Manners For Women

Part Two--Courtship and Marriage

by Michelle J. Hoppe 

It matters not whether a lady has a title in order to be called a gentlewoman.  

Rather, a lady is identified by her behavior.  Manners are a compound of spirit and form, and should be part of the education of every person of whatever calling or station in life.  They know no social boundaries.  True courtesy is the basis of all social conduct and can be learned by all.  "Kindness of heart, of nobleness and of courage it true politeness of manner."

So what, then is a gentlewoman? And how does this translate into manners? Let's start at the beginning....

Courtship

Courtship is the prelude to every girl's dream of marriage and family.  Therefore, she should not enter into any relationship lightly.  Her entire future rests upon the gentleman she chooses as her suitor.  Her are some things a young woman should keep in mind.

A young lady should not allow special attentions from anyone to whom she is not especially attracted. First, she may cause injury to a gentleman who is serious in his pursuit, and second, she may drive away desirable gentlemen because they think she is already in a relationship. 

No well-bred lady should too eagerly receive the attentions of a gentleman no matter how much she admires him.  Nor should she be so reserved as to altogether discourage him.  

A young man should ask permission of the parents to pay addresses to their daughter before courting her.  A gentleman is free to withdraw his attentions without serious injury to the lady as long as an engagement has not been announced.  A gentleman should also ask the consent of the girl's parents before offering himself in marriage.

While it is the prerogative of a man to propose, a woman may accept or refuse his offer.  A lady of tact will exercise her prerogative before her suitor makes an offer so he does not humiliate himself with a proposal that may result in a refusal.  No woman should ever encourage a man to make a proposal which she must refuse.

It is very presumptuous of a gentleman to propose on too brief an acquaintance, and any lady who would accept a gentleman at first sight would hardly make a good wife.  Love alone should not be a foundation on which to base a marriage.  There should be thorough acquaintanceship and a certain knowledge of harmony of tastes and temperament before matrimony is considered.

Parents should keep a close watch on their daughters throughout the courtship to make certain the gentleman is suitable for their daughter.

The Engagement

It is usual to allow a short time to elapse before an engagement is announced, except to the most intimate friends of both parties.  This is a precaution against the disagreeables of broken engagements.  Once the affair becomes more certain, the mother of the engaged girl should host a dinner party, at which time the fiancÚ is introduced to the friends of the family.

When the engagement has become an accepted fact in both families, the bride-elect writes her friends and tells them about it.  Her mother (or herself if she is motherless) writes to the elders in the family.  With distant acquaintances, it is not necessary to write until the day has been fixed upon.

Once a woman is engaged, she should be tender, assiduous and unobtrusive.  He should be kind and polite to the sisters of his betrothed and friendly toward her brothers. An engaged woman should forego all flirtations, though it is not necessary to cut herself off from all association with the opposite sex, as she may still have friends and acquaintances.  She must, however, conduct herself in a manner so as not to give offense.

A lady should not be too demonstrative of her affection during the days of her engagement.  Over-demonstrations are not pleasant to remember should the man fail to become her husband.  

If an engagement must be broken, for whatever reason may render the marriage an unhappy one, it should be done by letter.  A lady can express herself more clearly in a letter than in a personal meeting.  The letter should be accompanied by portraits, letters or gifts that were received during the engagement.  Such letters should be acknowledged by the gentleman in a dignified manner.

The Wedding

This part of the courtship is an article in and of itself as far as manners and dress.  For more detail, see the articles on Victorian Weddings.   

Marriage

Home is the woman's kingdom, and there she reigns supreme.  Thus is it her duty to make happy the lives of her husband and her family.  She should never do anything to make her husband feel uncomfortable, either mentally or physically.  She should never indulge in fits of temper, hysterics or other habits of ill-breeding.  

She should be equally attentive to her dress and personal appearance at home as she is in public.  And her manners should be just as pleasing when alone with her husband as when with him in company. 

She should never confide to any other any misunderstandings or petty quarrels between her and her husband. This would certainly be a breach of harmony in their union.

A wife should act openly and honorably in keeping household accounts.  She should keep exact account of her expenditures, and guard against any extravagances.  She should be economical and thrifty.  She should consult  the disposition and tastes of her husband, and endeavor to lead him to high and noble thoughts, lofty aims and temporal comfort.  

Respect for one another is as necessary as affection in a successful marriage. As is social equality.  Once husband and wife begin to entertain after marriage, they have social relations to maintain.  Being on different social levels may strain the marriage, as they will find they do not have much in common.

Intellectual sympathy is a must.  Man requires a woman who can make his place a home, while a woman requires a man of domestic taste.  Just as a woman would never marry an idler or a pleasure-seeking husband, nor should a man marry a woman without intelligence or good sense.  

Mutual trust and confidence are also requisites for a happy marriage.  There can be no love without trust.  Man and wife must also walk side by side on the same path of moral purpose and social usefulness.   

If a woman remains true to her heart and her husband, she will live a happy life.

So what is a true gentlewoman?  She is "an emanation from the heart subtilized by culture."

Sources:

Manners for Women by Mrs. Humphry, a facsimile reproduction of an 1897 publication. Reprinted by Pryor Publications, Kent, England,1993.

Etiquette: Rules & Usages of the Best Society, reprinted by the Promotional Reprint Company, Ltd., Leicester, 1995.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

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Copyright 2001, M. Hoppe 

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