Things have changed in the last few hundred years, in some ways, drastically. The root of this observation comes from my bumbling around in necessary research. When I write contemporary, all that’s needed for up-to-date conversation is an hour watching a current sitcom. But my WIP is regency-set, and—oh, yeah—things have changed.
Two hundred years ago in upper crust London, there were specific rules for everything. Let’s imagine you’ve just entered a drawing room for an obligatory visit. (How and when to call on others involves another set of rules). This is how a morning call goes: After an appropriate salutation which includes curtsey and/or bow, you wish everyone a pleasant good day, ask about or wish them good health, talk about the weather. A comment may be made in regards to a recent social event. Children may be discussed, or perhaps a comment about an upcoming event. If all else fails, go back to the weather. No compliments can be made directly to one’s hostess/host. That can only be exchanged between family and the closest friends. After fifteen minuets, and no long than twenty have passed, thank the hostess/host and beg your leave.
Compare that cintillating exchange to Caroline Bingley’s snide remarks to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, all rendered in perfected ton style and yet she is snark personified. Jane Austen knew every social rule and how to abuse, use, and mock at the same time. Nowadays, we are reduced to single word responses. Young males speak in childish, noncommital mumbles with no evidence of consonants. Girls speak too fast in nasal valley-speak that used to be ridiculed and is now the lexicon and style of ninety percent of the young female population. I recently spoke to a girl who aspires to a career as an actress and she didn’t know who Tennessee Williams was. She thinks emulating Hannah Montana is the epitome of the acting. This was not easy to swallow after watching the Starz recent rendition of The Dresser.
Half of what goes in conversation today was not done in 1950. Marlon Brando’s mumbling started this mess IMHO. (And yeah, text anachronisms haven’t helped.) Freewheeling acceptance of social taboos has also changed. In the fifties, sex was never mentioned. Strict monitoring and censorship didn’t allow it in any form on the screen. Nary a hint. If a bedroom was shown, there were separate beds! There was a time when I was quite young that I thought it was weird that my mom and dad didn’t have two beds. Wow, I digressed.
Going back to the subject, if you are interested in the wide gap between aristocracy, middle earth, and today, try Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross. It is, as they say today, a hoot. Oy, how the times have changed.
Book Eight in the Regency set Friendship Series, The Barbarian and His Lady, is now available for pre-sale on Amazon, due for release on June 18, 2016.
And don’t forget to curtsey or bow before you exit.
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Judi Lynn said:
Hmm, I’d settle for some place in the middle on social manners–not quite so formal, but not let everything hang out either:)
Corsets and stockings kept those women in tight accord. Wonder how their conversations might have gone if denim jeans were available at the village shop? Would they have taken up gardening? There must have been a rebel here and there. If so, I’m sure you’d know ’cause you do fabulous research! I read your books not just for the story but for the info that “surrounds” your plots..
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