Taking its subtitle from one of Emma’s lines (“compliments, charades, and horrible blunders”) , this is such a cute little book; I felt ready to pretend I was a Regency reader. Easy to read, the little guide presents a rule, followed by its exemplification in one of the novels or Jane Austen’s own life, with the understanding that Austen’s novels show that “the forms of manners which should be scrupulously observed are, invariably, those which contribute to the comfort, or dignity, of others” (5-6).
While reading, I learned that since it is the person of higher rank who requests an introduction, Mr. Darcy is communicating more than I had realized when, “on meeting Elizabeth Bennet in the environs of Pemberley, he asks her with impeccable courtesy” if he might introduce his sister to her (18). Unlike Emma, who, when she and Harriet meet with Robert Martin does not seek an introduction, Mr. Darcy asks for it but puts the power of choice in Elizabeth’s hands, which may suggest his impression of their equality (or even her superiority?). In a delightful discussion of fashion, which included the logical claim that “even in the realms of fashion, sense should prevail over sensibility,” I learned that “to question—or even compliment—anyone else, in person, on the details of dress may be regarded as impertinent” (78-79).
Though I might quibble with an occasional interpretation (for example, the book says Darcy declines “Mr. Bingley’s offer of introducing him to Elizabeth Bennet, with the ‘put-down’, or rebuff, ‘She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me,” but I think Darcy has already been introduced to Lizzy by that point, and Bingley is just trying to get his friend to dance 53), overall, I enjoyed the simple style, the truly lovely illustrations, and the sense that I was learning good manners just as a Regency woman would.
A most delightful moment occurred when, about half way through the text, I discovered it came with its own ribbon bookmark! It enhanced my sense of reading like a Regency girl!
Ross ends with a hope perhaps all of us share: “Whatever changes the passing years bring, it is to be hoped that the role of Manners as an integral component of both life and literature will never cease to be of interest to the world at large” (133).