Magazine article The New Yorker

Apropos of Everything

Magazine article The New Yorker

Apropos of Everything

Article excerpt

C. Dallett Hemphill got the idea for her book BOWING TO NECESSITIES: A HISTORY OF MANNERS IN AMERICA, 1620-1860 (Oxford) while reading the diary of a socially maladroit nineteenth-century ancestor, Isaac Mickle, who had read a manual to improve his awkward bows. Hemphill finds that for the early American elite, manners were a means of reinforcing precarious status. Jeremiah Shepherd, a minister in Colonial New England, never forgave a woman who failed to bow deeply enough to him, even though she was in bed with an "ague fit."

By the late nineteenth century, however, high-toned etiquette had become a preoccupation for many Americans. THE LADIES' ETIQUETTE HANDBOOK (Iowa) presents two texts from the eighteen-eighties in facsimile. The editor, David E. Schoonover, points out that although the ideals of dining had been intended for the haute bourgeoisie, the books were actually written for ordinary folk. …

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