Perfect Propriety is not instantly acquired. It not only requires practice in the field, but also study from the experts. Etiquetteer herewith offers for your consideration books of the past and present, to use as markers on your Pathway to Perfect Propriety:
Etiquette, by Emily Post (1937): The grandma of all etiquette books in the United States, Emily Post led the charge for Gracious Living in the early 20th century. Countless editions of this seminal work on manners have been produced, but Etiquetteer prefers the 1937 edition and Mrs. Postâ€™s amusingly named characters: The Gildings, the Worldlys, the Oldnames, and those awful people, Mr. Richan Vulgar and Miss Nono Betta.
Miss Manners Rescues Civilization from Sexual Harassment, Frivolous Lawsuits, Dissing and Other Lapses in Civility, by Judith Martin (1996): More than picking up the mantle of Mrs. Post, Judith Martin gives us the Big Picture behind etiquette and why we need common courtesy today. Reading it should make everyone realize that they have habits they need to change. No one is exempt, but Miss Manners makes it clear in an almost self-effacing way.
Washington Wife: Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897 - 1919: Well-bred and well-read daughter of the blueblooded Maurys of Virginia, wife of a Texas congressman, Ellen Maury Slayden always behaved with Perfect Propriety — and knew how to put people in their places when they didnâ€™t. Her stories of Washington social and political life during the years between the Spanish-American War and World War I run the gamut, from almost being squeezed out of her dress in the crush of a White House receiving line to having a new butler serve paraffin instead of salad oil at a dinner party.
Robertsâ€™ Guide for Butlers and other Household Staff, by Robert Roberts (1837): Butler to the Gore family of Boston, Robert Roberts wrote this encyclopedic guide of good manners and household hints for servants of every stripe, from how to brush hats and trim cruet stands to the proper way to lay out sideboards for supper parties. Acres of “receipts” for household potions like boot blacking and mirror polish are also helpfully included.
A Young Shakerâ€™s Guide to Good Manners: A Juvenile Guide, or Manual of Good Manners(1844), edited by Flo Morse and Vincent Newton (1998): Simple and straightforward, like everything about the Shakers, this collection of advice and admonition takes all the curlicues out of etiquette and explains good manners as the basis of good society. “Never raise phlegm into your mouth and swallow it at table; it looks very disgusting.”
How to Be a Gentleman: A Contemporary Guide to Common Courtesy, by John Bridges (1998): Brisk and forthright instruction gentlemen of every nation would be wise to emulate, including Etiquetteer. “When a gentleman realizes that his fly is open, he zips it up — on the spot, if convenient. Never does an open fly require an apology.”
R.S.V.P: Elsa Maxwellâ€™s Own Story, by Elsa Maxwell (1954): Deliciously self-serving, that homely girl from San Francisco recounts her gorgeous life as a party-giver to the jet set and arbiter of caprice on two continents. A must-read for anyone interested in entertaining. “More than one woman since Lotâ€™s wife has betrayed herself by looking back, but I canâ€™t help shedding a nostalgic tear for the decline of my favorite entertainment — the costume party.”
Coffee and Waffles, by Alice Foote MacDougall (1926): One of the most charming cookbooks ever written in the United States, Mrs. MacDougall paints a picture of America As We Like to Remember It with reminiscences of kitchen gardens, lemonade on the front porch in summer, and breakfast for people who have the time we no longer give ourselves to eat it. “Everything in life should have some element of beauty. There is beauty in the most utilitarian device, provided that it suitably fit its place of usefulness. And beauty should be embodied as much in the daily service of a restaurant as it is in the arts themselves. We do not live by food alone. While we nourish our bodies, we must not forget sustenance for the soul that is bearing the brunt of lifeâ€™s vicissitudes. It was a long time ago that a wise man advised, â€˜If you have two loaves of bread, sell one of them and buy white narcissus for your soul.â€™”
Blessed Are the Debonair, by Margaret Case Harriman (1956): Slim, elegant Frank Case created the Algonquin Hotel as an American theatrical institution, feeding and housing generations of actors with skill and style. His daughter Margaret, writer for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, shares brilliant anecdotes from her own Life with Father, illustrating Mr. Caseâ€™s own super-gentlemanly code of behavior. “He never said to us â€˜Take your elbows off the table,â€™ he just said, â€˜Would you care for me to bring you a couch?â€™”
How to Set Up for a Mah-Jongg Game and Other Lost Arts, by Joan Gelman and Carol E. Rinzler (1987): Everything you always wanted to know about mid-century Long Island housewives but were afraid to ask, including “How to Buy a Mink Coat,” “How to Hire Help,” and “How to Work with a Decorator.” Etiquetteer is especially fond of “The Lost Art of Spotting a Floozy,” something too few people are paying any attention to these days . . .
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