Monday, February 21, 2011

A Walk With Miss Hartley

Let me start with you upon your promenade, my friend, and I will soon decide your place upon the list of well-bred ladies.

That's an invitation that's impossible to resist, is it not? Especially if we get to peek at this List of Well-Bred Ladies after we come back from the walk. And also at the List of Ill-bred Ladies. (I believe I know which list I'll be on, given Miss Hartley's reactions - well, you'll see).

Miss Florence Hartley (author of The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, published in 1876) desires me to convey to you exactly how you should Conduct Yourself in the Street. It's very important, you see, because a lady "is never so entirely at the mercy of when she is in the street." Clearly, Florence doesn't know my old sociology professor. Or some of my relatives. Or those girls in my dorm that year when...Oh, never mind. Let's just learn how to walk down the street.

Green Walking Dress 1840s NYPL
I did so wear a green dress! (NYPL)
First, your dress. Not that scarlet shawl, with a green dress, I beg and - oh! spare my nerves! you are not so insane as to put on a blue bonnet. That's right. If you wish to wear the green dress, don a black shawl, and - that white bonnet will do very well.

All right, fine. The green dress it is. And the black shawl and white bonnet. Oh, and two aspirin. I seem to be developing a slight headache. I can't imagine why. 

What are you doing? Sucking the head of your parasol! Have you not breakfasted? Take that piece of ivory from your mouth!

Sorry, ma'am. You rushed me away from my oatmeal so we could go walking immediately, do you not recall? I do not treat my parasols like lollipops as a rule, you know. I just wanted to see what you would say. 

Why did you not dress before you came out? It is a mark of ill-breeding to draw your gloves on in the street. Now your bonnet-strings, and now - your collar! Pray arrange your dress before you leave the house!

Oh, please let me just put on my gloves, Miss Hartley. I didn't know it would be so cold out. Just look away for a second while I do. Please.

Walking Dress 1815 NYPL
Parasols up, everyone!  (NYPL)
Do not walk so fast! you are not chasing anybody! Walk slowly, gracefully! Oh, do not drag one foot after the other as if you were fast asleep - set down the foot lightly, but at the same time firmly; now, carry your head up, not so; you hang it down as if you feared to look anyone in the face! Nay, that is the other extreme! Now you look like a drill-major, on parade! So! that is the medium. Erect, yet at the same time, easy and elegant.

Ugh, I'm exhausted. How long will this walk take, anyway? 

Now, my friend, do not swing your arms....Take care! don't drag your dress through that mud puddle! Worse and worse!

Oh look, I think I'll just run across the street.I really did enjoy our little walk, but... 

Stop! don't you see there is a carriage coming?...You can run across? Very lady-like indeed!...Wait until the way is clear and then walk slowly across.

Do not try to raise your skirts. It is better to soil them. (You were very foolish to wear white skirts this muddy day). But you told me to wear the green dress, therefore I am wearing green. Not white. Oh, never mind, I give up. I am going to just hide behind my parasol here. I won't chew on it, I promise. I just need a little break from - 

Don't hold your parasol so close to your face, not so low down. [Sighing] Yes, ma'am, I am just raising the parasol now.

Uh, oh, here comes a gentleman. With an umbrella. Now what do we do, Miss Hartley, ma'am? Please? Oh yes, yes; I see. I see.  Let me just boil this down a little, though. You are getting hysterical, I fear:

1. If you meet a gentleman in the rain and he has an umbrella, and he will walk you to where you're going, that is OK. But don't "deprive" him of the umbrella if he's going the other way. And if he is a stranger - no no, do not accept the umbrella offers of a stranger! However:

2. While you're chatting about umbrellas to gentlemen friends - keep walking! "Never stop to speak to a gentleman on the street." Why? Because it looks shady, that's why! As if you are hanging around on the street. Ahem. Not ladylike at all. And likewise:

3. Do not "stop to gaze in the shop windows. It looks countrified." Also it looks as if you are waiting for someone. Very shady indeed.

But wait: there's more. Don't cut anyone by not speaking. Unless they are on the other side of the street. Then you do not acknowledge them. Even if they are gentlemen with umbrellas. And remember -

 Fare,yes; hoop skirt, no (NYPL)
Oh, never mind. Look, there's an omnibus! Thank goodness for that. Goodbye, Miss Hartley, I think I'll just walk in a ladylike fashion - but quickly, you know - over to the bus and - 

If you wish to take an omnibus or car, see that it is not full. If it is do not get in...It is best to carry change to pay car or omnibus fare, as you keep others waiting whilst the driver is making change, and it is apt to fall into the straw when passing from one hand to another.

Oh, I don't care what (or who) falls into the straw by now! Thank you very much, Miss Hartley, and farewell. Oh, and by the way: do you not know that it is terribly rude to keep shouting advice in the street?


Dieter Moitzi said...

Now there is a really rude and hopeless girl! Miss Hartley did so NOT shout advice at you in the street, and you know it! She kept murmuring while holding her head medium high, dragging her green dress through dog poops and drunkards' piss and not paying attention to the rain pouring down on her white bonnet and black shawl while desperately trying to attract the attention of that umbrella'd gentleman walking the same way you went... I really wonder, what would Miss Hartley advice a gay young man with ears and nose pierced... I reckon she'll prefer to stay in a lifelong coma instead. ;-)

Marcheline said...

Egads, I can't imagine living like that. I can imagine that Miss Hartley didn't have many dates, because no one could put up with that constant nattering!

Nancy said...

Positively delightful!