Conduct to Literary Women

Susanna here, minding my manners and thinking of etiquette.

Eliza Leslie, 1844, by Thomas SullyMiss Eliza Leslie, born in Philadelphia in 1787, is best known for her cookbooks, one of which—Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches (1837)—became a runaway bestseller, with at least 150,000 copies sold.

But her father, a watchmaker who counted Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson among his friends, encouraged his eldest daughter to draw and read and write creatively as well, with the result that she also became a celebrated author of fiction, writing novels with appropriately Victorian titles (Amelia; or, A Young Lady's Vicissitudes), editing an annual collection of stories by contemporaries like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Allan Poe, and contributing stories to many of the leading publications of the day, including The Saturday Evening Post and Godey’s Lady’s Book.

But it’s for her etiquette handbook, titled Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book, first published in 1834 and republished in several editions afterward, that I love her best.


Miss Leslie
As etiquette guides go, it’s a doozy. There are chapters on “Tea Visitors”, “Conduct in the Street”, “Deportment at a Hotel”, and “Incorrect Words”, among others.
 
My favourite chapter, though, is Chapter Twenty: “Conduct to Literary Women”—because in Miss Leslie’s pages of advice on how one ought to treat an Authoress, I get a tantalizing glimpse of what a writer of the 1830s looked like, and I love to see how much we have in common.

FountainpenFirst you have to get past Miss Leslie’s general admonitions to the non-writer who seeks to pay a visit to an Authoress—“Take care not to speak of her first work as being her best; for if it is really so, she must have been retrograding from that time; a falling off that she will not like to hear of”, and “Be not inquisitive as to the length of time consumed in writing this book or that—or how soon the work now on hand will be finished.”

And of course, it’s the height of bad manners to drop by during her writing hours, “which should always be in the morning, if possible.” For, as Miss Leslie points out, “Even if the visit is not a long one, it is still an interruption. In one minute it may break a chain of ideas which cannot be reunited, dispel thoughts that can never be recalled, disturb the construction of a sentence, and obliterate a recollection that will not return.”

Which is actually true enough, and leaves me thinking of the sentences and trains of thought that might not have been lost if I’d been smart enough to make my children read Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book before they developed their habit of wandering into my writing room.

But it’s in passages like this one where I feel a strong connection to the women writers of Miss Leslie’s age:

DSCN0002“If, when admitted into her study, you should find her writing table in what appears to you like great confusion”, don’t comment on it. “In all probability, she knows precisely where to lay her hand upon every paper on the table: having in reality placed them exactly to suit her convenience. Though their arrangement may be quite unintelligible to the uninitiated, there is no doubt method (her own method, at least) in their apparent disorder. It is not likely she may have time to put her writing table in nice-looking order every day. To have it done by servants is out of the question, as they would make ‘confusion worse confounded;’ being of course unable to comprehend how such a table should be arranged.”

Ah yes, the servants. Not really a problem the authors I know have today, though this next observation is just as true now as it was in the 1830s:

Author copies“Many persons erroneously suppose that an author has always on hand an unlimited number of her own books; or that the publisher will kindly give her as many as she can want for herself and friends. It is usual, when the first edition comes out, for the publisher to send the author half a dozen copies of the book, or a dozen, if it is a small one. After that, if she wants any more, she is expected to buy them of the bookseller. Therefore, she has none to give away, except to members of her own family, or to friends whose circumstances will not permit them to expend money in books, and who have an ardent love for reading without the means of gratifying it.”

And then, to top it off, there’s this one. This is simply ME:

Author clothes“If you find your literary friend in dèshabille, and she apologizes for it—(she had best not apologize)—tell her not that ‘authoresses are privileged persons, and are never expected to pay any attention to dress.’ Now, literary slatterns are not more frequent than slatterns who are not literary. It is true that women of enlarged minds, and really good taste, do not think it necessary to follow closely all the changes and follies of fashion, and to wear things that are inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unbecoming, merely because milliners, dress-makers, &c. have pronounced them ‘the last new style.’”

