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Mrs. Hurst Dancing

The cold winter day I popped into my favorite second hand bookstore (St. Mary’s Books) in the town I didn’t expect to find anything. I was out taking photos; I needed to thaw out my hands (any excuse). While combing the history section for Medieval knights I caught sight of the words “Mrs Hurst Dancing”. My brain didn’t even compute the smaller print on the spine. The size of the book suggested it contained lots of pictures. Being a curious wench, I wanted to know why someone would write a book about some married woman who danced. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the cover. There in my hands was a book I’d never heard of called (now that my brain bothered to read the subtitle) ‘Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes From Regency Life 1812-1823 Watercolours by Diana Sperling…’

I held my breath as I opened the cover to find the penciled price. It was only £6. I clutched it to my chest and laughed as I resisted dancing in the confined space. I flipped through a few pages and was enchanted. I quickly closed the book and decided it would be one of my Christmas presents which means I didn’t look at more than five of the 70 plates till Christmas day. If you love the Regency era, and you’ve never seen this book, you will want your own copy. Diana Sperling, the young woman painting scenes from her life, had a great sense of humor and clearly a love of the absurd. I had to share a few of the pictures. These aren’t even the best ones (though I include my single favorite). These few give a flavor of the rest. Diana was part of a wealthy family (her father was Lord of the Manor) who were happy and content regardless of what was going on outside their little world. The first painting introduces most of the main people in her paintings…

(The notes in italic are from the book and are written by Gordon Mingay) The family at dinner, around 1812/1813. At the head of the table sits Diana’s brother-in-law Henry Van Hagen, who had, it seems just arrived as the servant is taking his coat. On the left are her two brothers, Henry (Harry) John, the elder of the two, and Charles Robert Sperling; then comes her younger sister Isabella, and Diana herself. At the foot of the table, sitting on a sofa beside a birdcage apparently containing a parrot, is Mrs Sperling, Diana’s mother. With their backs towards us are (left to right) Mrs Van Hagen, Henry’s mother; Mr John Sperling, Diana’s father; and another sister Harriet Van Hagen, Henry’s wife, who appears to be feeding her dog Fairy with tidbits from the table.  I love this picture…the mismatched chairs and the mother sitting on a settee at the table…with a bird next to her…so it wouldn’t get lonely?  It’s so bizarre…I love it.