My latest favorite research book is The Lady's Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery, & Etiquette. Yes, it sounds like a tall order, but the book comes through, all 755 pages of it. Herein you will learn how ladies dyed their grey hair, what they used to clean their teeth, and what cosmetics were available. You will find instructions for making several different kinds of stays as well as how to unlace them. Want to know how to make a hat? Puzzled about the rules for mourning? Wondering how a widow ought to behave? Curious about etiquette at a dinner party? It's all here, and more, much more. The table of contents is 36 pages long.
My focus today is curtseys, which have played important roles in more than one of my books. To my delight, the book offered illustrations as well as instructions:
"The Courtesy. The following is the usual mode of performing the courtesy. First bring your front foot into the second position. (In Fig. 1, B, C, D, E, and F respectively denote the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth positions of the feet.) Then draw the other into the third behind, and pass it immediately into the fourth behind; the whole weight of your body being thrown on the front foot. Then bend your front knee, your body gently sinks, transfer your whole weight to the foot behind while rising, and gradually bring your front foot into the fourth position. Your arms should be gracefully bent, and your hands occupied in lightly holding out your gown. Your first step in walking, after the courtesy, is made with the foot which happens to be fowards at its completion. The perfect courtesy is rarely performed in society, as the general salutation is between a courtesy and a bow (see Fig. 1 G). —The Young Lady's Book."
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.