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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 2017-06-28 00:00
Etiquette & Espionage
Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger,Moira Quirk 4.75 stars

Highly entertaining audio book. Full review to follow

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text 2017-04-29 09:08
Book Haul
Conan Doyle: Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. - Andrew Lycett
The Penguin Book Of Etiquette: The Complete Australian Guide To Modern Manners - Marion Von Adlerstein
The Book of Killowen - Erin Hart
The Library of Shadows - Mikkel Birkegaard
I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks - Gina Sheridan
Blade Bound - Chloe Neill
Dangerous To Know - Renee Patrick
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

It's not all decomp and deodorisers here at la casa de la rata muerta; I hit up my local FOTL semi-annual book sale yesterday and came away with a few possible gems.

 

 

(Three of the above actually came this week in the mail; 2 new, 1 used.)

 

Conan Doyle: Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. I know nothing about this biography and can only hope it's enjoyable.

  

The Penguin Book Of Etiquette: The Complete Australian Guide To Modern Manners This one is likely going to tell me it's rude to post gross disgusting stories about dead animals in your walls, but better late than never.

 

The Book of Killowen I was sucked in by the story about a book.  Of course.  Seems to be a mid-series entry, so hopefully it'll work as a stand-alone. 

 

The Library of Shadows I think I've heard about this one before - might have even looked at it in a bookshop, but again, it's about books so of course I bought it.

 

I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks 

 

Blade Bound The last in the Chicagoland series.  *sniffle*

 

Dangerous To Know The first one was excellent, I hope this one lives up to expectations.

 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes I had a suspicion I already had a copy, but just in case... (of course I did).

 

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text 2017-04-20 14:16
Why I Love Booklikes

Seriously though our community here rocks. I love that we talk about a whole host of things and one random update/book review will bring in like 100 comments.

 

I realize today though why I can't stand Goodreads as much these days and that's because if you don't make your reviews/profile private to just your friends you get a lot of fly by comments where people are nasty towards you because you don't agree with them about a book.

Case in point, a few weeks ago I had to go and just start deleting comments from someone who was angry that I reviewed a book that he thought was great and I was being repetitive for all the reasons why I listed it didn't work. Apparently just one reason would have been good enough.

 

Another person didn't see why I cared that in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that using the "N" word was such a big deal, cause that's the way people talk.

 

And of course today someone swanned into my review of "The Bone Witch" saying well they are not having any of these problems and love all of the authors books. Um, good for you? I tend to just always respond politely unless it's an outright nasty comment and I just delete the comment and then for good measure block the person.

 

My review, my opinion. You don't have to agree, you just have to be respectful. 

 

I notice here that even when we don't agree with each other on a book, we are able to communicate that without drawing guns at dawn and or trying to one-up each other with nasty comments.

 

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review 2017-04-18 00:07
Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger

I picked this book up at my local Dollar Tree store. I had heard of this series before so when I saw it I just had to get it.

 

I have never read the Parasol Protectorate series so I was a bit unfamiliar with the world. Regardless, this book was still lot of fun. My only issue was that the ending felt rushed.

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