Me, I read almost everything. But there’s a special place in my heart for Miss Jane Austen, henceforth called “the Authoress.” (Hat tip.) And since I wind up re-reading her masterpieces every so often, the books’ events are embedded into my brain like rebar in cement. So off the cuff, I described for my friend the opening events in Pride and Prejudice, with Mr. Bennet outwardly refusing to visit their new neighbors, then paying the call in secret and surprising his wife and daughters with the news.
From this event, we concluded that a family’s men paid the first call on neighborhood newcomers, who then returned the call within the next few days. From Emma, we saw that when Mr. Elton returned from Bath to Highbury with his new wife, both Emma and Mr. Woodhouse paid the bridal visit, as Mrs. Elton alone was the new acquaintance.
Regency manners, like ogres and onions, have layers, and require studious attention to their details if modern writers are to avoid what Mr. Frank Churchill might term “blunders.” For that reason, if not for their gaiety and pure fun, I often urge my Regency writing friends to read the Authoress’s works.
After several of these friends cried off such a task (all for good, sound reasons, of course) I took to advocating some of the various movies and adaptations available. I must admit, it requires less time and effort to view even a lengthy BBC series than it does to pore over, say, the 400+ pages comprising Pride and Prejudice.
In a future post we’ll analyze these films for historical accuracy. Some provide a proper view of Regency manners; others fall rather short on that yardstick. For now, a reader seeking helpful information could do far worse than accept guidance from the knowledgeable, sharp-eyed Janeite reviewers on third-party sales sites such as Barnes and Noble.
But there’s a clear, bottom-line foundation for all beau monde manners: the feelings of others must always be given the highest priority. Rudeness, snide comments, and modern snark had little place in Regency society, and characters who so indulged did not occupy a respected rung thereof. Even the Prince Regent himself, while aped and obeyed, was generally despised for his sometimes poor behavior.
A Regency hero or heroine who mocks someone in public, particularly someone of a lower social standing, would not be considered especially admirable, no matter how clever the put-down. This is why Mr. Knightley’s scolding was so effective; not only was he right, but Emma knew it in her heart, as well.
Modern writers who keep this rule in mind won’t often write themselves astray.