Before I take another cruise, I’m going to have to brush up on Miss Leslie’s chapter of advice on what to do when “Ship-board”…

For me, etiquette and manners are such fascinating things to read and study, and I always like to see the things that change according to the age, and those that persevere.
 
Is there a bit of etiquette you’d like to see return, or one you’re glad is gone, or one you find particularly baffling?

105 thoughts on “Conduct to Literary Women”

  1. When I was growing up, I read Emily Post, but I cannot remember anything she said. I thing more modern writers (Like Miss Manner? — was that her name) came closer to reality, but again, I don’t remember anything she said. So it is obvious that I don’t feel very concerned about etiquette. (Making people comfortable is another thing, but I don’t think anyone can write about that.)
    HOWEVER, an item in the Ladies Home Journal, in the column then called “Fifty Years ago in the Journal” has stayed in my mind for more than 50 additional years. Young ladies were advised to decline a second helping by saying, “No, thank you. I have had a pleasant sufficiency; more would be a superfluous redundancy.” The “superfluous redundancy” of that remark has had me in stitches all these years.

    Reply
  2. When I was growing up, I read Emily Post, but I cannot remember anything she said. I thing more modern writers (Like Miss Manner? — was that her name) came closer to reality, but again, I don’t remember anything she said. So it is obvious that I don’t feel very concerned about etiquette. (Making people comfortable is another thing, but I don’t think anyone can write about that.)
    HOWEVER, an item in the Ladies Home Journal, in the column then called “Fifty Years ago in the Journal” has stayed in my mind for more than 50 additional years. Young ladies were advised to decline a second helping by saying, “No, thank you. I have had a pleasant sufficiency; more would be a superfluous redundancy.” The “superfluous redundancy” of that remark has had me in stitches all these years.

    Reply
  3. When I was growing up, I read Emily Post, but I cannot remember anything she said. I thing more modern writers (Like Miss Manner? — was that her name) came closer to reality, but again, I don’t remember anything she said. So it is obvious that I don’t feel very concerned about etiquette. (Making people comfortable is another thing, but I don’t think anyone can write about that.)
    HOWEVER, an item in the Ladies Home Journal, in the column then called “Fifty Years ago in the Journal” has stayed in my mind for more than 50 additional years. Young ladies were advised to decline a second helping by saying, “No, thank you. I have had a pleasant sufficiency; more would be a superfluous redundancy.” The “superfluous redundancy” of that remark has had me in stitches all these years.

    Reply
  4. When I was growing up, I read Emily Post, but I cannot remember anything she said. I thing more modern writers (Like Miss Manner? — was that her name) came closer to reality, but again, I don’t remember anything she said. So it is obvious that I don’t feel very concerned about etiquette. (Making people comfortable is another thing, but I don’t think anyone can write about that.)
    HOWEVER, an item in the Ladies Home Journal, in the column then called “Fifty Years ago in the Journal” has stayed in my mind for more than 50 additional years. Young ladies were advised to decline a second helping by saying, “No, thank you. I have had a pleasant sufficiency; more would be a superfluous redundancy.” The “superfluous redundancy” of that remark has had me in stitches all these years.

    Reply
  5. When I was growing up, I read Emily Post, but I cannot remember anything she said. I thing more modern writers (Like Miss Manner? — was that her name) came closer to reality, but again, I don’t remember anything she said. So it is obvious that I don’t feel very concerned about etiquette. (Making people comfortable is another thing, but I don’t think anyone can write about that.)
    HOWEVER, an item in the Ladies Home Journal, in the column then called “Fifty Years ago in the Journal” has stayed in my mind for more than 50 additional years. Young ladies were advised to decline a second helping by saying, “No, thank you. I have had a pleasant sufficiency; more would be a superfluous redundancy.” The “superfluous redundancy” of that remark has had me in stitches all these years.

    Reply
  6. Oh my — this is all SO TRUE!!!! Susanna. So contemporary. I kept copying bits to put on writers’ group pages, and then would find a paragraph down another even more relevant piece of advice, and then another few paragraphs down, yet another one. LOL. She’s brilliant!

