Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby, 2013 (Credit: Warner Bros)

    Six literary parties to brighten up your social isolation

    30 April 2020

    How Jay Gatsby would have reacted to restrictions on large gatherings or Mrs Bennet to a ban on wedding ceremonies we can only imagine.

    For those of us already reminiscing about the days of pub quizzes, dinner parties and dancing at weddings, there is comfort to be found. It’s sitting right there on the bookshelf.

    Literature has played host to some of the most wild and hedonistic shindigs in history.  After all, if you can’t live it: write (or read) about it. Here are six of the best, where the punch never runs dry.

    Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday, The Lord of the Rings

    Martin Freeman in the film adaptation of The Hobbit. Credit: New Line cinema, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Maye

    With three official meals, 144 attendees and wizard-made fireworks, the 111th birthday of Bilbo could have made a story in its own right. Yet it is just the catalyst for the extraordinary journeys and battles that take place in Tolkein’s The Lord of the rings series.

    Bizarrely the party hasn’t even taken place in our time: invites are sent for September 22 3001, so there’s still plenty of time left to look forward to it.

    Who isn’t desperate for the age when they can honestly tell their relatives: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”?

    The Capulet’s masquerade ball, Romeo and Juliet

    Claire Danes and Leonardo Di Caprio in Baz Lurman’s 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (Credit: Twentieth Century Fox)

    Whether it’s Baz Lurham’s sequined catsuits and gyrating hips or the National Ballet pirouetting in their tutus, every interpretation of the masquerade party has its own particular magic. Scene V is when our star-crossed lovers get their first glimpse of one another. From then things begin to get more passionate – and more violent.

    The party is hosted by Old Capulet, probably the richest man in Verona, so it’s no wonder the Montague boys wanted to gatecrash.

    The New Year turkey curry buffet, Bridget Jones’s Diary

    Colin Firth in the film adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary (Credit: Little Bird/StudioCanal)

    From one tale of hopeless lovers to another…Uncle Geoffrey and Aunt Una’s festive turkey curry buffet is where Bridget meets Mark Darcy, kicking off a series of romantic bumblings that are sweet and cringe-worthy in equal measure.

    Whether it’s Darcy’s lumpy V-neck golfing jumper or Geoffrey’s descriptions of young Bridget frolicking in his garden with no clothes on: every detail is painfully familiar and deliciously funny.

    Jay Gatsby’s house parties, The Great Gatsby

    Carey Mulligan in the 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (Credit: Warner Bros)

    Literature’s ultimate impresario, Jay Gatsby’s parties epitomise the heady, out-of-control days of New York’s Wall Street set just before the financial crash of 1929. Fountains of champagne and tiers upon tiers of flapper girls take over Gatsby’s party pad. And what a pad: with Rolls-Royces, a swimming pool, a private beach and a live orchestra playing under the stars, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imaginings could put any modern rapper’s birthday bash to shame. The one thing that seems to be mysteriously lacking? Jay Gatsby himself.

    The Meryton Ball, Pride and Prejudice

    Keira Knightley in the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (Credit: Universal Studios, Focus Features)

    Is your living room large enough to twirl around in a circle dance or a waltz? Excellent. Then even while self-isolating at home you can imagine yourself to be Jane Bennet, the belle of Meryton Ball, being courted by every eligible bachelor in the shire.

    Or you could do Lizzy proud and step to the side and throw a bitingly witty remark at any imaginary Mr Darcys sitting on their high horses and refusing to dance.

    Hopefully in your own version of the Meryton Ball there’ll be no eagle-eyed mothers chaperoning your every move. Just make sure the curtains are shielding you from the view of confused neighbours.

    The Longest Party Ever Held, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series

    Question marks remain over how long our quarantine could last. That means we’ll all be needing a good long knees up to cheer us up. Luckily we have just the one, thanks to Douglas Adams. His ‘Longest Party Ever Held’ has lasted for four generations (or so the author says) and is showing no signs of giving up the ghost anytime soon.

    Even better it’s a floating party that goes around looting other places for cheese crackers and avocado dip.

    The party, however, is not without its problems. As the narrator explains: all the people present “are either the children or the grandchildren or the great-grandchildren of the people who wouldn’t leave in the first place, and because of all the business about selective breeding and regressive genes and so on, it means that all the people now at the party are either absolutely fanatical partygoers, or gibbering idiots, or, more and more frequently, both. Either way, it means that, genetically speaking, each succeeding generation is now less likely to leave than the preceding one.”