5 Questions of Victorian Conversation & Etiquette Including THE CUT DIRECT for the Finishing School Series

And now, for today’s blog post, Gentle Reader, I have to you 5 Questions of Etiquette.

1. How are people introduced?

  • Youth is introduced to age (named first). “Mr Wolverine, may I present Master Doogie Howser?”
  • Men are introduced to women (named first). “Eddie Izzard in drag, may I present Eddie Izzard out of drag?”
  • Lower ranks are introduced to higher (named first). “Countess Nadasdy, may I present Miss Dimity?”
  • Individuals are introduced to groups (named first). “Ladies of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy, may I present Miss Sophronia Temminnick?”

2. How do you cut someone?

  • The Cut: To ignore the existence (or avoid the presence) of a person.
  • The Cut Direct: To look an acquaintance in the face and pretend not to remember her.
  • The Cut Modest (Indirect): To look anywhere but at her.
  • The Cut Courteous: To forget names with good grace; as, instead of using her name, Sophronia, to address an old friend with ‘Madam,’ or ‘Miss…’
  • The Cut Obtuse: If slightly known to a fellow traveler, the cutter insists he never was at the place, nor on the vessel mentioned; and may even deny his own name.
  • The Cut Celestial: To be intentionally engaged in observation of the skies when an acquaintance passes.

A note:

By tradition gentlemen may never cut ladies (this reflects badly upon him, not her). But a gentleman may cut another gentleman. A lady may cut a gentleman, or another lady, or even a couple, for extremely bad behavior.

Gossiping Ladies Punch June 8, 1895
Gossiping Ladies Punch June 8, 1895

3. Is there a published set of rules by which males in the Victorian era were expected to approach and express interest in females?

Not that I can pull out of a hat at short notice, although some of my readers out there know differently (and will probably comment below). There might be something in What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England, but I haven’t consulted it recently.

I would urge caution not to rely on characters from Austen as, in her very subtle way, she is often breaking the rules of courtship, in order to comment on society as a whole. Dickens, of course is more interested in the varied echelons of society, and he too is writing human-interest stories that involve, by their very nature, tampering with social convention.

You might look later in time, oddly Wooster in P.G. Wodehouse’s 1920s setting books, behaves (around women) in a rather Victorian manner. It’s part of the way Wodehouse is driving conflict and comedy.

4. Is there a published set of rules for the converse direction?

Again, I don’t know, but a good general rule is that (as with conjugal relations) a lady always starts the conversation and a gentleman always finishes it, and in the middle the gentleman should act more than he talks. He is responsible for fetching things the lady needs (e.g. tea, punch, fan, dance card) and discussing topics that a lady might find congenial (e.g. weather, fashion, dance, food, society) nothing too personal or intrusive.

1851 Punch

5. Were the rules different depending on social class?

Absolutely, completely different. They were also dependent on ethnicity and location of said middle and lower classes as well, both within and outside of London. In general, the middle class from about 1840 on was far more strict about observance of social rules than the upper class for whom, particularly the gentlemen, many of the rules were strangely lax (possibly because they were dabbling with whores).

In this respect, we see very high-class men using low class slang but in their Eton accent (when around other gentlemen), while the middle class try to imitate what they think is high class behavior and taking it too far (nouveau riche).

And, of course, if you are blue blooded enough almost any eccentricity could be forgiven in both men and older married/widowed women.

  • A note on the military ~ kept mainly isolated when they returned from (often) decades of fighting abroad, they had their own kind of culture and interactions. The officers (purchased commission) did reintegrate somewhat into society but it could be difficult for them. There is a reason military men usually married the daughters of other military men.

Some useful information on Calling Cards.

Lastly, a word on outside influences, and this from my archaeology/anthropology background.

Victorian England did not exist in a bubble. Much as they hated to admit it, London especially was open to influence from across the channel and across the pond ~ dress, society, food, technology, and language.

Victorians were cooking with pasta and calling fashion, objects, cuisine, and behavior by French titles. In addition to the middle class trying to break into high society, moneyed (via industry) Americans were traipsing over, particularly in the 1870s and 80s, to Get Culture through education or marriage (i.e. The Buccaneers unfinished last novel of Edith Wharton). All of these components had their effect on what we, all too often think of as, those isolated Victorians.

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Book that goes with this post?

Etiquette & Espionage free PDF

Five Types of Modern Spies

  1. Local Spy ~ hired from among the people of a locality
  2. Inside Spy ~ hired from among enemy officials
  3. Reverse Spy ~ hired from among enemy spies
  4. Dead Spy ~ transmit false intelligence to enemy spies
  5. Living Spy ~ come back to report

~ Schott’s Quintessential Miscellany

Quote of the Day:

“After all, one knows one’s weak points so well, that it’s rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others.”

~ Edith Wharton

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