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  • Roger Colby

15 Things Historical Fiction Writers Should Keep In Mind About Victorian Society

victorian etiquette

Currently I am teaching Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest.  Upon doing research for the class, I stumbled upon an old book by Anna R. White entitled Youth’s Educator for Home and Society (1896).

It occurred to me that some of you like to write steampunk or historical fiction set in the Victorian Era.  If you do, then the following 15 etiquette rules are important to emulate in characters of higher social class and are taken from White’s book:

For the women:

  1. Upon being introduced to gentlemen, a lady will never offer her hand.  She should bow politely and say, “I am happy to make your acquaintance,” or words to that effect.

  2. When bowing on the street, it is appropriate to incline the head gracefully, but not the body.

  3. When traveling by train, tramcar, or omnibus, the well-bred lady has a delicate sense of self-respect that keeps her from contact with her neighbor, as far as such contact is avoidable.

  4. A lady never looks back after anyone in the street, or turns to stare at them in the theatre, concert hall, church, or opera.

  5. A lady never, ever smokes.

  6. In crossing the street, a lady raises her dress a little above the ankle, holding together the folds of her gown and drawing them toward the right.  Raising the dress with both hands exposes too much ankle and is most vulgar.

  7. A lady (or gentleman for that matter) will always rise to her feet in respect for an older person, or one of a higher social standing.

  8. Above all, the lady strives to be dignified and elegant in everything she does.

For the men:

  1. A gentleman will always tip his hat to greet a lady.

  2. When walking in the street, the gentleman always walks on the outside to protect his lady from the dangers of the road.

  3. If a gentleman is smoking and a lady passes by, he should remove the cigar from his mouth.

  4. A true gentleman should always rise when a lady enters or leaves the room, and remove his hat upon entering a room where ladies are present.  He should also precede a lady in ascending the stairs, and follow her in descending them.

  5. A gentleman always stands to shake hands.

  6. During the daytime, a gentleman never offers a lady his arm unless to protect her in a large crowd.  In the evening, it is appropriate for her to take his arm.

  7. A gentleman should never place his arm on the back of a chair occupied by a lady.

I hope this helps the historical fiction/steampunk writer in their endeavor to stay true to the history of the period, as many these days are falling to bits of fancy and falderal.

#writing #historicalfiction #theimportanceofbeingearnest #writingtips #etiquette #AnnaRWhite #writinghistoricalfiction #manners #victorianwriting #oscarwilde #historicallyaccurate #YouthsEducatorforHomeandSociety

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