Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners

Laura Claridge's book, Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners is a very detailed and fascinating account of Emily Post's life and the times in which she lived.

Emily's father, Bruce Price, was an architect and he often took her to the sites of his building projects. Her mother, Josephine Lee, was the daughter of a coal baron and had great financial sense. In Emily, the strong characteristics of both parents were nurtured and developed. Emily never had any formal education, but she did learn quickly whatever interested her. After she married Edwin Post she did her best to manage her husband's income and their household while still keeping up appearances in New York's high society. She soon had two sons, to whom she was devoted. While they were still young, Emily began to write as a diversion and hobby, and was soon published.

Unfortunately, after only a few years of marriage Edwin was unfaithful to her, keeping a mistress in an apartment in New York. When discovered and blackmailed by a tabloid, her husband chose to expose his infidelity himself, rather than be blackmailed. Emily was humiliated, but was willing to forgive and continue on in their marriage. Edwin was not. He divorced Emily and she began writing novels in earnest to support herself and her sons.

At the beginning of the twentieth century women did not work - at least women in the upper social circles did not. Emily enjoyed writing and did not want to stop. She probably would have had enough to live on with her inheritance from her father and grandparents, and later, her mother. However, she told those around her that she needed the income from writing to survive.

Emily's life, though privileged, was not the happiest, but she appears to have faced trouble with sensible determination. She first wrote her book on etiquette in 1922. It went through many revisions over three decades - all done by Emily Post herself - and was at one time listed as the book (second only to the Bible) most often stolen from public libraries.

From Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners:

"The theme of appearance versus essence, the superficial versus the significant, recurs throughout Etiquette."

"Doggedly, Emily reinforced her central message every chance she had: the way people treated others was more important than an address or last name could ever be."

"Treating respectfully those with less power or position than oneself remained central to the message of Etiquette and to Emily's own life."

"Throughout the decades, in the face of countless changes, the central commandment to put others at their ease would remain constant. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' the agnostic etiquette expert maintained."

"To wittingly cause distress to others was, to Emily, the antithesis of good manners."



Blogger Dana said...

Surely did enjoy your short review.

I'm adding this to my Christmas list.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Dana. I think you'll like it.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Beth F said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the review, and thanks for linking it at Semicolon so I could find it!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Book Lover Lisa said...

looks like a good book. i'll have to find it. i had to read her Etiquette books in college, and found them to be very interesting.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

This book sounds FASCINATING and I would absolutely love to read it!

Thanks for reviewing it. Interesting fact about it being the second most often stolen. =D

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Very interesting review! Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on Peace Like a River. I usually find books written about Christianity that are written for a secular publishing house to be disrespectful, etc., but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I just thought it was fun.

I LOVE Wendell Berry's books!

1:55 PM  

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