Not long ago, my friend Ella took me to visit Greys Court. It is a splendid Tudor country house, now in the care of the National Trust. At the time, we did not realise that the house appeared in the TV show Downton Abbey as Downton Place, the secondary property of the Crawley Family. The place was not advertised thus. In my opinion, the beauty of the the house and the surrounding Chiltern Hills are enough to draw visitors, us being a case in point.
After afternoon tea, we wandered into the gift shop. They had a book called Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Manners. I already had a copy of course, purchased many years ago. Seeing the book in the shop made me realise I have not written a book review in some months. So this lengthy preface was to explain the inspiration for today’s post. Now on to the book review!
This is one of the more formal books on etiquette and manners I have in my library. There are no illustrations or photos in the book. Her Ladyship’s writing is unembellished and with just a touch of humour. The rules of etiquette are serious matters after all.
The first part of the book posts and answers questions such as ‘who decides what good manners are?’ (short answer: we as a society all do). The book distinguishes rules of etiquette from good manners.
Her Ladyship explains that rules of etiquette, the formal practices that are expected in more ceremonial occasions such as weddings were put in place to help bind a certain social group together- in this case, the aristocratic class. In these days of modernity, some of the rules of etiquette from the outdated aristocratic system has carried over into good manners, what some would call ‘natural politeness’.
My favourite part of the book is the chapter of Rites of passage. It cover births, weddings and funerals (also known as hatches, matches and dispatches). These are the events that mark our progress through life and are always formal in some sense as it helps to make these occasions special. Her Ladyship offers her advice both for the celebrants and guests. She writes, ‘If you’re the one getting married, do makes sure your answers can be heard. It’s not a private moment as much as a public declaration.’ Altogether, this is an excellent book on manners and decorum. It is written with authority and invokes trust from its readers.