Monday, March 7, 2011

The German

Young people dancing a german figure, The Flying Hat

The first time I heard of a "German" was in the pages of Louisa May Alcott's novel, Rose in Bloom. I loved that book when I was young. Let me set the scene for you. Rose is a young, pretty heiress who wants to do good in the world. She makes a deal with her guardian that she will take six months to experience all the fun that Boston society life has to offer. At the end of the time, she will decide whether to settle down into the simple life of family and philanthropy that her guardian urges.

The time is not yet up, but she is already getting disenchanted with the life. She is seeing a little too much wildness in the young people of her set, especially in her cousin Charlie, who has developed a problem with alcohol.
Charlie asks whether she is attending a ball, and Rose answers that she must because she has already accepted the invitation and so the appointment has been made.

"I must go, because it is made for me; but I can come away early, and make up lost sleep. I do hate to be so fractious," and Rose rubbed the forehead that ached with too much racketing.

"But the German does not begin till late: I 'm to lead, and depend upon you. Just stay this once, to oblige me," pleaded Charlie; for he had set his heart on distinguishing himself.

"No: I promised uncle to be temperate in my pleasures, and I must keep my word. I 'm so well now, it would be very foolish to get ill and make him anxious: not to mention losing my beauty, as you are good enough to call it; for that depends on health, you know."

"But the fun doesn't begin till after supper. Every thing will be delightful, I assure you; and we'll have a gay old time as we did last week at Emma's."

"Then I certainly will not; for I 'm ashamed of myself when I remember what a romp that was, and how sober uncle looked, as he let me in at three in the morning, all fagged out; my dress in rags, my head aching, my feet so tired I could hardly stand, and nothing to show for five hours' hard work but a pocketful of bonbons, artificial flowers, and tissue-paper fool'scaps. Uncle said I 'd better put one on and go to bed; for I looked as if I 'd been to a French Bal Masqué. I never want to hear him say so again, and I 'll never let dawn catch me out in such a plight any more."

"You were all right enough; for mother didn't object, and I got you both home before daylight. Uncle is notional about such things, so I shouldn't mind; for we had a jolly time, and we were none the worse for it."

"Indeed we were, every one of us! Aunt Clara hasn't got over her cold yet; I slept all the next day; and you looked like a ghost, for you 'd been out every night for weeks, I think."
(Louisa May Alcott Rose in bloom: A sequel to "Eight cousins." Roberts brothers, 1876. p. 95-96.)

I know that Rose is coming to terms with the emptiness of a life where one does nothing but party, but as a young teenager I really wanted to try it out for myself. I would have been delighted to dance the German.