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Search tags: Nineteenth-Century
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review 2018-04-07 14:16
A fascinating look into the past and a great source for writers and social history researchers
Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century - James Mallory

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I am a big fan of Pen & Sword books and I have learned a lot on a variety of subjects thanks to their great selection, but I must admit to having a soft spot for social history. Although I love history books and have recently become keen on historical fiction, I think that social history helps us get a better sense of what life was like in the past, not only for the kings, aristocrats, and powerful people but also for the rest of the population. The everyday life of going around one’s usual business, talking to people, working, rarely makes it into the big books, but it is what life is truly about. And those are the details that bring the past to life. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, these books are also great to provide background to writers, filmmakers, and, in general, artists looking to create works set in a particular time in history, as it helps them gain a better understanding of what it would have been like to live then.

This particular volume is a delight. I have read a number of novels set in the era and watched uncountable movies and television series that take place in the XIX century as well, and although I thought I was familiar with the customs, social rules and mores of the time, I was surprised by how truly complicated following proper etiquette was. As the author often explains, rules were not set in stone and they changed throughout the century. What was a must at the beginning of the XIX century would have been out of fashion by the end, and rules were open to interpretation, as sometimes different sources offered completely different advice. Should you eat fish with a fork and bread, two forks, or a fork and a fish knife (the answer depends on at what point of the XIX century we were eating it)? Would it have been proper for you to introduce people you knew, or even greet people you met in the streets even if you had been introduced? What was the best time to go for a walk or to visit your acquaintances? What did it truly mean if somebody was ‘not at home’?

Such topics and many more are discussed in this short volume, and it makes for fascinating reading. The author is skilled at summarising the rules from a large variety of sources (there is a detailed bibliography at the end and footnotes to check where each point can be expanded on), and also at providing practical examples that help clarify matters like how would you address somebody you are introduced to, or in which order would guest enter the dining room. Her turn of phrase is particularly apt, as her own explanations and the quotes and references to texts blend seamlessly, and she manages to write clearly and engagingly in beautiful prose.

The tone of the book is light and there are funny moments, but there are also reminders of how different things were for those who had more serious concerns than following the rules of etiquette. The book includes 11 chapters that deal in a variety of topics, from rank, precedence and title, to what was considered good company, paying calls, dining, ballroom behaviour, conversation, and correspondence, how to treat the service, courtship, and it also offers hints for ladies and gentlemen. The book (I had access to the paperback copy but I know the pictures are available in the digital version as well) contains a number of plates that help illustrate the proper dress etiquette throughout the century for different occasions and there are also pictures of some of the fashion accessories of the period.

I had to share a couple of examples from the book, so you can get a feeling for the writing style and the type of advice it contains:

If a lady or gentleman was plagued by a person saluting them in the street who they did not like, who they did not want to call upon, and who they thought was taking a gross impertinence continually bowing to them, it was still better for the afflicted lady or gentleman to return the recognition. (For some reason, this brought to my mind the nodding bulldogs that used to grace the back windows of cars).

Talking about men’s fashion, the book has this to say:

Similarly, a gentleman would have been restrained in his use of personal ornamentation. After all, a gentleman was a gentleman, not a magpie hankering after shiny trinkets.

Although some of the rules contained in this book might seem too fussy and silly nowadays, there are some about listening to people and being respectful towards others, no matter what their social circumstances (in fact, being more polite and generous the more difficult things are for them) that will make readers nostalgic for those more gentile and kinder times. There are always things we can learn from the past and it is important to learn and remember.

Another great little volume from Pen & Sword and one that I particularly recommend to anybody interested in XIX century history, novels, movies set in the period, and to writers and creators looking for inspiration or researching that era. It is also a fun read for people that study social history or are interested in the origins of some of our customs and on how these have changed. Unmissable.

 

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review 2018-03-14 01:00
This is a DENSE book, ya'll
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers (Penguin Classics) - Hollis Robbins,Hollis Robbins,Henry Louis Gates Jr.,Henry Louis Gates Jr.,Various

If you're looking for a book that you can dip in and out of over the course of several days (or weeks if you're me) then I recommend you check out The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers. Organized by theme, this book features many writers of different genres. There are poets, essayists, lecturers, novelists, ministers, and teachers to name just a few. The common theme (besides their gender and race) is that they are advocates for equality of the races and sexes. I found that this book was an excellent conversation starter especially if you want to talk about tough topics like economic and social equality coupled with the history of the Americas. It's also an excellent way to discover writers that you may have never heard of as many of them are quite niche. As you might surmise, the topics covered in this collection are quite deep and therefore as a whole it's an emotionally and mentally exhausting enterprise. It's well worth the effort though. It's astonishing to me just how many of these women I had never heard of but when they were originally writing their voices were strong, no-holds-barred, and topical (most are relevant even today). The truths spoken are hard to accept because the topics are still so ingrained and fresh in the memory of our country. It's another reminder that we should continually be expanding our minds and looking beyond what we already 'know'. Embrace learning about new things! 9/10 and only lost that point because by 1/2 way through I was having to hype myself up to pick it back up again.

 

What's Up Next: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-06-25 14:07
from FictionZeal.com re: Late Harvest by Fiona Buckley
Late Harvest: A nineteenth-century historical saga - Fiona Buckley

The prologue hints that the story will be a flashback.  Peggy is nearly eighty years old in 1860.  She reflects back to 1800 and how she met and fell in love with Ralph Duggan.  Of her memories, she narrates, “There are two nights that I recall especially.  On both of them, the moonlight was so bright that the Bristol Channel could have been made of molten silver.  On one of those nights, a child was conceived.  On the other, a man died.”