    Reply
  7. Oh my — this is all SO TRUE!!!! Susanna. So contemporary. I kept copying bits to put on writers’ group pages, and then would find a paragraph down another even more relevant piece of advice, and then another few paragraphs down, yet another one. LOL. She’s brilliant!

    Reply
  8. Oh my — this is all SO TRUE!!!! Susanna. So contemporary. I kept copying bits to put on writers’ group pages, and then would find a paragraph down another even more relevant piece of advice, and then another few paragraphs down, yet another one. LOL. She’s brilliant!

    Reply
  9. Oh my — this is all SO TRUE!!!! Susanna. So contemporary. I kept copying bits to put on writers’ group pages, and then would find a paragraph down another even more relevant piece of advice, and then another few paragraphs down, yet another one. LOL. She’s brilliant!

    Reply
  10. Oh my — this is all SO TRUE!!!! Susanna. So contemporary. I kept copying bits to put on writers’ group pages, and then would find a paragraph down another even more relevant piece of advice, and then another few paragraphs down, yet another one. LOL. She’s brilliant!

    Reply
  11. What a hoot! I’m not a writer, but I sure could identify with the paragraph about the messy writing table. It was the story of my work life. There was always some neatnik who wanted to “straighten up” my desk for me. It was so hard for them to understand that there was order in that disorder.

    Reply
  12. What a hoot! I’m not a writer, but I sure could identify with the paragraph about the messy writing table. It was the story of my work life. There was always some neatnik who wanted to “straighten up” my desk for me. It was so hard for them to understand that there was order in that disorder.

    Reply
  13. What a hoot! I’m not a writer, but I sure could identify with the paragraph about the messy writing table. It was the story of my work life. There was always some neatnik who wanted to “straighten up” my desk for me. It was so hard for them to understand that there was order in that disorder.

    Reply
  14. What a hoot! I’m not a writer, but I sure could identify with the paragraph about the messy writing table. It was the story of my work life. There was always some neatnik who wanted to “straighten up” my desk for me. It was so hard for them to understand that there was order in that disorder.

    Reply
  15. What a hoot! I’m not a writer, but I sure could identify with the paragraph about the messy writing table. It was the story of my work life. There was always some neatnik who wanted to “straighten up” my desk for me. It was so hard for them to understand that there was order in that disorder.

    Reply
  16. The thing I love about this blog is how much new stuff you learn from it. I’d never heard of Miss Eliza Leslie and now I have something else to look up.
    Great post Susanna.

    Reply
  17. The thing I love about this blog is how much new stuff you learn from it. I’d never heard of Miss Eliza Leslie and now I have something else to look up.
    Great post Susanna.

    Reply
  18. The thing I love about this blog is how much new stuff you learn from it. I’d never heard of Miss Eliza Leslie and now I have something else to look up.
    Great post Susanna.

    Reply
  19. The thing I love about this blog is how much new stuff you learn from it. I’d never heard of Miss Eliza Leslie and now I have something else to look up.
    Great post Susanna.

    Reply
  20. The thing I love about this blog is how much new stuff you learn from it. I’d never heard of Miss Eliza Leslie and now I have something else to look up.
    Great post Susanna.

    Reply
  21. Her advice is so on point! I’m not an author, although I write a lot of one thing or another. If you could only see my work area right now(actually it’s my living room coffee table) with laptop, books, magazines, scratch pads, unpaid bills, calculator, staple gun, orange peels, pens, receipts, teacup, nail file & clippers, TV remote, earbuds, etc.

    Reply
  22. Her advice is so on point! I’m not an author, although I write a lot of one thing or another. If you could only see my work area right now(actually it’s my living room coffee table) with laptop, books, magazines, scratch pads, unpaid bills, calculator, staple gun, orange peels, pens, receipts, teacup, nail file & clippers, TV remote, earbuds, etc.

    Reply
  23. Her advice is so on point! I’m not an author, although I write a lot of one thing or another. If you could only see my work area right now(actually it’s my living room coffee table) with laptop, books, magazines, scratch pads, unpaid bills, calculator, staple gun, orange peels, pens, receipts, teacup, nail file & clippers, TV remote, earbuds, etc.

