General Behavior

  • A man always walks or rides on the outside of the woman on the street (so that she is protected from the street).
  • You should not fidget, bite your nails, or scratch. You were expected to stand or sit sedately and move in a smooth and graceful manner.
  • Be cheerful and smile, but do not laugh loudly.
  • A man never smokes in the presence of ladies.  After dinner is served at a dinner party and the women retire to the drawing room the men may remain behind to smoke.
  • You should not sit with your legs crossed (unless gracefully at the ankles)
  • Never lift your skirts above the ankles.
  • Gentleman should bow to a lady before leaving, rather than simply walking away.
  • Among men, handshakes were exchanged only between those of equal class.

Greeting/Introductions

  • A man always waits for a woman; she acknowledges him first with a bow and then he may tip his hat, using the hand furthest away from her.
  • It is rude to introduce yourself, you must wait to be introduced formally by someone else, especially when the other person is of a higher rank.
  • When acknowledging a woman with whom a man is familiar, with whom he wishes to speak, he may turn and walk with her as she speaks.  It is not mannerly to make a woman stand in the street.
  • A lady should never fail to acknowledge someone.
  • When first meeting a gentleman the lady should acknowledge them with a bow of the head and curtsy.  When a lady knows a gentleman she may acknowledge him with a bow of the head.
  • A lady waits to be introduced to a gentleman and never introduces herself.
  • When introduced to a man a lady never offers her hand, she merely bows/curtsies politely and says, “I am happy to make your acquaintance.”
  • If someone greets you, you must respond in kind.
  • When entering the dining room, people generally entered in couples, with the rank of the ladies determining the order.

Visiting/Travel

  • A lady may never call on a man alone.
  • Visitors gave advance warning of their arrival. This is why it is shocking when people arrive unannounced.
  • In a carriage, a gentleman sits facing backward.  A gentleman should never sit next to a lady when he is alone with her in a carriage unless he is her direct relation.
  • A lady under thirty years old should not walk alone without another lady, man, or servant unless walking to Church in the early morning. This makes Marianne’s walks alone so note worthy.
  • Travel was expensive and involved significant preparation. Consequently, it was not unusual for visitors to stay six to eight weeks, as Elinor and Marianne do when they stay with Mrs. Jennings in London.

Dress

  • A lady never wears pearls or diamonds in the morning.
  • Gloves must be worn at all times and may only be removed at the supper table (or buffet).

Dancing/Balls

  • A lady never dances more than two dances with the same partner. Two would last approximately half an hour.
  • Dancing was one of the few places respectable women could talk to a man privately, which is why balls play such an important role in finding a spouse.
  • It was very unusual for a lady to turn down an invitation from a gentleman to dance.
  • A man at a ball is expected to dance if there are any ladies not already engaged.

Women

  • Women were expected to be “accomplished”, which included activities such as reading, riding, singing, playing piano, sewing, dancing and playing music. Society did not allow ladies of a higher class to have a professsion.
  • Women had no power of earning money, therefore it was their duty to marry as well as possible.
  • If a woman did not marry, she was forced to rely on the charity of her male relatives.
  • Whatever a married women inherited became the property of her husband (which is why Willoughby actively seeks a wealthy heiress).
  • If a woman engaged in sexual activity or even the vaguest hint of it, she would be considered ineligible for marriage or for any respectable position such as governess, teacher, or paid companion. This was why Colonel Brandon’s story of his ward is so heartbreaking.
  • Formal, academic education was not considered important for women. Most women were taught at home, and studies focused on “accomplishments” and wifely duties rather than academics.

Conversation

  • Conversation should be appropriate to your gender, age, and class.
  • Women should not debate, for example fiscal or military policy, but they could comment on the price of veal or the welfare of their cousins in the army.
  • Shouting, arguing, or whistling were forbidden.
  • When speaking to someone of a higher social standing, it was critical to remember the correct forms of address and be polite but not overly familiar.

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