Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners

Josephine Ross's  Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners, Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders (with illustrations by Henrietta Webb) is a little book, duplicating the size of Austen’s original volumes. (Pride and Prejudice was published in three volumes.) It fits perfectly in my delicate feminine hands. The book is chock full of rules that kept everyone on the straight and narrow (at least for the middle and upper classes). For example, all ladies and gentlemen should carry calling cards, and once you visited with someone, you could not call again until the visit had been returned. This might leave someone twiddling their thumbs for a very long while if the visited party chose not to come a-calling.

Of course, the rules for young people were quite exacting, and if a lady was able to secure the affection of a gentleman, there was a whole other set of rules to observe, most especially, avoiding open shows of affection. Kissing, at any time, was out of the question. And so it went through marriage, child rearing, maturity, and death.

Occasionally, the author includes an interesting tidbit, such as “Manners Makyth Man is, of course, the famous motto of Winchester College, where the Authoress’s much-loved nephews were pupils; and it is no coincidence that… she gave the name of Winchester’s revered headmaster, Dr. Goddard, to the fictional proprietress of the modest little ladies school in Emma.” But mostly, it is a recitation of those rules that governed the lives of Jane Austen and her contemporaries.

Since we live in a time where just about anything goes, it might appear that people living in the Regency Era walked around in a cultural minefield. On the other hand, think how thrilling it would be for a young girl, new to society, to learn that a gentleman had approached a master of ceremonies at a dance for the purpose of seeking an introduction. It could almost make you swoon. Ladies, get out your fans.

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