by Grace Elliot
Hello and a big thank you to Maria for hosting me. Last year Maria visited my blog and posted a fascinating article inspired by Mrs Rundell’s cook book – similarly, my inspiration is taken from a Victorian etiquette handbook: “Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society, With a Glance at Bad Habits.”
This book was one of many that sprang up in the early Victorian period, devoted to helping women fulfill their twin role as wife and mother. The aim of these books was to stress the desirability of being the model wife in socially and domestically – advice that the modern reader may find unsettling and comical.
In the 1830’s respectability was everything and the key to this was knowing the correct etiquette, defined as:
“A shield against the intrusion of the impertinent, the improper and the vulgar….”
But ‘Hints on Etiquette’ held strong views on those rising above their station and voices a scathing opinion:
“Shopkeepers become merchants…with the possession of wealth they acquire a taste for the luxuries of life, expensive furniture, and gorgeous plate; also numberless superfluities, the use of which they are imperfectly acquainted. But although their capacities for enjoyment increase, it rarely occurs that the polish of their manners keeps pace with the rapidity of their advancement. In all cases, the observances of the Metropolis [seat of refinement] should be received as the standard of good breeding.”
For the unwary, such as our country-lass-come-to-the-city, everything was a mine field – from introducing friends and paying a call, to whom to invite to dinner and table manners. I pity those not born into society for the task of fitting in must have seemed Herculean. Even something as simple as bumping into an acquaintance whilst in the company of a friend, could be a mine field.
“Never introduce people to each other without a previous understanding that it will be agreeable to both.”
The risk of them proving not to be a kindred spirit was too great!
The reason (from Hints on Etiquette) runs like this:
“A stupid person
may be delighted with the society of a man of learning, to whom in return such an acquaintance may prove annoyance and a clog, as one incapable of offering an interchange of thought, or an idea worth listening to.”
Neither, should you take an uninvited friend, to the home of another, because:
“….there is always a feeling of jealousy that another should share our thoughts and feelings to the same extend as themselves, although good breeding will induce them to behave civilly to your friend on your account.”
I quite like the concept behind some Victorian social etiquette, such as calling cards (and a chance to turn unwanted guests away as “Not at home”) and the idea of a fifteen minute visit (before conversation runs thin). But on the whole Hints on Etiquette gives the impression of a snobby, stuffy society where people judged each other on their accents and style, rather than substance and loyalty.
What do you think?
How important are manners in the modern world?
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace believes intelligent people need to read romance as an antidote to the modern world. As an avid reader of historicals she turned to writing as a release from the emotionally draining side of veterinary work.
Grace lives near London and is addicted to cats. The Elliot household consists of five cats, two teenage sons, one husband, a guinea pig – and the latest addition – a bearded dragon!
Find her at:
Her latest book
- Dinner with Mrs Rundel (Grace Elliot)
- The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same (Philippa Jane Keyworth)
- This is the Way We Wash the Clothes (Kim Rendfeld)
- A short history of modern manners (independent.co.uk)
- The Ultimate Guide to Worldwide Etiquette Gives You an Overview of Customs from Around the World (lifehacker.com)