A Darcyholic’s Guide to Gentlemanly Etiquette
By Maria Grace
(I am very happy to have Maria Grace with us here at Darcyholic Diversions today. I have had the gift of not only getting to know her through her writings but getting to know her as an author, but as a very good friend. I hope you will enjoy her post. And also take time to read my own post which is a part of the Authors In Bloom Blog Tour with a Kindle as the grand prize. Title is Bloom Where You Are Planted. )
High among Fitzwilliam Darcy’s appeals as a character are his proper behavior and his polite manners. Together, these communicate his respect for others and his respect for himself. Portraying these properly in my newest book, All the Appearance of Goodness, was a challenge. I had to dig into a lot of research on the topic and ended up finding it truly fascinating. I hope you enjoy a brief over view of it as much as I did.
The Regency era was a time of strict etiquette with sometimes complex rules. A true gentleman would have been able to navigate these with poise and confidence. The task was not for the faint of heart, however. A gentleman had to keep himself under good regulation, lest one ill-timed mishap cast a taint upon his reputation. The established etiquette of the Regency era emphasized class and rank and the proper relations between the genders. Although the rules might appear awkward and restrictive, they did act as a safeguard against misunderstanding and embarrassment for all parties.
Learning all these rules must have been a challenge for a gentleman or a lady of the period. They were certainly a challenge for this author to try and learn in order to accurately portray Darcy’s interactions with Elizabeth and her family.
In line with the emphasis on elegance and formality, gentlemen were encouraged to maintain an erect seating posture when sitting or standing. Slouching or leaning back was regarded as slothful unless the individual was infirm in some way. Similarly, a well-bred man walked upright and moved with grace and ease with an elegance of manners and deportment, responding to any social situation with calm assurance and aplomb.
Extremes of emotion and public outbursts were unacceptable, as was anything pretentious or flamboyant. A gentleman had to control his features, his physical bodies and his speech when in company. All forms of vulgarity were unacceptable and to be continually guarded against. Laughter, too, was moderated in polite company, particularly among women. Men might engage in unrestrained mirth in the company of other men.
Etiquette demanded a gentleman behaved with courteous dignity to acquaintance and stranger alike at all times. Servants were to be kept at a proper distance but without arrogance, pride or aloofness, spoken to with an appropriate degree of civility and without the casual informality with which a person might address an equal. Private business was not discussed in the presence of servants and they were generally ignored at mealtimes. Mocking or belittling servants or their families was deemed undignified and a sign of bad manners.
In the company of ladies, a gentleman would be especially careful to protect her reputation. Since a chaperone would be required for any young, single woman, he would accept their presence as a matter of course.
Moreover, as it was unacceptable to speak to anyone of good breeding without a formal introduction by a third party, a true gentleman would always seek an introduction with any lady he wished to become acquainted with. At a public ball, the Master of Ceremonies would conduct this service to enable gentleman and ladies to dance.
Gentlemen and ladies of equal rank bowed and curtsied when formally introduced to each other and again when parting. If of unequal rank, the person of lower rank bowed or curtsied. After being introduced, individuals always acknowledged each other in public, ladies with a slight bow of the shoulders, gentlemen with a tip or touch to the hat using the hand farthest away from the lady to raise it.
If a gentleman met a lady with whom he had a friendship and who signified that she wished to talk, good manners dictated he should turn and walk with her as they conversed. It was not appropriate to make a lady stand talking in the street. If walking with a lady and a flight of stairs was encountered. Ascending the stairs, he should precede the lady (running, according to one authority); in descending, he followed.
In a carriage, a gentleman took the seat rear facing. If he for some reason, he found himself alone in a carriage with a lady, he could not sit next to her unless he was her husband, brother, father, or son. A proper gentleman always exited a carriage first so that he may hand the lady down, always taking appropriate care not to step on her dress.
