The Etiquette of Politeness by Jan Barnes (1995)

Book review: The Etiquette of Politeness by Jan Barnes (Copper Beech Publishing Ltd., 1995)

theetiquetteofpolitenessDo not reserve good manners for special occasions!

Good sense and good manners. An 1850 collection of good advice for those wishing to appear polite and well-bred at all times.

I walked past a PDSA charity shop the other day, and with offers like three books for a pound, how could I resist? One of those bargain books was this one, The Etiquette of Politeness, an instruction in etiquette à la 1850. It offers advice in the following areas:

  • How to behave in a room
  • Behaviour at the dinner-table
  • Behaviour at tea-table
  • Behaviour at a garden-party
  • How to choose your company
  • Behaviour in the ball-room
  • Odd tricks
  • Attention
  • Conversation
  • Advice to young ladies in the art of pleasing
  • The qualities necessary in a gentleman

The book is just a little gift book, about 60 pages long, but I found it not just interesting but lots of fun. It’s a little gem if you’re into writing and want to research the Victorian era and how people were and such back then, if you’re wanting to write something historical. Speaking of which, have also been finding books on life in the Victorian times, a book of British history in the 1800s and others, all from charity shops, primarily Oxfam Books & Music. I’m liking charity shops. Cheap books and supporting good causes: win-win!

Back to the book. Here’s its advice on what not to do when turning over the pages in a music book:

– scrubbing your coat against the lady’s cheek,
– knocking out her combs,
– smashing the candles,
– or cutting her finger-ends off, by leaning on the lid of the piano, and forcing it down with a crash!

Married ladies should wear bonnets at garden parties, and at such parties, there simply must be strawberries. It is also noted that

Keeping your thumb and finger for any length of time in another person’s snuff-box is highly improper!

It’s just full of these (to us modern folk) odd little suggestions for how to behave to be polite and blend in with 1850s middle class society. Some of the suggestions are still valid, though, such as turning away if one has to blow one’s nose in public.

4 out of 5 well-mannered gentlefolk.

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