As authors, we all know research begets research. Diversions, well, they are irresistibly enticing.
My original intention was to write a post about middle class women in Victorian England. I made it through paragraph one of my research document. There it was. A quotation from an etiquette book written in 1856.
I thought I’d just take a little gander over and have a peek at this book. It should be good for a few laughs. I mean, after all, wasn’t Victorian etiquette a tad over the edge?
I Googled A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies : OR, The Principles of Politeness. Included in Project Glutenberg, the entire manual was free. Bonus.
I printed off the Introduction and Chapter 1 in anticipation of sharing some hilarious etiquette lessons with my husband.
Florence Hartley’s opening line quote:
“In preparing a book of etiquette for ladies, I would lay down as the first rule, ‘Do unto others as you would others should do to you.”
Florence then continues on to summarize politeness is inevitable if you follow this rule. Faux pas made because of lack of etiquette knowledge are overcome by politeness.
Politeness is defined as “…goodness of heart put into daily use; there can be no true politeness without kindness, purity, singleness of heart, and sensibility”. Those that claim “…politeness is merely hypocrisy and dissimulation” find politeness “too much trouble, and so deride the idea of being polite and call it deceitfulness.”. So, fake til you make it is not possible with politeness according to Florence.
Those possessing a good heart will never be rude notwithstanding awkward room entrances, ungrammatical speech or mixing up forks at dinner. They will never puff themselves up at someone else’s expense nor intentionally hurt another’s feelings.
The truly polite woman will be regarded as “beloved as unselfish and womanly”, while a woman who acts the part to gain her own desires will “be known as courteous, spoken of as lady-like”. Florence is clearly indicating different societal views of sincere and false women.
Florence then states etiquette has existed since time immemorial in every part of the world and will until the end of time. Etiquette is a fluctuating state, while politeness is not.
Impoliteness should be greeted with a good heart and politeness, which will shame the untactful or hurtful more than retaliation.
I didn’t giggle once while writing this post. Florence is as relevant today as she was in 1856. Her Introduction left me thoughtful and somewhat sad modern society has wandered away from so simple a precept; a principle which would go far in reconciling the pain countless people suffer at words or actions of a society that believes it has the right to say or do as it pleases, consequences be damned.
Maybe Chapter 1 will contain some outlandish tidbits regarding conversation, but I’m no longer counting on it.