Not surprisingly, good manners required all forms of touching between members of the opposite sex be kept to a minimum. Putting a lady's shawl about her shoulders, or assisting her to mount a horse, enter a carriage and for a gentleman to take a lady's arm through his to support her while out walking were considered acceptable of courtesy. Shaking hands, though, was not. Only man and women on rather intimate terms shook hands. A gentleman might kiss a lady's hand, but kissing it 'passionately' was inappropriate.
If a gentleman attended a public exhibition or concert in the company of a lady, he would go in first in order to find her a seat, making sure to remove his hat. If in military uniform, a gentleman never wore a sword in the presence of ladies, nor did he smoke in their presence, though the use of snuff was acceptable.
At a dinner party, a gentleman arrived a quarter of an hour early, dressed appropriately for the event and prepared to make amiable conversation. He would choose his seat in the dining room, appropriate for his rank and status. There was a tacit understanding that seats closest to the hostess should be taken by the highest ranking guests.
Each gentleman would serve himself and his neighbors from the dishes within his reach. If a dish was required from another part of the table, a manservant would be sent to fetch it. It was not good form to ask a neighbor to pass a dish. It was equally bad manners for the ladies to help themselves. They had to be served both food and wine by the gentlemen nearest them.
During dinner, a gentleman would be expected to entertain the ladies nearest him with engaging conversation. The list of unacceptable topics far outnumbered the acceptable ones. A polite individual did not ask direct personal questions of someone they had just met. To question or even compliment anyone else on the details of their dress might also be regarded as impertinent. Scandal and gossip should be omitted from public conversation. Any references to pregnancy, childbirth, or other natural bodily functions were considered coarse and carefully sidestepped. A man could sometimes discuss his hunters or driving horses in the presence of ladies though it was generally discouraged. Greater latitudes of conversation were allowed when the genders were segregated, particularly for the men.
To me, it is no wonder why Darcy did not prefer company he did not know well and why he felt awkward in society. With so many rules and guidelines, it must have felt like a disaster waiting to happen for someone without Bingley’s natural knack for socializing. I loved getting a closer look at what Darcy would have faced and I hope you have too.
A Lady of Distinction - Regency Etiquette, the Mirror of Graces (1811). R.L. Shep Publications (1997)
Black, Maggie & Le Faye, Deirdre - The Jane Austen Cookbook. Chicago Review Press (1995)
Byrne, Paula - Contrib. to Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge University Press (2005)
Day, Malcom - Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David & Charles (2006)
Downing, Sarah Jane - Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen. Shire Publications (2010)
Jones, Hazel - Jane Austen & Marriage . Continuum Books (2009)
Lane, Maggie - Jane Austen's World. Carlton Books (2005)
Lane, Maggie - Jane Austen and Food. Hambledon (1995)
Laudermilk, Sharon & Hamlin, Teresa L. - The Regency Companion. Garland Publishing (1989)
Le Faye, Deirdre - Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)
Ray, Joan Klingel - Jane Austen for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc. (2006)
Ross, Josephine - Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners. Bloomsbury USA (2006)
Selwyn, David - Jane Austen & Leisure. The Hambledon Press (1999)
Trusler, John - The Honours of the Table or Rules for Behavior During Meals. Literary-Press (1791)
Vickery, Amanda - The Gentleman's Daughter. Yale University Press (1998)
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
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What is a young woman to do? One handsome young man has all the goodness, while the other the appearance of it. How is she to separate the gentleman from the cad?
When Darcy joins his friend, Bingley on a trip to Meryton, the last thing on his mind is finding a wife. Meeting Elizabeth Bennet changes all that, but a rival for his affections appears from a most unlikely quarter. He must overcome his naturally reticent disposition if he is to have a chance of winning her favor.
Elizabeth’s thoughts turn to love and marriage after her sister Mary’s engagement. In a few short weeks, she goes from knowing no eligible young men, to being courted by two. Both are handsome gentleman, but one conceals secrets and the other conceals his regard. Will she determine which is which before she commits to the wrong one?