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#TuesdayBookBlog ELEGANT ETIQUETTE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY by Mallory James A fascinating look into the past and a great source for writers and social history researchers

Hi all:

I bring you another one of my reviews of a non-fiction book that I found delightful. I must confess I am pleased I don’t have to live by these rules as I am sure I would have been totally useless and would have done all the wrong things. But reading about it is great fun!

Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James. Book review
Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in the nineteenth century? How would you have got a partner in a ballroom? What would you have done with a letter of introduction? And where would you have sat in a carriage? Covering all these nineteenth-century dilemmas and more, this book is your must-have guide to the etiquette of our well-heeled forebears. As it takes you through the intricacies of rank, the niceties of the street, the good conduct that was desired in the ballroom and the awkward blunders that a lady or gentleman would, of course, have wanted to avoid, you will discover an abundance of etiquette advice from across the century. Elegant Etiquette is a lively, occasionally tongue-in-cheek and thoroughly detailed history of nineteenth century manners and conduct. Drawing upon research into contemporary advice and guidance, Elegant Etiquette is both fun and compelling reading for anyone with an interest in this period. In exploring the expectations of behaviour and etiquette, it seeks to bring the world of the nineteenth century back to life.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1526705206/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B078KBBLBC/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078KBBLBC/

Author Mallory James
Author Mallory James

About the Author

Mallory James read History and German at University College London, before moving to postgraduate study at Queen Mary, University of London. She has long been interested in the nineteenth century, which led to the creation of Behind The Past as a place to explore (in a generally tongue-in cheek-manner) the social and cultural history of the Regency and Victorian periods. The blog aims to look at the way ladies and gentlemen ate, dressed, behaved and generally navigated the social landscapes (and minefields) in which they lived.

Her first book, Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century, was published by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017.

https://behindthepast.com/

@_behindthepast

My review:

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I am a big fan of Pen & Sword books and I have learned a lot on a variety of subjects thanks to their great selection, but I must admit to having a soft spot for social history. Although I love history books and have recently become keen on historical fiction, I think that social history helps us get a better sense of what life was like in the past, not only for the kings, aristocrats, and powerful people but also for the rest of the population. The everyday life of going around one’s usual business, talking to people, working, rarely makes it into the big books, but it is what life is truly about. And those are the details that bring the past to life. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, these books are also great to provide background to writers, filmmakers, and, in general, artists looking to create works set in a particular time in history, as it helps them gain a better understanding of what it would have been like to live then.

This particular volume is a delight. I have read a number of novels set in the era and watched uncountable movies and television series that take place in the XIX century as well, and although I thought I was familiar with the customs, social rules and mores of the time, I was surprised by how truly complicated following proper etiquette was. As the author often explains, rules were not set in stone and they changed throughout the century. What was a must at the beginning of the XIX century would have been out of fashion by the end, and rules were open to interpretation, as sometimes different sources offered completely different advice. Should you eat fish with a fork and bread, two forks, or a fork and a fish knife (the answer depends on at what point of the XIX century we were eating it)? Would it have been proper for you to introduce people you knew, or even greet people you met in the streets even if you had been introduced? What was the best time to go for a walk or to visit your acquaintances? What did it truly mean if somebody was ‘not at home’?

Such topics and many more are discussed in this short volume, and it makes for fascinating reading. The author is skilled at summarising the rules from a large variety of sources (there is a detailed bibliography at the end and footnotes to check where each point can be expanded on), and also at providing practical examples that help clarify matters like how would you address somebody you are introduced to, or in which order would guest enter the dining room. Her turn of phrase is particularly apt, as her own explanations and the quotes and references to texts blend seamlessly, and she manages to write clearly and engagingly in beautiful prose.

