Sunday, April 12, 2015

Etiquette Then--and Now

 
As I wrote my novel Love of the Summerfields, which is set in an English manor house--and after being a Downton Abbey fanatic since Mary and Edith first argued--I became aware of the details and delicacies of proper etiquette. 

ETIQUETTE:  The act of behaving in an utterly proper way so you won't get your hand slapped or be shunned from the members of society who made up the rules which are almost impossible to follow.

Here are some gems from The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining (adapted by Autumn Stephens) with a few asides from me.

• 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. So we're to dress down? I hardly think "slovenly" would be appreciated.

• Do not expose the neck and arms at a dinner party. These should be covered, if not by the dress itself, then by lace or muslin overwaist. How about a nice plaid stadium blanket?

• Do not fail to try the effect of your dress by gaslight and daylight both. Many a color that may look well in daylight may look extremely ugly in gaslight. But facial lines and wrinkles look marvelous!

• When a gentleman is invited out for the evening, or when he hosts an evening entertainment himself, he is under no embarrassment as to what he shall wear. The unvarying uniform is black pants, waistcoat, and jacket, with white tie, shirt, and gloves. How about jeans and a tee-shirt? Or the ever popular khakis and a polo shirt?

• Prior to the dinner party, the hostess will acquaint herself with the social standing of each guest. If necessary, she may consult a reference volume, such as Who's Who. She then pairs each gentleman guest with a lady guest of equivalent social status. Does consulting Facebook and You Tube count?

• A few well-chosen words of praise for any dish that you happen to know is a matter of pride to your hostess will be well received. As a rule, however, the fewer remarks about your food, the better. Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub? Or how about "These Doritos are simply divine!"

• Do not hesitate what to take when a dish is passed to you. Nothing displays a lack of breeding more than not to know your own mind in trifles. Trifles? Is that in the same family as truffles?

• Do not refuse to take the last piece of bread of cake; it looks as though you imagined there might be no more. Hey now. If the plate's empty in my house, there ain't no more. And the last slice is mine.

• Do not carry anything like food with you from the table. Anything "like" food? I suppose a doggie bag is out of the question.

• Never leave the table before the end of the dinner, unless from urgent necessity. I won't go there.

• Young ladies seldom drink more than three glasses of wine at dinner; but married ladies who are engaged in a profession, such as authors and teachers, and those accustomed to society and the habits of affluence, will habitually take five or even six, whether in their own home or at the tables of their friends. Who are these winos? And who's the designated driver?

• Do not wear gloves at the table. I wouldn't think of it. I can't lick my fingers with gloves on.

• 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. Which gives you no out for being dull and stupid during the meal. And since the antidote for overeating is napping, I'm all for it.



All kidding aside, I grieve the loss of manners and etiquette. Baseball hats in restaurants incense me and I want to kiss any man who holds a door open for me. Actually, nowadays we need a new set of rules:

• No phone calls or texts while driving or dining. Or while in line. And if you can't talk on a cell phone without shouting, go outside.

• No tank tops on men. Ever. And especially not at a meal.

• Regarding gum: no popping, clicking, chomping, or blowing bubbles. And if I can see it in your mouth when you talk, you're toast.

• Never (ever) bring a full sized pillow on a plane.

• Unless you are a toddler, never (ever) wear pajama pants in public--including on a plane.

• If "muffin-top" applies to your figure, do not wear skin-tight tops or show skin. Even if you're skinny don't show me your midriff.

  • Leggings are not pants, and need a blouse or top that is long enough to cover your bottom.  If your top doesn't touch the tops of your legs, it's too short to wear with leggings.


  • • Flip-flops don't belong in church.

    • Thank you notes are still necessary. Whether emailed or snail-mailed, say thank you. Your mama will be so proud.

    • If you must have music blasted into your brain every second of the day, get those headphones that keep it to yourself. Earbuds aren't private and secondary music is annoying. And BTW, if you have music blasted into your brain every second of the day, your brain has no chance to think a real thought. Think about it.  Or try to.

    My list was longer than I thought it would be (and could be longer.) What are some of your etiquette requests?//Nancy Moser

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    Civil War in Missouri, the Oliver Anderson House, battlefield hospital


    Posted: 11 Feb 2015 10:00 PM PST
     A Footnote from History by Stephanie Grace Whitson

    "Maggie didn’t know how long it had been since John had screamed at her to go back to safety in the rear. He’d been astride Blue and he’d kept going, tearing across the battlefield ... She’d watched with a horrible kind of fascination as Blue galloped away, willing both horse and rider to somehow fill only the spaces between the bullets. And then, when Colt dropped out of sight, she’d looked down at the boy she was tending and was jerked back to another terrible reality ... The boy was staring up at her with panic in his eyes, and with everything that was in her, Maggie mustered kindness and an expression that she desperately willed to feign hope ... “Look at me, Private. You aren’t alone. The Good Lord is here and so is Maggie Malone. Neither of us is leaving you.” (Excerpted from Daughter of the Regiment)

    In 1853, Kentuckian Oliver Anderson had this beautiful house built overlooking the Missouri River near Lexington, Missouri,in the heart of a rich agricultural center where planters raised hemp, tobacco, and fine cattle. With its 15-foot ceilings and 15-foot-wide central hallway, the house is an example of the kinds of mansions prosperous, slave-holding Southerners were building in Missouri in the 1840s and 1850s. None of the outbuildings survive, but there would have been a carriage house, a horse barn, a summer kitchen, and slave quarters.  

