Pocket Etiquette

The Diamond Ettiquette [sic] of Courtship and Marriage (London: Ewins, 1845): 2 x 1 3/8 inches (5.1 x 3.5 cm)

Seen at the University of North Texas Special Collections.

IMG_1040The Diamond Ettiquette [sic] of Courtship and Marriage measures just 2 by 1 3/8 of an inch, making it about the size of two quarters. Priced at just 6 shillings (about £2.39 today), [1] this affordable and portable volume belongs to a set of miniature etiquettes, including The Diamond Etiquette for Ladies, The Diamond Etiquette for Gentlemen, and later The Pocket Language of Flowers. Portable etiquette books ostensibly offer emergency etiquette advice to their owners. The utility of a miniature guide to courtship and marriage, however, is somewhat less clear. What lady or gentleman, after all, would consult his or her portable etiquette book in the midst of a proposal?

The Diamond Ettiquette surveys various aspects of courtship, with chapters on General Conduct, Proposals, Intervention of Parents or Guardians, Correspondence, Conduct after Betrothal, Conduct on retiring from an Engagement, and Marriage. Although addressed to both sexes, the advice applies predominantly to ladies. Indeed, the writer comments upon the difficulty of condensing the necessary advice for women “to the size of so small a manual as the present” (19).

So what did a Victorian lady need to know about courtship and marriage?

First and foremost, a lady ought never to flirt. Flirtation, the author explains, is “[a]n evil of great magnitude” (20-1), which could damage a lady’s reputation permanently. Once a lady is known for IMG_1044her flirtatious ways, she “must go through the world with a stain upon her reputation,—a blot upon her moral escutcheon, which not all the rubbings of a Madame Bluebeard could ever erase” (23-4). Without a trace of irony, the author blurs the lines between real and imagined scenarios, invoking the fairy tale to convey the irreparable seriousness of a social sin. After receiving a proposal, the lady-reader is instructed defer to the wisdom of her relatives after making her own opinions known. She should also be wary of consulting her friends about the marriage, because they might have their own interests at heart. “Female confidantes,” the guide warns, “are frequently the most dangerous friends” (50).

Even once a proposal has been made and accepted, a lady must carefully guard her reputation against the possible dangers of a fickle or untrustworthy suitor. In particular, she must be careful about what she writes, since “a gentleman’s estimation will rise or fall like a domestic weather glass, according to the ability exhibited in composition” (73-4). No comment is made upon the quality of gentleman whose affections change like the weather. Similarly, if the courtship is broken off, a cadish gentleman might, “whilst professing to return letters, be devoid of principle, to the extent of taking copies, and exhibiting them for the amusement of his every-day friends” (75). Such a prank, again, might permanently damage a lady’s reputation by making her the fodder of a crude joke.

A Victorian gentleman faced far fewer risks during courtship. While gentlemen are also warned against flirtation, the author admits that a lady “receives a much larger share of public odium” than a gentleman for such behavior (25). A gentleman should avoid becoming either a “Jack Brag” (35), who talks too much about his female conquests, or a sentimental romantic, whose “lovesick expressions of sighing and dying, whining and pining” would be “unmanly, and indicative of a very weak mind” (76-7). But while a gentleman might repulse some of his acquaintances through bad behavior, he is faced with no serious consequences. Upon marriage, the gentleman gains the social prerogative both to abandon his own “bachelor friends” at will and to require his wife to drop any of her friends whom he deems unsuitable (105-7).

Signing the Register (n.d.) by Edmund Blair Leighton. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Signing the Register (n.d.) by Edmund Blair Leighton. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

By following these rules, the author of the manual declares, a man and woman may be sure that their marriage “will prove happy in its consummation, and lead to the enjoyment of genuine domestic felicity” (5). The miniature format of the volume serves to reinforce the idea that domestic happiness may be achieved through a relatively simple set of etiquette rules. For present-day readers, the dubious guidance offered here may not seem to guarantee domestic bliss. Yet the miniature volume still holds the enchanting allure of a secret manual, which promises to contain some gem of hidden wisdom inside.

      1. For approximate conversion values from the nineteenth century (or earlier!) to today, visit the website Measuring Worth, at

http://measuringworth.com/calculators/ppoweruk/

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