March 6, 2017

We’re looking forward to the premiere this evening of Wisconsin Public Television’s Polka!, which includes an image of some lively dancing from our holdings:

From Thackeray’s work, Mrs. Perkins’ ball (1847). Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The image comes from Mrs. Perkin’s ball [London]: Chapman & Hall, 1847, by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1811-1863. The popular work was published pseudonymously under the name M. A. (Michael Angelo!) Titmarsh as part of his series of Christmas books.

Title page, with Thackeray’s name penciled in by a librarian much after the fact.

For more on “Thackeray’s amusements for the festive season,” see Simon Cooke’s essay on “Illustration and Irony — Thackeray’s Christmas Books” in The Victorian Web.

The character seen dancing the grand polka (or, rather, a double shuffle jig) with such abandon is The Mulligan.

We first encountered the account of the “Grand Polka” while preparing an exhibit in 2012 entitled “Diversions in the Victorian Age,” installed in conjunction with a conference in Madison of the North American Victorian Studies Association. That exhibit drew upon the holdings of Special Collections to illustrate pastimes enjoyed by those of high social standing, members of the middle class, and the less fortunate in British society during Victoria’s long reign. If you want to read more of the goings-on at Mrs. Perkin’s ball, please come visit us in the Special Collections reading room: the call number for the book in question is PR5613 M6 1847.

We also call your attention to the many polka-related resources in Mills Music Library and to the Polka Music/Polka Culture collection in UW Digital Collections. Much about polka can also be found at the website for the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.