The tone of the book is light and there are funny moments, but there are also reminders of how different things were for those who had more serious concerns than following the rules of etiquette. The book includes 11 chapters that deal in a variety of topics, from rank, precedence and title, to what was considered good company, paying calls, dining, ballroom behaviour, conversation, and correspondence, how to treat the service, courtship, and it also offers hints for ladies and gentlemen. The book (I had access to the paperback copy but I know the pictures are available in the digital version as well) contains a number of plates that help illustrate the proper dress etiquette throughout the century for different occasions and there are also pictures of some of the fashion accessories of the period.

I had to share a couple of examples from the book, so you can get a feeling for the writing style and the type of advice it contains:

If a lady or gentleman was plagued by a person saluting them in the street who they did not like, who they did not want to call upon, and who they thought was taking a gross impertinence continually bowing to them, it was still better for the afflicted lady or gentleman to return the recognition. (For some reason, this brought to my mind the nodding bulldogs that used to grace the back windows of cars).

Talking about men’s fashion, the book has this to say:

Similarly, a gentleman would have been restrained in his use of personal ornamentation. After all, a gentleman was a gentleman, not a magpie hankering after shiny trinkets.

Although some of the rules contained in this book might seem too fussy and silly nowadays, there are some about listening to people and being respectful towards others, no matter what their social circumstances (in fact, being more polite and generous the more difficult things are for them) that will make readers nostalgic for those more gentile and kinder times. There are always things we can learn from the past and it is important to learn and remember.

Another great little volume from Pen & Sword and one that I particularly recommend to anybody interested in XIX century history, novels, movies set in the period, and to writers and creators looking for inspiration or researching that era. It is also a fun read for people that study social history or are interested in the origins of some of our customs and on how these have changed. Unmissable.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW! And keep smiling!

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

27 replies on “#TuesdayBookBlog ELEGANT ETIQUETTE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY by Mallory James A fascinating look into the past and a great source for writers and social history researchers”

Indeed, but not always! It was funny because somebody was talking to us about a charity project and joined us walking in the same direction we were going, rather than trying to stop us, and I told my mother that was right in tune with the advice of the period (you should never block a street and stand there inconveniencing everybody). I didn’t tell the young man that he was following the rules of the XIX century but it was a nice touch. ♥

I really liked that rule, although some were rather bizarre (you might talk to somebody in a train but that did not mean that you had been officially introduced and you should not acknowledge that person if you met them in other circumstances). 🙂

I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s difficult not to imagine being in all those situations. It was very complicated! Thanks, Robbie!

Good old Pen and Sword! Sounds like a ‘must-have’ for historical fiction writers, and also a fascinating look back at manners that have long since disappeared.
Best wishes, Pete.

This is right up my alley!! I am a HUGE Jane Austen fan, and I often think of what a fool I would have made of myself in this time. I’ll have to read this and brush up in case I ever fall through a time portal! .. Although, I’m still quite the Tom boy and would never be able to put up with the social constraints put on females! I would be the talk of the Ton smoking cigars and drinking whiskey with the men!

After reading the book I must confess that it must have been very difficult not to do the wrong thing or offend somebody. I have come to appreciate why the lady of the house was so busy too. I am with you and can imagine I’d manage to keep tongues busy. 😉

So often it’s how the topic is presented. Olga, this one sounds like it has it all. After reading your review, I’m sure I would enjoy the read — and find the contents valuable. Best to Mallory. Hugs all around.

Thanks, Teagan. I’m sure you’d enjoy it. I know you love the fine details and you’re a great observer of people. Have a stress-free day. 🙂

I never would have survived the XIX century, Olga! Etiquette and I have a contrary relationship. I’d best have a glass of wine in hand before opening this one, yet it does sound like a fun read 🙂 ❤️

It is, Tina. I remind myself that, all things considered, I’d probably have been a maid and unlikely to be in a position to make a fool of myself, but it was a minefield! Have a great weekend!

Hi Olga! This book reads fascinating to me. I’d love to read it and will add it to my TBR list. Like you mentioned, we can always learn from the past, especially about manners and good etiquette, because we’re sorely lacking in this area nowadays. 😉 I hope all is going well for you in Barcelona. <3 xx

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