Friday, November 27, 2009

A Rout or A Rout-Party?

I've become enamoured of the word 'rout'. I took it for granted until I started researching it yesterday. I've always known that Regency people held 'routs' or 'rout-parties'. I thought it was common usage; now I'm wondering.

My dictionary tells me that an archaic use of the word 'rout' describes a large evening party or assembly. It is otherwise described as a verb "to poke, search, or rummage" or a noun "a tumultuous or disorderly crowd of persons". Both of those things may of course describe a Regency evening party, but only at a stretch.

So it occurs to me--how many people know this usage of the word 'rout'? Most people know a 'rout' as an overwhelming defeat, I think. How much was the word 'rout' used in the Regency era? Jane Austen certainly knew what 'routs' were, but who popularized use of the word? Who first mentioned the word 'rout' in a Regency romance? It must have been Georgette Heyer, but I'm not sure. My characters certainly attend 'routs'; in fact, in my WIP, my hero and heroine host a 'rout'.

The best description of a rout comes from a manuscript titled the "Receipt Book of Mary Whiting Sewell". It is published in the Georgian and Regency Lady's Fashion Plates CD-ROM from Prints George and is reprinted here with permission.

"Receipt for a Rout
Take all the ladies and gentlemen you can get, place them in a room with low fire--stir them well--have ready a Piano Forte or Harp--a handful of Books and Prints, with a few packs of cards--put them in from time to time--When the mixture begins to settle, sweeten it with briteness of wit if you have it--if not, flattery will do as well and is very cheap. When all is stewed well together for two or three hours,--put in one or two fowls, some tongues, sliced beef or ham, seed cakes, sweetmeats and wine. The more you put the bettter, and the more substantial your rout will be---
N.B. Fill your room quite full and let scum rise off of itself."

This tongue in cheek 'receipt' tells us a great deal about the usual rout. Music, conversation about books and art, occasionally cards and certainly a good supper were the key ingredients of an enjoyable evening party. The last sentence offers a wonderful rebuke of the society.

Jane Austen does not much speak of 'routs' but in Emma, Mrs. Elton does bore everyone with talk of rout-cakes. And indeed, a noted cookbook writer of the time, Maria Rundell includes a recipe for 'Rout Drop Cakes' in her 1806 book and its many subsequent editions.

"Rout Drop Cakes
Mix two pounds of flour, one ditto butter, one ditto sugar, one ditto currants, clean and dry; then wet into a stiff paste, with 2 eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, ditto rose-water, ditto sweet wine, ditto brandy, drop on a tin-plate floured; a very short time bakes them."
These sound the perfect compliment to lobster patties, buttered prawns, ratafia cakes and orgeat.

Evening dresses would be the requirement for attendance at a rout, perhaps knee breeches for the gentlemen. James Gillray offers a sly look at such a gathering in this carton "Lady Godina's Rout"--plumes appear, in some ladies' minds, to have been mandatory.

A rout-party had the advantage of being able to be hosted in an average town house. A formal ball required a ballroom and few but the greatest homes had those. But anyone in fact could hold a rout. A hostess could place conversation and music in the drawing room, cards in the morning room or small parlour, and supper in the dining room. The perfect Christmas party, perhaps?

Many of our own house parties approach the requirements of a rout--some board games, some conversation and good food. I hope you enjoy some wonderful parties this holiday season--

'Til next time,



Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, i've been having difficulties in differing routs with similar activities, but now i have a better picture of it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. Do you know if they were also held outdoors in the summer. Wish we had such warm summers now.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I decided to look it up! I've been a fan of Georgette Heyer's books for as long as I can remember, a couple of originals I have are falling apart because I've read them so often, never get tired of them! I started wondering what the difference was between a rout party & a ball, wasn't sure I'd find anything online, but I should've known better - you can find almost anything online! Thank you for your blog which gave me the answer! :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that very detailed description. What then is a soiree?

Unknown said...

That’s very well explained. Very interesting indeed.

Estelle said...

I love the receipt for a rout. Very descriptive, thank you.

informed reader said...

Thank you for such an interesting, thorough, and often amusing description of a "rout". I am reading a book describing the morals and general political and spiritual environment of 18th century England and that term was mentioned.