    Reply
  24. Her advice is so on point! I’m not an author, although I write a lot of one thing or another. If you could only see my work area right now(actually it’s my living room coffee table) with laptop, books, magazines, scratch pads, unpaid bills, calculator, staple gun, orange peels, pens, receipts, teacup, nail file & clippers, TV remote, earbuds, etc.

    Reply
  25. Her advice is so on point! I’m not an author, although I write a lot of one thing or another. If you could only see my work area right now(actually it’s my living room coffee table) with laptop, books, magazines, scratch pads, unpaid bills, calculator, staple gun, orange peels, pens, receipts, teacup, nail file & clippers, TV remote, earbuds, etc.

    Reply
  26. I LOVE the “superfluous redundancy” line! Oh, the many ways that could be used in life…I think I’ll try it on the next telemarketer who tries to sell me windows. “No, thank you, we already have windows; more would be a superfluous redundancy.”
    I’ll let you know what they say 🙂

    Reply
  27. I LOVE the “superfluous redundancy” line! Oh, the many ways that could be used in life…I think I’ll try it on the next telemarketer who tries to sell me windows. “No, thank you, we already have windows; more would be a superfluous redundancy.”
    I’ll let you know what they say 🙂

    Reply
  28. I LOVE the “superfluous redundancy” line! Oh, the many ways that could be used in life…I think I’ll try it on the next telemarketer who tries to sell me windows. “No, thank you, we already have windows; more would be a superfluous redundancy.”
    I’ll let you know what they say 🙂

    Reply
  29. I LOVE the “superfluous redundancy” line! Oh, the many ways that could be used in life…I think I’ll try it on the next telemarketer who tries to sell me windows. “No, thank you, we already have windows; more would be a superfluous redundancy.”
    I’ll let you know what they say 🙂

    Reply
  30. I LOVE the “superfluous redundancy” line! Oh, the many ways that could be used in life…I think I’ll try it on the next telemarketer who tries to sell me windows. “No, thank you, we already have windows; more would be a superfluous redundancy.”
    I’ll let you know what they say 🙂

    Reply
  31. Mary, my husband is a computer programmer, and is always aghast at the state of my writing desk (and my computer desktop). Every now and then he tries to “help” me by organizing things. It never ends well 🙂

    Reply
  32. Mary, my husband is a computer programmer, and is always aghast at the state of my writing desk (and my computer desktop). Every now and then he tries to “help” me by organizing things. It never ends well 🙂

    Reply
  33. Mary, my husband is a computer programmer, and is always aghast at the state of my writing desk (and my computer desktop). Every now and then he tries to “help” me by organizing things. It never ends well 🙂

    Reply
  34. Mary, my husband is a computer programmer, and is always aghast at the state of my writing desk (and my computer desktop). Every now and then he tries to “help” me by organizing things. It never ends well 🙂

    Reply
  35. Mary, my husband is a computer programmer, and is always aghast at the state of my writing desk (and my computer desktop). Every now and then he tries to “help” me by organizing things. It never ends well 🙂

    Reply
  36. Thanks, Teresa. I’d never heard of her either until a few years ago, when a snippet of this book was quoted somewhere, and then of course I had to hunt down the actual book and read it. She was definitely a well-known and influential woman in her day.

    Reply
  37. Thanks, Teresa. I’d never heard of her either until a few years ago, when a snippet of this book was quoted somewhere, and then of course I had to hunt down the actual book and read it. She was definitely a well-known and influential woman in her day.

    Reply
  38. Thanks, Teresa. I’d never heard of her either until a few years ago, when a snippet of this book was quoted somewhere, and then of course I had to hunt down the actual book and read it. She was definitely a well-known and influential woman in her day.

    Reply
  39. Thanks, Teresa. I’d never heard of her either until a few years ago, when a snippet of this book was quoted somewhere, and then of course I had to hunt down the actual book and read it. She was definitely a well-known and influential woman in her day.

    Reply
  40. Thanks, Teresa. I’d never heard of her either until a few years ago, when a snippet of this book was quoted somewhere, and then of course I had to hunt down the actual book and read it. She was definitely a well-known and influential woman in her day.

    Reply

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