This book was an eerily good fit for a personal study of biographies I'm doing, so I was thrilled to get a copy through the Early Reviewers program. IThis book was an eerily good fit for a personal study of biographies I'm doing, so I was thrilled to get a copy through the Early Reviewers program. I found it to be an engaging, well-written study that strikes a good balance between specific detail about its subject, and contextual detail about the social and national milieu in which she moved. I also found the subject, Emily Post, to be a surprisingly sympathetic character - not that I expected to dislike her, but I was impressed at the degree to which I related to her. Her appreciation for the small details of daily life is something I share in spades, and her concern with using etiquette to ease the way for other people, rather than to shame them, is admirable.
Especially fascinating to me is Claridge's examination of the revisions to *Etiquette* over the span of almost forty years, and how the revision process changed Emily Post herself. Born to extreme privilege in New York City, a debutante during the Gilded Age, Post wrote the original 1922 edition of *Etiquette* with people like herself in mind. After its publication and success, she was inundated with letters from a wide cross-section of the American population, including recent immigrants, working- and middle-class readers, all wanting to know her advice on issues she had originally not thought to include: how to throw a dinner party if one hasn't any servants, for example, or how courtship conduct is changed for women who have joined the workforce. With successive revisions, Post adapted *Etiquette* to suit her changing understanding of her audience, as well as the changing mores of the times. Claridge knows that she's up against a popular idea of Emily Post as a petty, hard-nosed bluestocking, dispensing Thou Shalt Not's from on high, and she presents a strong case that this is a huge misconception. From the beginning, Post prioritized manners as a tool for kindness, ease and compassion, rather than an end in itself. She always insisted that telling people which fork to use held no interest whatsoever for her. But what is most striking to me is the way in which her book, which became the go-to reference on conduct for so many people, actually widened her own experience so drastically by bringing her into contact with a diversity of Americans outside her normal social sphere. The mutual process of change and adaptation is intriguing, and Claridge does a good job of tracing the differences in successive incarnations of *Etiquette*, as well as the changes in Emily Post herself.
Also surprising is Emily Post’s determined sympathy with the freer manners and customs that emerged in the early twentieth century. Claridge writes at length about the long-term affects on Post of her ill-advised marriage and scandalous divorce, and goes on to examine how those experiences affected her attitudes toward courtship and marriage in general. Her own marriage deteriorated because she and her husband were not allowed to *know* each other in any significant way prior to their wedding, to build sympathy or trust. Understandably, then, she became embittered against overly strict conventions around courtship and “protecting the innocence” of young ladies – an innocence which would come crashing around their ears immediately upon marriage. She was thrilled when social customs began to loosen, in the 1910’s and 20’s, and implored modern parents to let their children spend time together unchaperoned, even if doing so seemed improper or scandalous by the rules of their own upbringing. Much to Emily Post’s own satisfaction, her chapters on chaperonage in *Etiquette* began with detailing the necessity of a chaperone, and progressed to treating this as a “vanished custom.” Not one to cling to the old ways for their own sake, Post is portrayed as a flexible, engaged member of her own culture, who created a chronicle of changing social expectations over half a century. Claridge’s portrait is fascinating and readable, and introduced me to a formidable figure of the early twentieth century, whose importance I had never before stopped to consider....more
*The Civilizing Process* is dense, discursive, Germanic, and in some ways pre-professional in its sociology (Elias has to argue at length, for example*The Civilizing Process* is dense, discursive, Germanic, and in some ways pre-professional in its sociology (Elias has to argue at length, for example, for a discipline of historical psychology that is now well-established), but also fascinating and, in places, hilarious.
The first third of the book details the historical development of manners in the West (primarily France, Germany and England) through a survey of etiquette instructions from the early middle ages to the nineteenth century. This is the hilarious part, as behaviors a modern adult would not even consider (such as pissing on the tapestries in a home, or picking up a turd and offering it to another person to smell) turn out to be learned aversions from which our ancestors had to be deterred. I loved the specificity of this portion of the book; the section on attitudes toward meat-eating was especially fascinating, and I adore the coinage "threshold of repugnance," which Elias uses throughout. Reading it transformed my view of my own reactions and behavior in many everyday situations, and made me think about how things I usually consider "natural," such as feeling disgusted upon walking by a pool of vomit next to a dumpster, actually result from a complex web of socio- and psycho-historical factors.
The last two-thirds of the book were more of a slog for me, but I'm glad I read them. They address the larger historical causes and effects that lead to the outward signs of "civilization" outlined in the first section. His view of history is sometimes uncomfortably teleological (all cultures are on some point of the same continuum, and the Western countries are the farthest advanced along it), but his observations are still quite interesting, and considering the publication date (1939) he takes a very balanced view toward Freud's psychoanalytical revolution - for Elias, it's important but in need of much further refinement. He makes many points which I found myself chewing over long after having read them, and applying to other histories and works of art.
Overall, I highly recommend it, although I might skip over the majority of Part IV, which is largely a reiteration of the points that have gone before, and go straight to the last, concluding section....more
Good grief, this book was fantastic. Why hadn't I read it before? Highly recommended to anyone who can afford to stay up until three in the morning whGood grief, this book was fantastic. Why hadn't I read it before? Highly recommended to anyone who can afford to stay up until three in the morning when they have to be at work by seven. ...more
Another fantastic Carey novel. Not *quite* as spectacular as Oscar & Lucinda, but still a stunner. Highly recommended. I read it in its entirety oAnother fantastic Carey novel. Not *quite* as spectacular as Oscar & Lucinda, but still a stunner. Highly recommended. I read it in its entirety on the plane back from Australia....more