Karolyne H.C. Garner
“Who would ever marry her? She’s always reading books!” Isn’t this a badge of honor for a bookworm? I grew up surrounded by books—medical, art, classic fiction, language, sociology, general knowledge. This familiarity with these bound friends probably explains why my collection nestles in cozily among the other 38,000 books in our library.
A book here and a book there. Isn’t that how most collections begin? Mine began with Jane Austen and evolved into books on etiquette, something thickly woven into Austen’s stories. My first book was a journal where I pasted in columns from Dear Abby and Miss Manners. Now, with guidance and help from my book-collecting husband, Bryan, my collection extends beyond what people traditionally consider etiquette—beyond the stuffy Victorian-era or good-manners tomes devoted to weddings and fine engagements.
Etiquette is about empathy and sympathy for others. That’s why Austen’s works are intriguing—etiquette ranges from societal measuring sticks to barbs spread by gossips. While the current arbiter elegantiarum, Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin), gently shows us how to be better versions of ourselves, many continually misunderstand the genre.
Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility, in Manners, Dress, and Conversation. Also a useful instructor in letter writing, toilet preparations, fancy needlework, millinery, dressmaking, care of wardrobe.
New York: Derby & Jackson, 1859.
A guide to Victorian manners and general social instruction.
The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen. The Whole Interspersed with Humorous Illustrations of Social Predicaments.
New York: Carleton, 1870.
A Victorian-era etiquette guide for circulating around society. The particularity even addresses how to clean and manicure one’s nails.
Physical Carriage of a Man: Dignity can never go along with a slouching gait, and uprightness should be acquired in childhood by gymnastics and ample exercise.
The Physical Carriage of Ladies: …the grace of an upright form, of elegant and gentle movements, and of the desirable medium between stiffness and lounging, are desirable….
From the Best Authorities.
Social Culture: A Treatise on Etiquette, Self Culture, Dress, Physical Beauty, and Domestic Relations.
Springfield: The King-Richardson Co., 1903.
A guide to Edwardian society for young men and women. The specificity of instruction seems directed for those aspiring to become part of society, not those already trained within.
General Rules for a Ball-RoomA lady will not cross a ball-room unattended.
A gentleman will not take a vacant seat next to a lady who is a stranger to him.
White kid gloves should be worn at a ball, and only be taken off at supper-time.
What a Young Man Ought to Know.
London: The Vir Publishing Company, 1904.
Including rules like “See to it carefully that the bowels move regularly each morning,” the author details the intricacies of gonorrhea, syphilis, and choosing a wife:
If you are careful in the purchase of a horse, which you may dispose of if not found satisfactory, much more should you be judicious …. If you rush into marriage with haste, you will probably spend the rest of your life in a perpetual penance. Don’t fall in love.
Miss Manners Rescues Civilization: From Sexual Harassment, Frivolous Lawsuits, Dissing and Other Lapses in Civility.
New York: Crown Publishers, 1996.
Gentle Readers worldwide enjoy the wit and mirth of Miss Manners. There is no kinder parry and riposte to the requests for a ruling of another’s wrongdoing, breach of etiquette, or a justification of one’s actions.