Retrenchee Reads a Book of Etiquette

I was retrenched this week. It’s quite a thing to say that out aloud. I don’t like it; it sounds dirty – stench, retrench. I prefer to think of myself as a retrenchee. It sounds exciting and revolutionary. Retrenchee and Trotsky met Frida and Diego for tequila in the smokey room. Yes, better.

Kahlo, Trotsky, Retrenchee and Riviera in a smokey room. Original pics from

But, alas, I am not a revolutionary filled with anger and passion; there has been no tequila for me. I am a nerdy bookseller with a taste for pink champagne. And so, for advice on how to deal with this situation with grace, politeness and hopefully a good deal of cheer, I have been reading the utterly wonderful Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness. It was written by Florence Hartley and was published in 1875.

I have been swept away by such charming instruction as:

Do not be too submissive about the dictates of fashion; at the same time avoid oddity and eccentricity. There are some persons who will follow, in defiance of taste and judgement, the fashion to its extreme point; this is a sure mark of vulgarity.

There are chapters on conversation – don’t interrupt and never ever acknowledge innuendo.

Travelling – drink brandy and slather yourself in camphor to deal with sea-sickness.

Hosting evening parties – set aside 4 rooms for entertainment and 2 to be used as dressing rooms.

Hosting daytime visits – never make your guests wait while you add the finishing touches to your ensemble du jour.

Ballroom etiquette – first a march, then a quadrille, then a waltz

Etiquette in church – be careful not to appear to notice those around you.

The chapter on marriage seemed right in my current situation because a working relationship is in many ways like a marriage. I scoured it for tips on how to behave to attract a new working-relationship partner. The following was particularly helpful and from the chapter on Conduct When Contemplating Marriage.

 Beauty and plainness are arbitrary, not positive, terms.  Unless there be actual deformity, any great infirmity, in which case I think it were cruel to pre-suppose the likelihood of such inclinations, there is no one, that I hardly ever met with, who has not had, on some grounds, her partizans and admirers. The plain are often particularized as elegant; tastes vary: even a sour look I have heard admired as sensible, cold manners eulogized as correct.

So, in the hopes that there’s a lid for my professional pot: Elegant bookseller, occasionally vulgar, seeks gainful employment. Skills include the ability to talk about books. Qualifications include having read many books. Disposition is sunny and manner is almost impeccably polite. Well-bred.

Before I receive the mountain of offers due my way, allow me a moment to mourn the fact that I may no longer be a b***ch in a bookshop, with a stirring musical tribute to the past 17 years of my life. (Thanks to Celeste for making me smile.)

One thought on “Retrenchee Reads a Book of Etiquette

  1. Pingback: Victorian Cosmetics: “Receipts for the Complexion” 1875 « tracyloveshistory

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