For instance, tapping one's fingers in the company of others is a sign of "low" breeding. Placing an arm on the back of a lady's chair is a sign of "low" breeding. And one must never take more than two spoonfuls of sugar, unless one wants to appear greedy.
For today's Way Back When-sday, I've decided to share some dinner party etiquette - in case you're ever invited to a Victorian Dinner Party.
Dressing for the Dinner Party:
For the Ladies
- Do not dress above your station; it is a grievous mistake, and leads to great evils, besides being the proof of a complete lack of taste.
- Do not expose the neck and arms at a dinner party.
- The unvarying uniform is black pants, waistcoat and jacket, with white tie, shirt and gloves.
- It is customary for the host and hostess to be seated opposite each other, at the side of the table, in the center.
- Husbands and wives should sit as far as possible from each other. Society is the enlargement, the absorption, and, for the time being, the breaking up of all private and exclusive engagements.
- At some point before dinner is announced, the hostess will discreetly point out to each gentleman the lady he will escort to dinner. He shall serve her throughout the meal.
- The guests find their places by the names on the place cards and every one sits down in a gay flutter of talk and laughter.
- The conversation should be easy, playful and mirthful.
- The rules of politeness are never at variance with the principles of morality. Whatever is really impolite is really immoral.
- Do not mention at the table anything that might not properly be placed upon it.
- Eat slowly; it will contribute to your good health as well as your good manners. Thorough mastication of you food is necessary to digestion.
- Be moderate in the quantity you eat. You impair your health by overloading the stomach, and render yourself dull and stupid for hours after the meal.
- Contrary to the custom of low society, civilized gentlemen do not remain at the table after the ladies have retired, to indulge in wine, coarse conversation, and obscene jokes. The more enlightened practice is for the ladies and gentlemen to retire together from the dining table.
- It is expected that guests will linger for two or three hours after the dinner. In any event, no one may politely depart until at least one hour has passed.
- Within one week, pay a brief "dinner call" to express thanks to your host and hostess, and to briefly reminisce over the delights of the evening. Do not stay for less than ten minutes or more than twenty.
What about you? What surprised you most about a Victorian Dinner Party? Is there anything you'd like to resurrect?
These rules are from "The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining" adapted by Autumn Stephens, A Bluewood Book