I’ve owned Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades and Horrible Blunders by Josephine Ross for a number of years. It is a small book (133 pages), very pretty, and filled with charming illustrations like the one below painted by Henrietta Webb. The language is slightly old-fashioned, as if the book was written in the 19th century. The rules of etiquette and manners are lifted from Jane Austen’s novels, and thus we know they are authentic. The eight chapters are divided logically: Manners; Forms of Introduction; Calling and Conversation; Dancing and Dining; Dress and Taste; Matrimony; Family; and Servants.
Each chapter is divided into “rules”, which serve as guides to the rule of etiquette that will be discussed. For example, Rule 1. Do not be presumptuous in offering introduction. The example comes from the scene in Pride and Prejudice in which Lady Catherine de Bourgh charges angrily into the Bennet home and does not ask for an introduction to Mrs. Bennet, who, awkwardly, has not been granted permission to speak to that grand lady in her own house. Lady Catherine’s rudeness towards Elizabeth and her mother is exacerbated by her pointed cut and lack of manners!
The book would make a wonderful gift for a Jane Austen fan who would like more background into the Regency era. Someone like me, who owns several books of etiquette of the period, would find the lack of index irritating. It is hard to find the precise rules of etiquette quickly. If I must hunt and peck, I infinitely prefer consulting original sources: The Mirror of Graces (1811) by A Lady of Distinction and Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son, for instance.
But for clarifying exactly what Jane intended in terms of behavior, this book is a tiny gem. Josephine Ross, the author of Jane Austen: A Companion, knows whereof she speaks. I give Jane Austen Guide to Good Manners four correct rules out of five.