    In the fall of 1859, financial woes forced Anderson to auction off all his real estate, his personal property, and his slaves. His sons purchased the house, enabling their parents to live there until the eve of the Civil War.

    When the Civil War broke out, Unionists in Missouri quickly gained the upper hand. With the Missouri River strategically vital for the movement of troops and supplies, Federal troops occupied Lexington in July of 1861 and confiscated the Anderson House for use as a hospital. Local tradition says that Anderson refused to take the Union-imposed oath of loyalty. He subsequently left Lexington (Anderson died in Kentucky in 1873). 

    In August of 1861, when the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield set the stage for a rebel offensive into the heart of the Missouri River valley, the Anderson house was at the heart of the action. 

    The battle map shows the house in green and various military positions in red. The Battle of Lexington was waged over three days in September. Battle damage to the house is still visible today, both on the exterior brick walls and on interior walls.

    Battle damage to the house is still visible today, both on the exterior brick walls and on interior walls. 



    The house changed hands three times on September 18, 1861, the first day of the Battle of Lexington.  That day, three Southern soldiers died at the base of the grand staircase in the main hall.




    Visitors who venture away from the house to walk the battlefield encounter this small burial plot designated for five unknown Union soldiers whose remains were found during excavations in 1932 near the site of the building that was used as Union headquarters during the siege of Lexington. The men were likely part of Colonel Thomas A. Marshall's cavalry. 

    The southern victory at the Battle of Lexington made Major General Sterling Price a hero throughout the South. The Union responded en masse and eventually forced Price to retreat back to the southwestern corner of the state, returning Lexington and the Missouri River Valley to Union control.

    In 1958, the Anderson house and portions of the battlefield were donated to the Missouri state park system. See interior photos and learn more here: http://mostateparks.com/park/battle-lexington-state-historic-site

    Have you visited any state historic sites in recent weeks? Did you enjoy your time there? Learn anything new? Share!

    ___________________________

    The Oliver Anderson house and the Battle of Lexington played an important role in
    inspiring Daughter of the Regiment, Stephanie Grace Whitson's March, 2015 release. Stephanie has been a full time novelist since 1994. Her studio is located in the lower level of her 1890s home--"the hired man's house"--in Lincoln, Nebraska. She enjoys learning about the real women who inspire her historical fiction, studying antique quilt history, riding her Honda Magna motorcycle named Kitty, and spending time with her extended family, grandchildren, and grand-dogs. 


    Learn more at 
    www.stephaniewhitson.com
    www.Facebook.com/stephaniegracewhitson.

    Saturday, January 17, 2015

    Where the Millionaires Lived

    Every city pushes its seams and expands outward, gobbling up land to satisfy its growing population. So it was with New York City in the 1880's. Manhattan is an island with obvious boundaries. So the initial settlements on its southern tip could only move north. The neighborhoods that started as places for the wealthy to live (around the place that's now the Lower East Side) were a bit boggy and so were abandoned for dryer land up north. After the Civil War the wealthy chose the area around 5th Avenue and the Thirties to build their mansions. This is where the rich live in my novel Masquerade

    I always enjoy basing a house on a real house, and chose the A.T. Stewart mansion that sat on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and Thirty-fourth. It took over five years to build and when it was finished in 1869 it had cost $1.5 million. In today's money that's about $37.5 million. Pretty much beyond comprehension!

    Doesn't it looks like a library? It was the first residential showplace in NYC and was deemed "palatial". This is the foyer and one of the bedrooms. All rooms shown here were figured into scenes in my novel.
     

     
    Mrs. Stewart also had her own art gallery. She had a huge collection of artwork—that she mostly kept to herself. The art room was 70' x 30' x 50' tall. She and Mr. Stewart had no children yet lived in this 55-room house. He (like my patriarch, Martin Tremaine) earned his fortune by starting a department store: Stewart's Dry Goods. I'll go through details of stores of the time in a separate post.

    An interesting thing about the Stewart mansion is that their neighbor to the south was William B. Astor II and his wife, Caroline, or THE Mrs. Astor. She was the head of New York society and her approval or disdain had the power to make or break people. And yet her house was a fairly simple brownstone. Here's a picture of it in 1897. It's the small building on the right. On the left is the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It was built by William Waldorf Astor on the site of his family home after he decided to move to England permanently in 1891. It was built in great part to annoy his Aunt Lina who lived next door. A family feud over who was the head of society and all that.

    As early as the 1870's, the encroaching commercialization of the area led the social set to move north to Fifth Avenue and the "Fifties" to build their houses. The bigger the better. The upstart Vanderbilt family created mansions that made the Stewart house look like a guest house. Some of these mansions remain--with new uses, but the Stewart mansion was demolished in 1902. Progress, you know.

    And what now sits where the Astor brownstone and the old Waldorf-Astoria sat? The Empire State Building.

    If you'd like to read more of my Gilded Age novels, try the sequel to Masquerade, called An Unlikely Suitor,  and A Bridal Quilt, which is in the novella anthology A Patchwork Christmas//Nancy Moser