If you open a nineteenth century etiquette book like, The ladies' hand-book of etiquette and manual of politeness, you will find rules for everything. Rules on how to properly address a letter, how to meet someone in a demure fashion, what to do if a gentleman is vulgar, or how to stand or walk the proper distance from your betters.
Many of these rules are common sense and still apply today. Some however, to repeat a cliché, have gone with the wind. For example, anyone familiar with social media must realize that nineteenth century rules of modesty have been forgotten.
One of the charms of historical romance is to spend a few moments in the graceful past. While I’ve never come across someone standing a few paces behind a Duke in romance novels, there are many other aspects of etiquette that do grace their pages. Who does not like a gentleman who would place his cape over a mud puddle so my lady may not get muddy?
One other form of etiquette I admire is the habit of taking a bow of respect. Forget the etiquette of gentlemen standing upon a lady’s entrance (that might resemble whack-a-mole and give me an outbreak of the giggles), but who wouldn’t enjoy a brief bow of respect every once and awhile? I wonder if my husband would do this? He’ll give me a wink and probably say, “I’ll give you an occasional bow if you walk two paces behind me.”
Here’s an excerpt from TO CATCH A RAKE when the hero behaves like a gentleman, even though he might not be feeling that way.
“Halfway to his destination, he observed three lovely ladies approaching him on the pathway. The first lady caught sight of him at a hundred paces and stopped in her tracks. The other women then stopped too. The group conversed for a minute before giggles erupted.
George hated giggles. Women were not high on his list of favorite things at the moment. They ranked right up there with over-flowing privies. None of them could be trusted, because they were all inveterate tittle-tattlers, bags of maudlin sentiment, and silly book writers.
“Oh look, that’s the very man himself,” the first lady said, immediately pulling back her hand when caught pointing at him.
He lengthened his stride, hoping to pass them in seconds.
“Are you certain?” the second lady said.
The first lady furtively nodded.
Ten feet before their paths crossed, he caught a white flash out of the corner of his eye. Upon further examination, it appeared the first lady had dropped her handkerchief on the pavement in front of him. He ground his teeth. Then swore he had no intention of picking it up. Very likely his chivalry toward the fairer sex may have escaped him permanently. He quickened his step.
A foot away, the second lady dropped her handkerchief right in his path. If he stepped on it, the handkerchief would be ruined, so he had to stop. Glaring downward at the offending cloth, he mumbled a strong swear word under his breath. He inhaled, tipped his hat, and bowed. “Ladies.” He then addressed the third one. “Would you care to drop your handkerchief too? It’s more efficient if I pick all three up at the same time. Besides, I would hate to leave a member of your party out of my gallantries.”
All of the ladies beamed.
The third one shook her head. “I forgot to bring my handkerchief,” she said in a disappointed tone.
He feigned a smile. “My loss.”
They all continued to smile and repeatedly nodded at each other.
He bent over to pick up the two white linen squares. At the very moment his hand grabbed the first one, a flash of silver and a heavy thump sounded as a silver reticule dropped on the pavement in front of his nose.
Seemingly without a handkerchief, the third lady had thrown in her reticule.
A moment of uneasy silence followed. Finally, he straightened and burst out in laughter.
The three women joined him, and they all laughed together.
After regaining his composure, he shook his head and bent over to pick up the small collection of items on the pavement. He then gracefully handed each piece to the correct owner, followed with a deep bow.
What is your favorite form of etiquette practiced by your favorite romantic heroes?