Sunday, 11 September 2011

Advice for the Bride-to-Be .....Victorian Style!

The 1830’s and 1840’s saw a fashion for manuals devoted to helping women fulfil their roles as both a wife and mother. The aim of these books was to stress the desirability of being the model wife in socially and domestically – advice that the modern reader may find alarmingly comical.

Respectability was everything and the key was knowing the correct etiquette. Published in 1834, ‘Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society, With a Glance at Bad Habits’, defined etiquette as:

“A shield against the intrusion of the impertinent, the improper and the vulgar….”

This was the book for any self-respecting bride-to-be to read and memorise….especially if you were from the country, or the offspring of wealthy working people, and therefore hopelessly unfamiliar with proper manners and customs. As the author of ‘Hints and Etiquette’ wrote:

“Shopkeepers become merchants…with the possession of wealth they acquire a taste for the luxuries of life, expensive furniture, and gorgeous plate; also numberless superfluities, the use of which they are imperfectly acquainted. But although their capacities for enjoyment increase, it rarely occurs that the polish of their manners keeps pace with the rapidity of their advancement. In all cases, the observances of the Metropolis [seat of refinement] should be received as the standard of good breeding.”
Take care introducing mutual friends....lest they be bores!
For the unwary, everything was a mine field – from introducing friends and paying a call, to whom to invite to dinner and table manners – for those not born into society, the task of fitting in must have seemed Herculean.
Even something as simple as introducing friends, was a mine field.

“Never introduce people to each other without a previous understanding that it will be agreeable to both.”

The reason runs like this:

“A stupid person may be delighted with the society of a man of learning, to whom in return such an acquaintance may prove annoyance and a clog, as one incapable of offering an interchange of thought, or an idea worth listening to.”

Such was the risk of introducing a bore that if unexpected thrust into the situation of, whilst walking with a friend, bumping into an acquaintance not know to that friend, “Never introduce them.” The risk of them proving not to be a kindred spirit was too great!
Neither, should you take an uninvited friend, to the home of another, because:

“….there is always a feeling of jealousy that another should share our thoughts and feelings to the same extend as themselves, although good breeding will induce them to behave civilly to your friend on your account.”

In Wednesday’s post – I expound on the ritual of “Calling” – what was proper, and what was improper, as outlined in the 1850 manual, “How to Behave – A Pocket Manual of Etiquette.”


  1. Some of this has trickled down through the years as in today's time when having a party, we try to invite people we hope will have something in common with each other. Snobbery of sorts is still with us for one never really sees a dinner party where the CEO of one's company is invited along with say one's housekeeper.

    Thanks for sharing! Would love to read books like this.

  2. Connie, it comes down to common sense at the end of the day. I love how this is written down as advice, but today would be considered 'not inclusive' and therefore politically incorrect.

    Grace x


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