game, which was a big hit in our recent Keats-related event at the excellent Hastings Book Festival in September. By the Regency era, slinky-glove-semaphore had developed into a fantastically elaborate language for making surreptitious dates or furiously cancelling them. Frantically waving mittens, you say… Are you saying: ‘Two yards of ale and a bag of winkles please?’ Or ‘can you fetch me a bap with that notoriously see-through ham that’s a Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens’ speciality throughout the nineteenth century?’ You might explain what this has to do with Keats…
Julia: Keats was a keen visitor to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the Glastonbury of its day. If you wanted a balloon ride, to watch a battle reenactment or just take a spoony walk in a dimly lantern-lit shrubbery, you headed over the river with your chums. Keats saw a South London lovely there, and was so captivated by way she removed her glove that he wrote her a sonnet FIVE YEARS LATER. We did some research into the coded way Regency ladies wore their gloves and incorporated it into the new show.
Speaking of research, I’ve discovered today that the ‘Sally Forth’ is the last course of a Georgian meal. You’d have your last bit of something to eat at a friend’s house, and then you’d sally forth, replete, into the night. Any Sally Forths at Keats House on Thursday?
Mike: We’d like people to sally forth – that is, come along! If they do, it being so close to Keats’ birthday, there will be a Sally Forth – a slice of cake and perhaps a glass of wine with which to toast JK on his 227th birthday. Our theme being ‘encounters’, the company will be lively and mixed – fellow writers, self-declared geniuses and mysterious possible lovers. We’ll be exploring why such meetings matter, the decisive ways in which they developed him as a writer and thinker and the poems they prompted – by Keats himself and the poets that followed him. Sounds a decent night out to me. What do the gloves say?
Julia: The gloves say ‘The lady may be persuaded!’
A Joy Forever: Keats, Wordsworth and other loaded encounters at Keats House, Thursday 27 October, 6.30pm. Tickets here.