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29 October 2013

The Allure of the Masquerade

In Halloween week, in between getting my daughter's costume ready, starting a new book, juggling deadlines, and packing for two trips, I've been thinking about masquerades. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays and for me the most fun isn't the candy, it's deciding who to be.

My daughter Mélanie is wearing an adorable princess costume that we got at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But I wanted her to be someone more specific than a princess. She's still young enough that I got the fun of deciding, and I realized the perfect choice was Angelina from Rossini's opera La Cenerentola, otherwise known as Cinderella. Last weekend we went to the Jack-o-Lantern Jamboree at Children's Fairyland. I decided to wear a costume as well. A long gauzy skirt that reminds me of a Russian lacquer box, a black top, a black lace headband with a red rose, a garnet and gold filigree necklace. I was Tatiana from Eugene Onegin (poem by Puskin, opera by Tchaikovsky). One of the delights of having a child is the built in excuse to dress up for Halloween (not that one needs an excuse).

I love writing masquerade scenes in books. So many opportunities for intrigue and it can be fun (and sometimes challenging) to decide who one's different characters will masquerade as. A great way to comment on their personality or to hint at hidden aspects of that personality. I love the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where Buffy dresses as the sort of 18th-century lady she thinks would appeal to Angel and Willow tries to wear a sexy costume and then at the last minute throws a ghost's sheet over it. Ultimately all the characters turn into the person they are masquerading as, leading to some interesting complications and some interesting commentary on how they see themselves and each other.

Masquerades were very popular in early 19th century, particularly at the Congress of Vienna, which I wrote about in my book Vienna Waltz. The themes varied. Metternich gave one at which the guests were supposed to wear the national dress of their various countries (apparently a number of peasant girls with diamond-encrusted dirndls swirled on the dance floor). Lady Castlereagh caused talk by wearing her husband's Order of the Garter in her hair, leading some to wonder if she was costumed as a Vestal Virgin. One of the most notable in a long line of notable entertainments at the Congress was the Carrousel, an elaborate recreation of a 16th century tournament. Young gallants were costumed as 16th century jousters. A select group of ladies also wore 16th century dress and presided over the tournament as the demoiselles d'honneur. Ironically, the sort of the 16th century tournament they were recreating had itself been an imitation of medieval tournaments, at which 16th century aristocrats had played at masquerading as knights from the chivalric era. The allure of the masquerade extends across centuries.

What's your favorite masquerade scene in a book? Your favorite Halloween television episode? And are you wearing a costume this Halloween?


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