by Mallory James
Genres: Non Fiction
Release Date: November 30, 2017
Purchase from: Amazon
My Rating: ★★★★★
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in the nineteenth century? How would you have gotten 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 have wanted to avoid, you will discover an abundance of etiquette advice from across the century, and a lively, occasionally tongue-in-cheek, and thoroughly detailed history of nineteenth-century manners and conduct.
This well-researched book is enjoyable, compelling reading for anyone with an interest in this period. In exploring the expectations of behavior and etiquette, it brings the world of the nineteenth century to life.
I started reading Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century (EENC) because it was available on Kindle Unlimited and sounded vaguely interesting. However, within two chapters, I’d purchased it so I can re-read it and refer to my notes and highlights whenever I want.
While on the surface, 19th century etiquette has no application in today’s world, the ideas behind it, and some of the general rules of etiquette can apply just as much today as they did then. Cautions against being boastful, acting rude, or keeping company with people who would diminish your character are all things worth keeping in mind today. I would go so far as to say the world would be a better place if we had more rules of etiquette, or at least an expectation that they be followed.
Much of 19th century etiquette centers on respect for others and self awareness and confidence. If we all treated each other with respect, regardless of personal feelings and opinions, there would certainly be less strife in the world.
But this isn’t about my opinions of the world, it’s supposed to be about my opinion of EENC .
I think Ms. James does an excellent job of giving a basic rundown of etiquette in the 19th century. She compares the advice from manuals released at different times within the century and the ways they deferred. And she kept what could be a very dry subject interesting enough for me to keep reading.
For Jane Austen fans, more specifically Pride and Prejudice fans, thanks to EENC, I have a much better understanding of the degree of difficulty Mr. Darcy had in excusing the Bennett family’s many blunders. What seem, today, like minor annoyances, would have been, in his time, the near equivalent of having a casually racist relative today: absolutely mortifying and repugnant. It certainly makes his feelings and struggles with them more understandable.
This book isn’t for everyone. But, if you find the way people used to live interesting, you’ll very likely enjoy EENC.
About the Author
Mallory James read History and German at University College London, before completing her master’s degree at Queen Mary, University of London. She has contributed to a number of outlets, including All About History, History in an Hour and Historic UK. Her first book, Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century, was published by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017.
Disclaimer: This review is based on an eBook I purchased from Amazon on June 17, 2020.