So much has been lost in the way of good manners and protocol. My generation was taught that, “Age comes before beauty” and we were reared to respect our elders. They too were once young, vibrant and fashionable and certainly had their days in the sun.
The mere fact that the older generation has remained and survived gives them the rite of passage. A heavy line of demarcation should be drawn in the sand to separate those learning and the learned. As the Farmers’ Insurance commercial says, “We know a thing or two because we have seen a thing or two!”
Those who do not know the ropes should be better observers and if necessary, they should read and discover what the Georgians call “fitting and proper” behavior. They can visit their local library, Google or talk to people who have been on the earth for a while. Then they can learn what good manners and proper protocol look like in the real world.
In some of the Victorian novels that I have recently read, parents who felt that they did not have all the tools to give to their sons and daughters entrusted them into more cultured households. They would allow their children to stay with others for long periods of time so that they could be taught how to interact in society.
Franny Burney’s novel called Evelina shows the adoptive father sending Evelina to a host of homes where the older women groomed her for her debut into society. He knew that he had given her all the love that he could muster but understood that she needed the refinement of seasoned women. In one instance, Evelina is attracted to a young Lord Orville yet she feels that her lack of proper training could hamper his acceptance of her. Over time, she finds her way and things work out just fine between them.
Mary, a widowed doctor’s daughter in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters is also sent to a variety of homes of polished and refined families. They each prune her and teach her by taking her around people in high society. She attends sequined balls, social parties along with operas and plays.
In The Bostonians by Henry James, Verena Tarrant is from an impoverished family in Cambridge. She has been taken under the wing of a wealthy woman, Olive, and soon people note her heightened sophistication and confidence. Her clothes become grander and her European trips help to develop her image as a more cosmopolitan woman.
Nowadays, it would behoove us to continue to prepare our young people so that they can function on many levels without insulting those around them. The book Miss Manners Book of Etiquette is still available in several editions and there should be a copy in every home library.
It is better to get behind the eight ball and have a chance of shooting one’s best shot rather than be knocked out of the game. No one wants to be left on the sidelines with the discarded ballsand a lack of good manners may leave many out of the game!
Lynn M. June 29, 2019
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