Friday, March 22, 2019

Hobnobbing with the Nobs

File:Dukning i Stensale - Livrustkammaren - 87355.tifEver read a scene where a character wonders which glass to drink from or how to introduce one friend to another? In the early nineteenth century, members of the aristocracy didn’t have to wonder. They had been trained in the art of proper social etiquette since they were born, were surrounded by people who practiced it with some level of success. But the middle classes grew as the century wore on, and more and more people began trying to be seen as polished ladies and gentlemen. Where there is need, there is a booming business for instructions, and instructors.

My heroine, Charlotte Worthington, in Never Kneel to a Knight is one such instructor. Her job is to make sure her charges show to advantage among the aristocracy with whom they are attempting to hobnob. Other mushrooms (as those who suddenly come into wealth were called) turned to books. Etiquette books provided a knowable set of rules that promised to elevate you in the eyes of those around you. “Never dance with a gentleman to whom you have not been introduced.” “Moderate your tone when speaking—neither mumble nor shriek.”

Unfortunately, some of the advice was so specific or so vague as to be useless. I had Lord Snedley’s Guide prove such a diversion in my Lady Emily Capers. This fictious lord advised things like the following:

File:Dukat bord. Matsalen - Hallwylska museet - 30710.tif“On her first introduction to a gentleman, a young lady would do well to keep her eyes on his chin, unless of course he should have a pock or wart there. Raising her eyes to his will make her appear forward and staring at his feet will make the fellow uncomfortable. I also advise against staring at birthmarks or protrusions of any sort.”

“It is the darkest sin imaginable to make your hostess odd numbers at table, especially on a Tuesday.”

“Always treat a guest in your home with the greatest civility, unless of course you catch the fellow slipping silver up his sleeve or ogling the picture of your great-aunt Bess. Then, by all means, throw him out on his ear.”

“The truly fashionable are never found at home unless suffering from bilious gout or the need to hide from creditors.”

You can find more sayings of Lord Snedley here.

And may I practice polite etiquette by alerting you to two upcoming delights? Next Monday, March 25, I will be guest-blogging at Number 1 London.  As you may know, that address was the home of the Duke of Wellington. Online, it’s the home of fabulous historian and travel maven, Kristine Hughes Patrone, and I am honored to be her guest, talking about boxing during the Regency period. Try not to get lost in the gorgeous pictures she posts of England!

And be sure to come back on Tuesday, when we have a special guest blogger of our own. “Debut” author Charlotte Henry, also known as the Incomparable Shelley Adina, will be here next week to introduce her new book and share some exciting tidbits about researching her location in Cornwall.

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