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I thought everyone must know that a short jacket is always worn with a silk hat
King Edward VII


There’s a philosophy within Gaelic football which says, “look after the points and the goals will look after themselves”. It’s an old-fashioned kind of a view which encourages one to attend to the small things and by so doing, guaranteeing the success of the large. Fundamentally, it’s about standards, and you don’t see a lot of it about these days.


Standards, of course, become such by general consent, which in turn implies a collective will. Such a thing is hard to imagine in our atomised times, but was unquestioned in the Edwardian period. You went along to get along, and to help you get along there was a slew of written material produced by one’s “betters” for the elevation of the lower orders. One of my own favourites was a perennial best seller (mercifully forgotten today) modestly entitled Enquire Within Upon Everything, and “everything” was right. The industrious parvenu would, within its many double-columned pages, be made aware of the “distinction with respect to clerks and servants of a superior class”, that piquet is “too long and tiresome for modern card players” and (of vital importance) the detailed instructions necessary to rid oneself to the debilitating Irish or Scots accent.

Useful as such information undoubtedly was, it was rather a sad arriviste who would commit it all to memory. No, far better to concentrate upon the essentials, since the true gentleperson would not be unduly perturbed by the occasional slip, form too perfectly maintained being the trademark of the Johnnie-come-lately, don’t you know, rather like those foreign chappies with slightly too much pomade in their hair and just a tad too much starch in their shirts.

Enter for the purpose, Miss Cornelia Dobbs. We feel justified in styling her “Miss Dobbs”, archaic though the form assuredly is, since a lady of such breeding would, it is certain, suffer the pangs of mortification should her womanhood ever go unacknowledged by submergence within the semi-androgynous “Ms”. In less than 100 elegant pages, Miss Dobbs educates us on such topics as table manners (Offering an occasional ‘thanks’ to the parlourmaid or manservant would not go amiss but it must be said in a manner that will not encourage familiarity); social etiquette (the hostess may now open her garden to estimable doctor neighbours, while the intimacy of the drawing room remains closed); the gentleman’s club (A man is not a gentleman if he removes his coat or sits in his shirtsleeves in any of the public rooms. An allowance, however, is made in the billiard room); and fashion and deportment (Brown boots may be worn at Ascot, but certainly never in town).

The book is so wonderfully well done that I found myself falling slightly in love with Miss Dobbs, but one did suspect a certain protuberance in the cheek, with such advice as: Should you, whilst walking with your friend, meet an acquaintance, never introduce them. Young men in particular may think nothing of introducing a young lady of lower class to their mother or sister, little realizing what mortification may be induced by forced acquaintanceship with a milliner’s assistant.

The light, of course, began to dawn at the end of the volume when the author noted, among her “resources”, the aforementioned Enquire Within upon Everything, and other publications, some as recent as 2008.  I did think it rather naughty of Miss Dobbs to date her forward 1908; on the strength of that, I was fooled right up until the end. Standards are just not what they used to be, tut, tut.  Still, I’ll forgive her and recommend this delightful little volume.  Enjoy.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
casfic
Mar. 12th, 2012 07:26 pm (UTC)
So it's a pastiche? How disappointing!
corrigan1
Mar. 12th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
Imagine how I felt!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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