5 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules What The Stuff
These 5 Victorian customs might seem crazy by the standards of many cultures today!
Editor's Note: Some of the clips featured portray eras other than the Victorian and locations outside the British empire. These clips are used for visual reference to the type of customs discussed, which were not exclusive to the Victorian era or to British culture.
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Great Expectations (1946)
An Ideal Husband (1999)
Topsy Turvy (1999)
Wuthering Heights (2009 miniseries)
Downton Abbey (2010-2015 series)
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Nicholas Nickleby (2002)
Jane Eyre (2011)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Carpenter, Lucien O. "Universal Dancing Master." VictorianWeb.Org. 1880. (April 29, 2015) http://www.victorianweb.org/history/Etiquette.html
Cassell, Ltd. "Cassell's Household Guide: Being a Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic and Social Economy, and Forming a Guide to Every Department of Practical Life." Cassell, Ltd., 1869. (April 23, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=L0sCAAAAQAAJ
Goodman, Ruth. "How to Be a Victorian." Liveright Publishing Corp. 2013.
King, Greg. "Twilight of Splendor: The Court of Queen Victoria During Her Diamond Jubilee Year." John Wiley & Sons. June 4, 2007. (April 29, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=tNa57nc2S0wC
Phegley, Jennifer. "Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England." ABC-CLIO. Nov. 30, 2011. (April 29, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=jYL9cPE_M5EC
Pool, Daniel. "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew." Simon & Schuster. 1993.
* OK, imagine you’re an unmarried lady out for a stroll in 19th-century London. First of all, you better not be alone. That’s right: You need an escort. But what happens if you see a man you recognize? Well, first of all, he’s not allowed to talk to you unless you make a gesture of recognition first. Which, OK, I can kind of see the appeal of that one – you don’t have to pretend to be doing something on your phone to avoid making eye contact, etc. But let’s say you really want to stop and talk to this guy: Well... you can’t. Or at least you shouldn’t. If you want to talk to him, instead of stopping, you can offer him your hand, which he can take, but only _after_ lifting his hat, using the hand farthest away from you. Once he takes your hand, he has to walk along with you, but even then you can’t just gab away. According to _Cassell’s Household Guide_, "Strict reticence of speech and conduct should be observed in public." That means no "loud talking" or "animated discussions." And if you see a gentleman you’d like to speak to, but he’s smoking a cigar, tough luck. It is amazingly rude for a man to smoke in the presence of a woman, so if you acknowledge him, he’ll have to put out his cigar, and for all you know it might have been a really expensive cigar, and now you’ve just ruined his morning. Nice work, Myrtle.
* Do you ever have that problem where you want to date the neighbor’s daughter but you don’t know if she’s technically “on the market” yet, or if her parents still consider her a child? No? Good! Because that’s amazingly creepy! Fortunately, the Victorians had a formalized system for avoiding this problem: Presentation at court. If you were a respectable family who wanted to announce that your son or daughter was ready for courtship -- which is basically dating, minus all the fun, plus a lot of conversations with chaperones to determine if young men were predisposed to “base amusements” -- you could do this at a specialized event. Young men could be introduced at events called “levees,” which were held several times a year. Young ladies could be introduced at presentation events held at St. James Palace – and these events didn’t skimp on the pomp and protocol either. Men had to wear buckled shoes and swords. Ladies had to stick tall feathers in their hair and drag 3-yard trains behind their dresses. But once the kids are ready to start dating, that’s when the etiquette fangs really sink in:
* Lots of parents get weirdly strict and judgmental when their kids start dating, but Victorian England really took it to another level. First of all, etiquette manuals of the time advised young lovers that, technically, you’re _supposed_ to look for partners only within your own social class, because we all know how awkward it is when you’re a Baroness and you’re trying to chat up a nice Viscount, and his mother is just right over there on the fainting couch looking at you with eyes that say, “Trash.”