Wendy's Reviews > Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Regency Etiquette by Lady of Distinction
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's review
Jun 24, 2008

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bookshelves: 2008, regency, non-fiction, self-improvement
Recommended for: those interested in the Regency period

This book was variously incomprehensible, ridiculous, and a fascinating glimpse into the life and times - and mores - of its author, a Lady of Distinction, and her peers.

This Lady, I gather, was quite high-born, and rather well-travelled, and also presumably rather old when she wrote and published this book. The subject matter starts out as a 200-year-old prescription for What Not To Wear (long stays, corsets, clothing in cuts and fabrics that do not flatter your figure), but soon gives way to essays on related subjects such as posture and carriage, accomplishments, speech and expression, and most especially the cultivation of the mind. There is a wealth of information for the modern reader about exactly what is comprised in the making of a woman of quality, and it was by no means trifling. The listing of the laws of precedence - which any society hostess would need to know by heart - made me laugh out loud, probably in relief that I am not required to make my way through that particular social minefield (still in force today). Discussion of all the other considerations of how to best demonstrate one's looks, intelligence and character, in a society much more constrained than the one we live in today, will quickly dispel any illusion that nineteenth century ladies led lives of quiet boredom.

The tone of the writing is often moralizing, and I can well imagine that any young lady given a copy of this book (I think it unlikely that any would have purchased it for herself!) would have rolled her eyes at much of the information and opinion presented within. I could see this book being adopted in high quality ladies' seminaries, as part of the curriculum in preparing young ladies for their place and role in society.

Modesty and moderation in all things is the author's recommendation, even exhortation, and overall her message is timeless common sense, much the sort of thing that mothers of every generation have impressed upon their daughters: dress in clothes that flatters you, and do not show too much skin, lest it cheapen you in the eyes of the other sex; move gracefully and easily, and get some exercise every day; do not drink to excess, or overindulge in the sensual pleasure of food; good looks are an advantage, but on their own they are not enough; cultivate your mind.
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