I pulled out my copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette* today. I referenced her in my blog introduction. And while I’m not researching manners, I am easily offended, by people like the dentist or nurses in the doctor’s office or PTA presidents. I wondered how more of her etiquette discourse might translate from 1922 to 2009.
I admit, I judged this author well before I ever read her. For years, mention of Emily Post threw me into flashbacks of meals at my sorority house.
Every Sunday we had a formal dinner. We were strongly encouraged to dress up and attend. Most of us showed up more for the house boys who served us, than for the food. One Sunday dinner, a visiting alum–or Emily Post groupie perhaps–gave a captivating presentation on the mysteries of the salad vs. dinner vs. dessert fork. On another occasion, my fellow sisters called me out to run around the table in my formal dress, while they clapped and sang an embarrassing reminder to “keep your elbows off the table, Christi Craig!” I assumed Emily Post set out with one purpose: to transform young sorority girls like us into proper women, “best society,” as she calls it in her book. After too many Sunday dinners, and several Women’s Studies courses under my belt, I left the sorority house and slammed the door on Emily Post.
Then, today, I read her definition of “best society”:
Best society is not at all like a court with an especial queen or king, nor is it confined to any one place or group, but might better be described as an unlimited brotherhood which spreads over the entire surface of the globe, the members of which are invariably people of cultivation and wordly knowledge (p. 2).
I fell into a moment of silence. I thought she only went as deep as cloth napkins and formal invitations. But, here she speaks against separate camps, in favor of “unlimited” brotherly love, and for international relations. A little further into the chapter, she says, “etiquette must, if it is to be of more than trifling use, include ethics as well as manners” (p. 3). Emily Post should be required reading in Political Science, I think: politics and etiquette, etiquette in politics.
I’m sure, well into the book, Ms. Post dives into details on when to wear gloves, how to serve tea, and how to behave in public. Still, I imagine that reading Etiquette could be like an archeological dig. Underneath all the niceties, I may find evidence of the true Emily Post: the woman behind the fan, the woman with her hat off and her hair down, the woman who wrote about manners in order to publish her own philosophy on life.
* Post, Emily. Etiquette. United States of America: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922.