 

Her flashback begins when Peggy Shawe, her mother, and their neighbors were walking behind the cart carrying her father’s coffin.  Josiah Duggan and his two sons, Ralph and Philip, were among the mourners, as her father had business dealings with them.  When Peggy met Ralph, they seemed to have instant rapport.  But, he wasn’t the man everyone assumed she would marry.  James Bright, a close neighbor and farmer, was her presumed husband to be.  When James actually asked her to marry him, she put him off.  Instead she accepted a marriage proposal from Ralph.  Ralph’s family were ‘free traders’ (smugglers) and Peggy’s mother was against her daughter marrying him.  However, Peggy would soon be eighteen.  Her mother reluctantly agreed, Ralph bought the ring, and life seemed cheery.  But, Ralph had to leave suddenly, taking his brother away after Philip is accused of murder.  Their futures are no longer certain and cherished plans have a way of refusing to cooperate.

 

Many of these characters made bad decisions, and that’s realistic and part of life.  No matter how many times we as readers stand on the sidelines and try to shake some sense into them, they’re still going to break each other’s heart, and quite possibly break our hearts for them along the way.  The story started out so strongly, I thought it was going to be one of those ‘I don’t want it to end’ books.  However, several chapters prior to the end, it fell into a summary type of writing, presenting many additional characters that had not been given sufficient character depth to make me care about them.  Overall, it was a fascinating look at life in that time period, their way of life, and their hardships.  Rating: 3 out of 5.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-04-07 23:00
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Yellow Wallpaper (MP3 Book) - Charlotte Perkins Gilman,Jo Myddleton

Let me begin by saying that this is a simple story told in a mesmerizing fashion. I loved every minute of it. I found the protagonist relatable and interesting, her preoccupation with the wallpaper pulled me in and then held me in that room with her. At under 100 pages, this story was perfect in a rare way. It never felt like it was dragging on but no aspect of the story was dismissed or glossed over. 

This is actually one of my Read Harder books and would have qualified for a protagonist with mental illness and probably historical fiction as well as with the page count. I don't think I would have found it had I not been looking for books for the challenge, which makes me that much happier to have decided to do it.

I had no idea when I chose it that this was actually a feminist story told by a prominent nineteenth century feminist. When I discovered that, I went ahead and listened to it again. There are some definite feminist moments and admissions. That her husband makes all these decisions without her consent and without even asking her what she wants is indicative of the issues it sought to address. It could be said to have been allegorical to the oppression that women were suffering at the time. Aside from the possible allegory, the protagonist has a real problem. The reason our protagonist is even in that room is particular to women and one that is still often treated in the US today. Fortunately, today's treatments seem to work better than those of Gilman's time. They are at least more humane than being locked up in a sanitarium, which is the likely fate that our protagonist was to endure since she continued to decline from what sounds like post-partum depression from the inadequacy of her treatment. 

Altogether, this was a great little book that tells relays a lot more about the struggles of women in it's time than what the wallpaper looked like. 

Have you read The Yellow Wallpaper? What did you think? 

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review 2015-12-03 14:38
Utopias in nineteenth century America
Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism - Chris Jennings

Deeply held convictions about religion, science, and the industrial revolution converged in mid-nineteenth century America and created a flurry of experimental utopian communities whose enthusiastic members hoped they were building model societies that would change the world. This fascinating, hard to put down, sometimes heartbreaking history profiles five of the hard working, ideal rich groups--the Shakers, New Harmony, the Fourierist phalanxes, Icaria and Oneida. While the utopians held many core ideas in common, some of their beliefs varied widely, from multi-partner free love to celibacy, but unity predominated so the groups supported each other, exchanged members, and saw themselves as fellow travelers.

 

Their results were mixed, with a few of the communities being more viable than the others, but none of them prospered in ways that made them catalysts for a global reorganization of civilization. In spite of that, many of the progressive views the utopians all agreed on were eventually embraced by the population at large, including the right of women to be treated equally, the benefits of strong public education for democracy, the advantages of a diverse society, the need for a social safety net, and the dangers of unchecked markets.

 

Though setting up these prototype paradises involved a lot of arduous labor, the morale and happiness of  participants was boosted by their idealistic mission, common purpose and close community, making it heartbreaking for the utopians when their groups fell apart. At a time when most Americans lived much more isolated lives under social strictures that limited contact between men and women and people of different classes, members of the utopias lived, ate, and worked together during the day, and held dances, lectures, singalongs, assemblies, and/or classes in the evenings--high-times that sound like great fun even to this privacy loving introvert.

 

Because of social changes they helped inspire, utopian communities ultimately did have some impact on the way culture has advanced since the nineteenth century, which is why the author suggests that while we are now obsessed with dystopias and picturing how things could go very wrong, there would be value in following the lead of utopians by imagining what we think an ideal world would look like.

 

Paradise Now is full of poignant, lively, and engagingly written insights into the mid-nineteenth century zeitgeist--mainly the time before the Civil War. It’s detailed without being ponderous, and reflective without being opinionated. I found it utterly riveting.


I read an advanced review copy of this book provided by the publisher at minimal cost to me. Review opinions are mine.

Source: jaylia3.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/utopias-in-nineteenth-century-america
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