Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rules for a Victorian Dinner Party

One of my recent novels was set in 1898 during the Victorian era. I had so much fun researching the customs and etiquette of this highly formal time. But even more than that, I loved informing my husband on numerous occasions that his behavior was a sign of "ill" or "low" breeding! :)

For instance, tapping one's fingers in the company of others is a sign of "low" breeding. Placing an arm on the back of a lady's chair is a sign of "low" breeding. And one must never take more than two spoonfuls of sugar, unless one wants to appear greedy.

For today's post, I've decided to share some dinner party etiquette - in case you're ever invited to a Victorian Dinner Party.
Many of us were exposed to Dinner Parties by
watching Downton Abbey.
Dressing for the Dinner Party:
For the Ladies
  • Do not dress above your station; it is a grievous mistake, and leads to great evils, besides being the proof of a complete lack of taste.
  • Do not expose the neck and arms at a dinner party.
For the Gentlemen
  • The unvarying uniform is black pants, waistcoat and jacket, with white tie, shirt and gloves. 
Seating Arrangements:
  • It is customary for the host and hostess to be seated opposite each other, at the side of the table, in the center.
  • Husbands and wives should sit as far as possible from each other. Society is the enlargement, the absorption, and, for the time being, the breaking up of all private and exclusive engagements.
The Before Dinner Interval:
  • At some point before dinner is announced, the hostess will discreetly point out to each gentleman the lady he will escort to dinner. He shall serve her throughout the meal.
Upon Sitting:
  • The guests find their places by the names on the place cards and every one sits down in a gay flutter of talk and laughter.
The Delicate Art of Dinner-Table Conversation:
  • The conversation should be easy, playful and mirthful.
  • The rules of politeness are never at variance with the principles of morality. Whatever is really impolite is really immoral. 
  • Do not mention at the table anything that might not properly be placed upon it.
The Etiquette of the Dinner Table:
  • Eat slowly; it will contribute to your good health as well as your good manners. Thorough mastication of you food is necessary to digestion.
  • Be moderate in the quantity you eat. You impair your health by overloading the stomach, and render yourself dull and stupid for hours after the meal.
The After-Dinner Interval:
  • Contrary to the custom of low society, civilized gentlemen do not remain at the table after the ladies have retired, to indulge in wine, coarse conversation, and obscene jokes. The more enlightened practice is for the ladies and gentlemen to retire together from the dining table.
  • It is expected that guests will linger for two or three hours after the dinner. In any event, no one may politely depart until at least one hour has passed.
After the Dinner:
  • Within one week, pay a brief "dinner call" to express thanks to your host and hostess, and to briefly reminisce over the delights of the evening. Do not stay for less than ten minutes or more than twenty.
Simple, right? I didn't mention all the rules listed. And I didn't get into the obligations of the host and hostess, the proper table settings, the proper behavior of servants, and on and on. It gave me great fodder for my book.

What about you? What surprised you most about a Victorian Dinner Party? Is there anything you'd like to resurrect?

These rules are from "The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining" adapted by Autumn Stephens, A Bluewood Book

Gabrielle Meyer:
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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Anne! I have so much fun researching. :)

  2. Glad that's not in the etiquette of today!

    1. I know! Could you imagine learning all the rules, Gail? I'd be a society misfit, I'm sure. :)

  3. If it was the etiquette of today I would fail miserabely.

    1. I hear you, Kim! :) I can't even imagine how constraining it was to live in those times.

  4. The rule that a husband and wife can't sit together. That one surprised me. In the movie Pride and Prejudice where Mrs. DeBerg yells at Mr. Colin's and Charlotte about how they can't sit together! Makes sense now. All these rules wear me out.

    1. Ah!! Jennifer, I JUST watched Pride and Prejudice two nights ago and thought of this very rule!! Separating couples was meant to keep the conversation lively and not dull. :)

  5. No wonder they had schools for young ladies because of so many rules.


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