The book Simple Social Graces – Recapturing the Joys of Gracious Victorian Living by Linda S. Lichter caught my eye at the library yesterday. I picked it up to see if the author was advocating a return to whale-bone corsets and carriage rides as an ideal way of life. Instead of that this book turned out to be a thought provoking discussion of civility.
Her premise is that the manners that Victorians are ridiculed for now weren’t as restrictive as they appear to us. By having a common expectation of manners society was safer, especially for women. She uses examples from journals of suffragettes travelling alone on speaking tours where they discuss approaching strange men on the street to ask for directions or assistance with no fear for their safety. She states that a society where displays of respect such as standing when women enter the room or routinely holding open doors are ingrained would not denegrate women by calling them bitches and hos.
She also advocates a return to shame. Someone who broke the law or was merely consistently rude was shunned in polite society. There were consequences of actions. Now the mindset is, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
“We must become as outraged by violations of civility as we are by racist or sexist acts and expressions. This would diffuse hostility while broadening and strengthening everyone’s civil rights.”
“…judges are stamping updated scarlet letters on the likes of men who solicit prostitutes, drunk drivers, and deadbeat dads. But should we brand only those who can’t afford a wily lawyer to spare them such humiliation? We must stigmatize and ostracize across the board, without playing political favorites. If conservatives condemn rap music for demeaning women, they should also tune out Rush Limbaugh until he cleans up his act.”
I don’t agree with everything in this book but I did find the discussion of a return to home life interesting. It echoes the thoughts that I’ve been having about family meals and household responsibility. I’ve been having these urges to get a dining room table. We don’t have one because the evil mother-in-law was using the room as a bedroom and then we just haven’t gotten around to getting one yet. Once I get the table I envision making cloth napkins and table runners or tableclothes and placemats and keeping it set with candles. According to this author this isn’t just my plan for keep clutter off the table or the early signs of a nervous breakdown (both of which I had considered as causes for this recurring fantasy of domesticity), but a longing for a return to the imporantance of home. It also meshes nicely with my brand of paganism with emphasis on nuturing through hearth-related activities. That was most definately not in the book. The book was unabashedly pro-WASP. It discussed women having servants but didn’t discuss the servants’ home lives. But overall the book raised a lot of issues to think about. I’ve been informing the husband that he has to talk respectfully to me. I’m practicing my icy Victorian stare to cut down rude people. I knew all those Regency romances of my grandmother’s that I read would come in handy sometime.
So how would increased civility improve your life? I spend my days at work with people trying to bully us all the time. They scream at staff and threaten doctors if we refuse to sell them drugs without seeing their pet or refuse to give in to their every whim. This happens at every clinic I go to. I blame the emphasis on “assertiveness.” You can stand up for yourself without being mean and nasty. You are more likely to get want you want also.
I am a stickler for manners in horses. I can’t stand working around horses who are pushy or demanding. My own horses I can usually make behave with a look (hey, it is the icy Victorian stare!). Why do I demand better behavior of my animals than I expect of people?
Here’s a concept. Teaching kids to think of others and share instead of demanding the newest toys that they see on TV. The world may very well come to an end if Christmas isn’t an orgy of materialism.